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May 05 2014

Review: Devilish details of Fritschi’s Vipec

 

Meet the new fiddler in town - Diamir's Vipec 12

Meet the new fiddler in town – Diamir’s Vipec 12

First year products usually need a bit of refinement before they are solid. The devil is in the details they say, and some of those don’t reveal themselves until you add ignorance to the picture; something only a customer can provide. Fritschi Diamir’s new Vipec is no different. By and large it works well, but requires education, or re-education for the experienced 2-pinner, and some tweaking. Even though it is a tech binding, it is a not a Dynafit, so it acts the same, but only sorta.

Vipec is the first 2-pin tech binding to offer lateral release at the toe. Inherent in that feature is the sort of elasticity in-bounds alpine skiers tend to insist on. Not only does this mean a safety release alpine skiers are familiar with, it also means a connection that isn’t quite as bone-rattling tight as tech bindings tend to be. In terms of downhill performance it gets two thumbs up, as long as you adjust the toe pins correctly.

Vipec’s tour mode is compelling thanks to the ability to shift-on-the-fly, not only for changing the height of the climbing post, but for simply switching from a locked to a free heel. However, there are some foibles with the heel unit that need attention before next season arrives.

Lateral Release based on toe-pin gap

My first lateral release at the toe with Vipec....while on a chairlift. Ooops.

My first lateral release at the toe with Vipec…
…while on a chairlift. Ooops.

Within my limited sphere of awareness there are no issues with the safety release of the Vipec 12. After five days of abuse by the Backcountry Magazine gear test crew at Powder Mountain in firm and frozen cruddy conditions there were no reports of pre-release. In my own tests, at Sugar Bowl and in the Tahoe backcountry, plus four days on Mt. Bachelor with a variety of boots yielded the same results. They never released and they never should have.

Er, actually that isn’t quite true. There is one potential problem with the safety release that you should be aware of — do not clack your toes together on the chairlift to knock snow off your skis. When I did the carriage swung to the side and the outer pin opened up, letting go at the toe, then my tips slumped down as gravity pulled, in slow motion, the heel rods out of my right boot and it fell to the slope below. Ooops. Thankfully the brakes deployed in the air.

During a cursory (Only one DIN value tested) bench test at the Start Haus in Truckee Vipec released within the range it was supposed to for toe, heel, and vertical releases, but the numbers were on the high side meaning it tended to hold more than let go. Personally I’m okay with that, and this was only a test at one release value, not across the entire range.

Test Report: Vipec 12 at RV6 - Toe release

Test Report: Vipec 12 at RV6 – Toe release

According to Fritschi Diamir, both Wintersteiger and Montana bench tested the Vipec to see how it released according to standard alpine release values. Montana provided data confirming it passed over a range of release values (6, 8, 10).

Toe Pin Issues

At the onset of BCM’s Gear Test a few of the editors and I compared notes on plastic breaking and pins falling out so we fully expected there would be some carnage in camp Vipec. There was none.

Test Report: Vipec at RV 8, toe release

Test Report: Vipec at RV8 – Toe release

There were issues with the first batch of bindings that shipped without any Loctite™. Fritschi was expecting dealers to properly adjust each binding and add Loctite™. Apparently a few didn’t and reports of toe pins falling out caused Fritschi to ship with Loctite already on the threads, and of course, notify retailers to add Loctite #263 (green) after any pin adjustments were made. There are probably a handful of bindings out there that are primed to have the adjustable pin fall out. If you’re worried you have one, mark the pin position, loosen the lock nut, add Loctite, and retighten.

Test Report: Vipec 12 RV10 - Toe Release

Test Report: Vipec 12 RV10 – Toe Release

Why is there even an adjustable toe pin? It turns out that the gap on the toe pins when they are closed needs to match the gap of your boots. This can vary between brands and models by as much as 1.2mm. If the pins don’t seat properly the gap is too large or too small, the pins will bind in the insert cups, making lateral release unreliable. Sounds scary, and perhaps it could be but, again, this little detail was never noticed with myriad boots at the BCM test, so this potential complication may be overstated.

Adjusting the Pin Gap

The devil's in the details. These are the dimensions on toe inserts. The pins need to mate to them so they don't bind when the carriage moves. Normal tolerances account for the majority, but some boots require adjusting the gap.

The devil’s in the details. These are the dimensions on toe inserts. The pins need to mate to them so they don’t bind when the carriage moves. Normal tolerances account for the majority, but some boots require adjusting the gap.

Fritschi Diamir did not made any sort of public announcement on this because they expected their binding would not be installed by the DIYer, but by a properly trained shop tech. Therein lies the rub, at least in America. Since there are bindings out there, and you might have one improperly adjusted, or missing the right Loctite formula, here’s the lowdown on knowing if you need to adjust the pins.

