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Jan 06 2014

First Look: Ion – G3′s take 2 on Tech

 

ION - losing the fiddle while staying truly tech.

ION – losing the fiddle while staying truly tech.

G3 unveiled their new tech binding to the world today, Ion, to be available next autumn, 2014. More than just a follow up act to the Onyx, their much dismissed first foray in the tech binding world, the Ion addresses shortcomings in the tech binding world that clearly needed a fresh engineering perspective.

Until this year, most of the knock-off tech bindings to Dynafit’s revolutionary AT binding system have been just copies with material changes and marginal improvements measured as a reduction in weight, not functional improvements. With G3′s Ion, and Diamir’s Vipec, that basis for comparison ends because now there are alternative solutions to ease of entry and elasticity worth considering.

Less Fiddle

Boot posts make aligning your boot correctly much easier and faster. Almost step-in.

Boot posts make aligning your boot correctly much easier and faster. Almost step-in.

There’s a lot of things to like about G3′s new tech binding Ion, but the one users will appreciate the most is how easy they are to click in to. As any tech binding user will attest, clicking in at the toe is not as simple as a step-in alpine binding. It’s a hit or miss affair where even experienced dynafiddlers miss the mark occasionally.

With the Ion, G3 makes stepping in to a tech binding as simple and fool-proof as I’ve ever seen. It does this by providing a pair of plastic boot stops in front of the wings to push the tip of your boot against, aligning the inserts with the tech pins. Then just tap your foot down and the pins snap shut, clamping your boot at the inserts.

The simple beauty of this should be clear, but let me add that you do this with your boot flat, and without aligning one side first, then angling down to engage the other. It is also worth mentioning, the plastic boot stops are set to work with “normal” AT boots, not ski race boots were the toe of the boot has been trimmed back to shave weight.

Higher Retention

One of the things G3 did with Onyx was increase the elasticity of the toe by eliminating the ability for the toe arms to cam open. The consequence was you had to hold the jaws open to enter the binding, a procedure that many reviewers were overly critical of. Old habits die hard so rather than work to change how people click in to a tech binding, as Onyx required, G3 engineers accommodated tradition while still increasing elasticity in the toe of Ion. To do that they increased the spring rate and moved the fulcrum position of the arms holding the pins to a higher and wider location. The result is the pins squeeze tighter on your boot with a higher force, and take more energy to expand, which translates to a higher return to center force, or more elasticity than is typical for a tech binding.

Forward Pressure

Until this year the concept of setting forward pressure in a tech binding was like talking Greek, or Swahili. The idea is that the binding could compensate for the distance between the toe and heel being shortened when the ski flexed. In classic tech binding, this was accounted for by setting a 5-6mm gap between the heel of the boot and front face of the heel unit. With Ion, the gap is set to zero because a longitudinal spring underneath allows the heel to absorb changes in length.

Shift-on-the-fly

Flip left. Flip right. One for medium, two for high.

Flip left. Flip right. One for medium, two for high.

Unlike Onyx, you can’t switch between locked and free-heel modes without exiting the Ion. This is true for most tech bindings and something most AT skiers have learned to accept. However, once you’re in touring mode, Ion makes shifting between, flat, medium, or high climbing posts ridiculously easy. To go from flat to medium, flip up one post. From medium to high, stack the second post on top of the first. It is as simple as that and, here’s the ingenious part – it doesn’t matter if you rotate the heel clockwise or counter-clockwise to switch to tour mode – the climbing posts work the same either way you rotate the heel. It’s worth noting the two post levers are not flush with each other when not engaged, which makes grabbing only one a simple affair requiring a minimum of coordination and dexterity. Without actually abusing a pair in the field, the mechanical strength of the climbing posts, and the axle they pivot about appear strong enough for real world ski mountaineering abuse.

Ice Channel

Though icing of tech bindings is not unheard of, it can happen. To reduce this happening, Ion’s toe has a clear channel hewn underneath the toe wings, large enough for snow to easily and naturally be pushed out, short-circuiting any propensity to ice up. Of course, when conditions are prone for icing, having a hole that big also makes it a lot easier to clear things out when, as seems inevitable on sticky snow days, they do ice up.

Mounting

Ion uses a simple four-hole mount pattern at the toe and heel, but it is 40mm wide, not the classic 30mm wide pattern used on many tech bindings. This should provide a stronger foundation for transfering energy on wide skis, and exhibit greater retention power for chargers known to rip bindings from skis.

The standard heel mounting plate allows for 22mm of adjustment for different sized boots, and a rental plate will be available with 60mm of adjustment.

Crampons

At the time of Ion’s announcement crampons are not available, but the option of adding them is evident in the toe base plate. Two additional holes exist for securing a crampon mounting plate that will slide under a plastic shelf at the rear of the toe piece and be held in place by two screws. The crampon mounting plate will work with existing Onyx crampons.

Conclusion

There have been a fair number of niggling issues associated with tech bindings over the years, nearly all of which have been overlooked in favor of their overall superiority for ski touring. The Ion addresses the fiddle factor straight on and summarily dismisses it with functional simplicity. Add to that a heel unit that makes shifting touring gears equally easy, without a preference whether you prefer to switch to the left or the right, and compensates for a ski flexing under foot. The only reason not to take Ion seriously is if you’re adamant that a tech binding should weigh less than a pound per foot. For those who think it’s worth a few extra ounces per foot for some practical conveniences, Ion should be on your short list of contenders. Finally, if all those features don’t matter, you have to admit, the anodized orange has an allure that makes it hard to resist giving Ion a closer look. Given half a chance, Ion is bound to attract a number of new customers to G3′s camp.

G3
Ion
MSRP: $550
Weight/pr: 2 lbs., 9 oz. (1170 g)
RV: 5-12
Ski brake sizes: 85mm, 95mm, 115mm, 130mm
Optional Crampons: 85mm, 105mm, 130mm

© 2014