Vipec isn’t claiming to be the first to offer greater elasticity in a tech binding, or the ability to shift on the fly. Instead, it is aiming for pre-emminence on those two counts. Diamir claims the Vipec 12 has been tested like any other DIN standard alpine binding and passes without any modifications to the procedure. While tech bindings do have a lateral release, it is from the heel. That doesn’t mean it is wrong, or necessarily even bad, but it is not the same release mechanism that alpine skiers are familiar and comfortable with where the binding releases laterally at the toe, and vertically at the heel. With the Vipec, Fritschi offer’s a tech binding with a new measure of performance.
Elasticity = DIN calibrated release
In case this term is new to you, elasticity is what alpine bindings rely upon to keep you latched in to your binding without releasing prematurely. While skiing there are tons of bumps, rattles and rolls that might cause your binding to release, but it usually doesn’t because the binding allows for some elastic travel of your boot before snapping it back to center. If the vibration gets excessive, or the impact on your boot is large enough, the binding lets go. Tech bindings have been unparalleled in their ability to transmit skiing forces from a boot to a ski, but notorious for their inability to absorb excess (some would say normal) vibrations without releasing.Fritschi Diamir addresses that shortcoming with toe pins that can move laterally up to 11mm before releasing. Once they hit their limit, the side wing will open up (lay down) to release the boot.
That isn’t the only place elasticity comes in to play. The heel unit is also able to move longitudinally to allow for the heel unit to shift as the ski is bent. The way classic tech bindings account for this is to leave a space between the back of the boot and the front surface of the heel piece, allowing the boot to slide along the rear spring bars. With the Vipec, the entire heel unit is attached to a spring, allowing the heel to move back when the ski bends underfoot. Release values range from 5 – 12 DIN. At this moment in time, no other tech binding can actually make the DIN release claim. They have release values with similar numbers, but not necessarily similar results, mostly because the lateral release is via the heel, not the toe.
Those are all performance benefits that alpine skiers have come to take for granted, but ski mountaineers have learned to deal without. Until Vipec, the cost of including elasticity for downhill performance was excess weight for the uphill leg (what are Passport Bindings). At only 1¼ lbs. (570 g) per binding (with brakes) one can hardly consider the Vipec heavy.
Shift on the FlyWhen it comes to tech bindings, most AT skiers have gotten used to compromises, like skiing in control and not taking big air except maybe in powder. Another is exiting the binding to switch from locked to free heel mode. Experienced dynafiddlers know how to wrench the heel with a pole while lifting their boot without breaking the volcano, but not everyone has the ‘touch’ to pull this manuever.
Most of the time switching to tour mode means putting climbing skins on, but not all the time. Thus, there are times when simply freeing the heel without stepping out of the binding would be nice, like crossing a meadow or a long, low-angle, circuitous traverse. Fritschi Diamir obliges with a heel unit that retracts (similar to G3′s Onyx) by simply pushing down on a lever at the rear of the heel, or lifting it back up to lock it again. Three climbing heights are available by flipping posts forward to yield a flat, low, or high climbing position. Again, very reminiscent of the Onyx except the Vipec is 12 oz. (340 g) lighter per foot.
Odds ‘n’ Ends
Because the Vipec has lateral release at the toe there is now a DIN setting at the toe. Not new for alpine bindings, but new for tech bindings. Alongside the toe housing are brackets for attaching crampons. As with other tech bindings, you need to “lock out” the toe release when touring, except that in the Vipec’s case, lifting the toe bale doesn’t actually lock out release, but does increase the release tension to prevent letting go on the skin track.
On first look there are only two items that give pause for concern: adjusting the pins at the toe, and the retail price.
As with any alpine binding, the Vipec has release settings at the toe and heel. Unlike any other binding, the unique release mechanism at the toe is dependent on very tight tolerances for the pin spacing relative to the inserts they are seated in. Because the spacing on inserts between the toes can vary by up to 1.2mm the pins can bind against the inserts, preventing lateral movement. To compensate for this, one of the pins on each toe can/must be adjusted.
The big question is not how do you adjust it, but how do you know if it needs adjusting? More on that in a future post when I’ve had some real time with the Vipec12 with various boots.
Another item that may require some adjustment is on the brake pad. In a small sample of four different boot models two had trouble contacting the brake pad enough to cause the arms to retract. It seems the distance between the bottom of the sole and the height of the heel insert is not consistent among all tech compatible boots. A bit of extra padding on top could resolve that.
The only other concern is the price of the binding. At $600 it may not be the most expensive tech binding on the market, but it is certainly at the high end. Considering all that it offers, this could be a case of getting what you pay for.
MSRP: $599 (w/brakes)
Brake widths available: 82mm, 95mm, 108mm, 120mm
Weight/binding: 1 lb, 4 oz. (569 g)