With the boot in the binding, push the toe to the side enough to cause the carriage to slide sideways. When you let go of the boot, it should return to the original position. If it does, go skiing. If it doesn’t, it will bind because the pin gap is too narrow. Loosen the lock nut on the adjustable pin, and back it out ¼ to ½ turn and check it again. When it returns as it should, add the Loctite, tighten the lock nut to 6 n/m (a good solid tug on the tightening wrench) and check it again. Repeat this procedure until it returns to its original position after being pushed sideways. If the pins are too wide, there will be noticeable (audible) slop in the toe. Tighten the adjustment pin as necessary.

Due to the fact that we didn’t experience this with upwards of two dozen different boot models and sizes, I’m also willing to accept that the probability an adjustment is needed is very small, but worth checking.

Fiddling In

The biggest frustration most users will experience with the Vipec is simply getting in and out of the binding. It isn’t difficult per se, but it isn’t a Dynafit so it doesn’t respond to the typical Dynafiddle technique either, more like a Fritschi-fiddle, which still means some fiddling only the tune is a bit different.

No hooking one pin on one side of the toe, then angling down to get the other pin to close on the other side, and no power towers or bumpers to line the boot up flat then press down either. Sadly, the lack of a clear visual alignment position at the toe makes this more of a miss than a hit although that will surely change with practice. Fritschi recommends a couple of things. First, mark the position of the inserts of your boot on top of the toe so you can see where they are. Secondly, keep your boot flat and line up the (marked) toe inserts with the pins, then push down at the toe on the trigger wire to get them to snap tight. The trick is keeping your boot flat, in the same horizontal plane as the pins. A simple way to do that is to rest the heel of the boot on the brake pad which helps to keep it flat while you get the inserts in line with the pins before pressing down on the trigger wire.

You can also do the angle-fiddle, but with the Vipec you first connect one insert with a pin with the pins closed, then use a ski pole to open the pins with the toe lever until you can align the second insert with the mating pin, then release it to capture both inserts in the toe. The following video makes either method more clear.

Fiddling Out

Getting out requires a different sort of fiddle as well. If the pins sense any pressure, however slight, one or both will act like they’re magnetically stuck to the inserts. To prevent them from sticking when you want them to let go you need to make sure the ski is not bearing any weight, up or down, especially enough to decamber the ski which can cause the heel unit to apply forward pressure to the pins, preventing release. If they act stuck, the trick to releasing them is to press down on the trigger wire at your toe which will help to open the toe jaws. This is the complete opposite of how a Dynafit binding works, where you lift your toe as you press the toe lever down to open the jaws.

Space required. Leave a 2mm gap between surfaces.

Space required. Leave a 2mm gap between surfaces.

Another critical element to eliminating pressure on the pins when exiting is to make sure the heel gap is 1-2mm, a value that can be easily eye-balled. Err on the 2mm side to reduce the chance of forward pressure if the ski is decambered.

After four days of regular use I was getting in maybe half the time on the first try, and getting out was about the same. Either it let go right away when I unweighted my foot properly, or when it didn’t I simply applied a little toe pressure while pushing down on the toe lever and the pins released easily.

There is another potential way to make getting out easy, by using the mode switch to retract the heel unit so it can’t apply any forward pressure that makes the pins act sticky. However I don’t recommend this because there might be another problem lurking, especially if you’re on the wet coast. It turns out, snow can sneak inside the heel unit, filling the cavity and preventing the heel from moving fore or aft enough to lock in either the tour or turn position. It need not be a deal killer, unless you aren’t prepared to deal with it and you unwittingly break the plastic mode switch trying to force it when you shouldn’t.

Icing Issue

Hidden from view, ice inside can prevent the heel from switching to tour, or to turn mode.YMMV.

On the wet coast ice can form inside preventing the heel from switching — to tour, or to turn mode. YMMV.

As it turns out, on my very first chance to take a spin on a pair of Vipecs I broke the mode switch. It was at the Outdoor Retailer on-snow demo day and I was being fitted by Black Diamond personnel. After adjusting the gap on the heel I tried to get out of the binding. Not knowing the technique is a bit different I experienced the sticky pins syndrome. Knowing the heel could retract, I figured I’d just slide it back and then be able to get out easier with a free heel to let me fiddle the pins apart. I pushed down on the black plastic mode switch with the tip of my ski pole but it didn’t want to move more than a few degrees, not enough for the heel to slide backwards. So instead, I used my free foot and stepped down on it. Snap! It broke right at the base of the lever arm. I remember feeling resistance right off the bat and not really pressing down that hard, but certainly harder than I was able with my pole. Clearly there are limits to how much force that plastic lever can handle.

Something was wrong but I didn’t know what and I didn’t think the plastic was all to blame. Something was preventing the heel from moving, but it was not obvious. A recent, very short ski tour revealed what I believe was the cause. At this point I had half a dozen days on the Vipec with no issues other than learning the tricks to getting in and out and losing a ski while riding the chair (see above).

