Lured by the Backcountry?
There are roughly three different styles of backcountry equipment you should consider if you’re hunting fresh powder: alpine, snowboard, or telemark. Of the three disciplines, alpine offers the easiest to understand, and adopt, set of options.
The style of alpine binding that appeals easiest to budding BC skiers are what I call Passport bindings. These are essentially alpine bindings mounted on a plate with a hinge. To ski uphill you need gumption, climbing skins and a free heel – that’s what the hinge is for – so you can simply walk up the mountain while sliding on top of the snow. It’s ridiculously easy as long as you enjoy the workout going uphill; that’s what the gumption is for.
|Height (toe/heel)||DIN Range||Weight / ft.
|Tyrolia1 Adrenaline||Y||28½ mm||5-16||46 oz. (1300 g)||$495|
|Marker Duke||N||36 mm||6-16||49 oz. (1334 g)||$495|
|Salomon2 Guardian||Y||26/32 mm||7-16||52¼ oz.(1480 g)||$495|
|Tyrolia1 Adrenaline 13||Y||28½ mm||4-13||42½ oz.(1195 g)||$425|
|Marker Baron||N||36 mm||4-13||43¼ oz.(1225 g)||$445|
|Salomon2 Guardian 13||Y||26/32 mm||5-13||50¼ oz. (1445 g)||$415|
|Tyrolia1 Ambition||Y||35/40 mm||4-13||36 oz. (1030 g)||$425|
|Fritschi Freeride Pro||Y||38/44 mm||4-12||36 oz. (1020 g)||$570|
|Fritschi Eagle||Y||38/44 mm||4-12||35½ oz. (1 kg)||$490|
|Marker Tour F12||N||36mm||4-12||37 oz. (1042 g)||$429|
|Marker Tour F10||N||36 mm||3-10||37 oz. (1042 g)||$399|
Don’t pay too much attention to backcountry snobs who denigrate these as side- or slackcountry bindings. Of course they’re heavier than Dynafit’s, but that hasn’t prevented thousands from using them on hut-to-hut tours in the Alps or the high Sierra. The important point is these bindings all provide the key ingredient — a free heel — to unlocking the secrets of the backcountry.
They’re the quickest way to access the goods without having to buy a rash of new equipment, particularly boots. Keep your alpine boots but get one of these and a pair of climbing skins and you’ll be set to go. And you need to get an avalanche prescription – that’s where you play roulette with the avalanche lizard in search of fresh tracks and you admit so. Then, once you’re hooked, you’ll want to get a different pair of boots and bindings and poles and a pack and….but just to get started this is the best way to go.
About those boots
All Passport bindings work with alpine ski boots with a DIN sole, meaning the toe and heel of the boot has a specific height, width, and shape, but more importantly, has a smooth bottom surface for interfacing with the AFD of an alpine binding. It is a critical factor in the reliability of alpine’s much touted safety release feature. What is not as reliable, nor recommended by manufacturers scared spitless about the possibility of someone sueing them because their binding didn’t release, is the marriage of a lugged AT boot with an alpine binding. If you used an AT boot in an alpine resort binding and sued because it didn’t release on you, it could be grounds for dismissal. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a lugged, sticky rubber surface (AT boot sole) won’t slide like smooth hard plastic (Alpine DIN sole). To overcome this, many passport bindings use an AFD that slides. Those that don’t are less reliable.
All Passport bindings have an adjustable toe, to account for varying toe heights and improve their releasability. Resort bindings generally do not. Marker’s new Lord binding is the exception to that rule, so it can work reliably with lugged AT boots for those who want full alpine safety release when they’re skiing under the lifts, but use the same boots with Dynafit bindings for the backcountry.
There is always the question of whether you can use a lugged sole boot in an Alpine binding. Legally speaking – NEVER! But let’s leave the sue-happy mentality behind and get real. Backcountry skiing is not about safety, it is about embracing adventure, which includes danger. Part of the danger is that your equipment could fail you. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you can’t rely on it, within bounds.Lugged soled boots don’t release reliably with alpine bindings. Period. So ski in recognition of this fact and have a great tour. Safety is dependent on your actions more than your equipment. If you’re far from Ski Patrol, ski like it or pay the price. If you’re unwilling to pay the fine, don’t do the crime. That said, there’s a whole bunch of us hooligans enjoying the backcountry and some of us regularly lock out the safety release of our equipment. Sometimes it is the “safer” choice.
Picking your Passport
Now there are lots of options to chose from. Four models from Marker: the Duke and brother Baron, plus the Tour twins, the F12 and F10. Salomon has the blue hued Guardian, also sold as the yeller-colored Tracker from Atomic plus Rossi chimes in by having the Guardian done with a Look logo and paint job as a package deal with Dynastar’s High Mountain Cham ski. Add to that a DIN 13 version by the same brands, Salomon, Atomic, and Look. Tyrolia joins the fray with the Adrenaline, sold under the Elan, Head, and Fischer brand names, plus a lightweight version called the Ambition. Lest we forget the original passport binding, there are three variations from Fritschi Diamir. The most widely distributed are the Fritschi and Marker brands, followed by Salomon.Which one is best depends on how much time you plan to use the binding in-bounds versus out and how many landings you plan to subject them to. The more you keep your feet on the ground and/or spend time away from the lifts, the less weight you need to put up with. In that case, concentrate on the touring performance features best exemplified with the Fritschi Diamir Freeride or Eagle, Tyrolia’s Ambition, or Marker’s Tour F12. In Europe, you have the option to consider the Hagen brand too.
If you expect to be mogul bashing and stomping lotsa landings, you want high DIN numbers. The extra beef is all about absorbing the big hits without letting go. For that flavor of earning turns, you want to play both sides of the line and bindings like the Marker’s Duke, Salomon’s Guardian, Tyrolia’s Adrenaline, or the MFD plate gives you the option to go wherever geography beckons.
So far, only the Duke has a track record to stand on with an established and largely satisfied customer base. Guardian promises the same and looks fully capable of stomping regular landings with a shift-on-the-fly touring switch. Adrenaline uses a plastic plate but Duke proved that is not necessarily a problem and, like the Guardian can switch to a free heel without exiting the binding. When you’re flipping the switch to go uphill that has little advantage, but if you want a free heel for the flats, without skins, shift-on-the-fly is a nice feature to have.
In the end the main thing is to get one of these if you’re itching to add a little taste of adventure to your skiing and feast on freshies from both sides, in- AND out-of-bounds. Add climbing skins and some avy savvy and you’ll be ready to rock.
If you’re thinking these bindings are too heavy for long ski tours, you’re right. If you don’t, that’s okay, after a sustained 4-thousand foot climb you will. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of safety you can jettison a lot of weight with a tech-style binding. More on those later. Ski you out there.