Feelin' lucky I had a full sized pozi-drive, not just a leatherman in my pack.

Feelin’ lucky I had a full sized pozi-drive, not just a leatherman in my pack.

After a short, 500 foot climb I reverted to turn mode to remove my skins before skiing back down. The first binding re-locked the heel, easy as pie. The second, however, simply would not move far enough forward for the black lever to lock in place. Knowing there was a limit to how hard I could force things I exited the toe to see what the problem was.

Indeed there was ice preventing the movement of the heel unit, but it wasn’t on the outside, it was in the internal cavity where the worm screw adjusts the relative position on the slider track. Snow inside was preventing the unit from moving fully forward. The more I toggled it back and forth, the harder the snow packed into ice. This in itself took a bit of time to figure out because, though I knew it was ice, it wasn’t until I removed the heel from the slider track that the location of the ice revealed itself. In all likelihood this was the same condition that caused me to break the mode switch lever on my very first on-snow encounter with the Vipec.

Thankfully I had a full sized pozi-driver in my pack to make removing the heel unit from the slider track possible and relatively easy — in an inconvenient sort of way. If I didn’t have tools I’d have been forced to ski down with one heel in tour mode, a more than inconvenient condition.

Is this a deal breaker? Only if you are unaware of this possibility and you force the mode switch in the field and break it, or you don’t have a pozi-driver to take the heel unit off the track to clean the ice out. Otherwise you’d have to wait for it to melt out, or ski in tour mode. So don’t forget a pozi-driver with this binding – ever!

Too much plastic?

Which all begs the question of early skeptics. Is there too much plastic on the Vipec? In theory no. There are plenty of alpine bindings made of plastic putting up with abuse, even touring bindings. In practice something has to change though because getting skiers to stop slamming their bindings when they’re stomping on their heels to get better grip on a traverse, or ignorantly forcing the mode switch when they shouldn’t, well, that won’t happen so the plastic has to prevail against the punishment. Unfortunately I’m not alone in breaking some plastic on the heel and I wasn’t even stomping it. At the least it seems the pieces that pivot up and down need more metal, metaphorically speaking that is. ;)

Conclusion

Overall the Vipec gets a B+ for year one results. It skis great, and it’s easy to get spoiled by the ability to shift-on-the-fly, not just from turn to tour, but also how easily climbing posts flip up or down. It’s light, and with the caveat that you need to double-check the toe pin gap, the safety release appears to work. It will take several seasons to confirm this, but in my experience, so far, it works.

There are definitely some differences in how you get in and out of the binding that take a bit of adjustment if you’re coming from the Dynafit camp. It would be great if Diamir would add some sort of alignment chingas ala Dynafit’s Power Towers or G3′s toe bumpers, but patents probably make that unpalatable to the bottom line. Even so, it could make getting in easier and more reliable. Can potential icing issues be eliminated? Perhaps not so easily, especially considering that when you have humid snow, any binding can ice up somewhere. Even if icing issues are rare, be aware you might need to do a little field maintenance.

If you can live with those caveats, and want lateral release at the toe with a 2-pin set up, Vipec is ready when you are.

Fritschi Diamir
Vipec 12
MSRP: $600 w/brakes
Brake widths available: 82mm, 95mm, 108mm, 120mm
Weight/binding: 1 lb, 4 oz. (569 g)
Optional crampons: $110

© 2014
 

Related Posts
First Look: Fritschi’s Vipec 12
Picking the right tech binding
14erskiers Vipec Review
 

  • Mike

    I was considering these bindings for next season, but this review has definitely made me think twice. I really liked the honest nature of the review. Any chance you will be reviewing the new G3′s?

  • Dostie

    No doubt I’ll be reviewing G3′s ion in due time as well as an updated Vipec review after refinements have been made. I think the pin adjustment issue is overblown since it is a new consideration. Dynafit users dismissed G3′s Onyx too, but the 2nd version (Ion) has a lot of early users excited for its availability. IOW – like Onyx, there’s a lot of good in the Vipec, it just needs a little more polish.

  • Brittany Walker Konsella

    Good review! I am glad you addressed the icing issues that prevent the heal from fully locking. I was wondering if anyone else had been having that problem. Here in CO I have had problems with this only recently- 3 times in the last 4 weeks. I knew it was icing up somewhere, but couldn’t totally figure out where- until we spent about 20 minutes trying to fix it yesterday. I was going to write Black Diamond about this issue, but it looks like you’ve got it covered! This icing definitely seems related to the type of snow. I have been using the Vipecs all year, and have only had problems with the wet spring powder we’ve had in the last month- something you experience often in California.

  • skier6

    Thanks for this really detailed review of the Vipec, warts and all. I was on the fence to buy a pair , but will stick with my Verticals now..

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