Whether good or bad, first impressions last and last and last. In the long run, if you can last long enough, weak first impressions can be buried in the glory of redemption. It will take more time to prove but I think it’s time to acknowledge that Fritschi’s Vipec really rocks they way they hoped it would, but didn’t quite, three years ago. To make sure you notice, Vipec’s back — in black.
It was 2012 when Fritschi showed off the Vipec 12, the first tech binding to feature lateral release at the toe, the sort of safety release alpine skiers were familiar with. Last year the Vipec was certified to ISO 13992 by TUV, meaning it releases consistently under test conditions, and thus by extension reliably in the field.
That the Vipec would pass certification was something Fritschi was confident of from the get go. However, confidence in what they had up their sleeve was suspect thanks to a prototype exploding on camera for the internet to laugh at. That wasn’t the only flaw in the ointment the first year. The toe pins required adjusting, and then were prone to falling out in the field. Though less likely, the heel unit could fill with snow preventing mode changing. But the worst part was they were a fiddle-fest in a foreign language no one had ever flustered with before.
Thankfully, those days are over!
Clicking InTo make getting in to the binding easy Fritschi did a number of things. First, for 2015, they added plastic guides on the sides of the pin arms. This helped, but more was needed. In the 2016 black version Fritschi changed the internal spring mechanism that triggers the pins to close and added a white tab on the trigger lever to help with lining up the front of the boot so the inserts are aligned with the pins. With these changes to the toe, getting in is much easier. In my experience, I clicked in first try 4 out 5 times, and that was on day one. Two years ago, it was more like 1 out of 4. When I did miss, it was inevitably because my boot was tilted side-to-side. To help keep it flat I find it best to rest the heel of the boot on the brake pad and then lower the toe so it lines up in front with the white tab on the trigger lever. Tap lightly at the toe and – wham! – the pins clamp down fast and tight. As with any 2-pin toe, there will still be times it may frustrate you. Such is the fate of all dynafiddlers, no matter what brand you’re using.
Downhill ModeTo those who are ready to earn their turns, but can’t wrap your head around lateral release from the heel, let alone trusting two puny pins to clamp on to your boot, Fritschi’s Vipec can at least assuage fears about lateral release at the toe. Trust me, you’ll learn to trust the pins, it just takes a little time. In my experience, and a growing number of others, Fritschi’s new black Vipec releases as hoped. In simple terms, it won’t let go when you’re skiing in control, but probably will in a crash (depending on the circumstances) the same as any good alpine binding. Outside of the release capability, the inherent elasticity of the toe, 13mm in either direction, adds a confidence that you can hammer as hard as you want on these bindings when cranking out turns.
The real beauty of Vipec’s toe is that the return to center force at the toe remains constant even as the displacement increases, until at 13.1mm it releases. With most 2-pin designs, the lateral release comes at the heel. This isn’t right or wrong, but as the heel moves, traditional pins open up and the more they open, the clamping force is progressively reduced making release more likely. That’s why most tech bindings have a reputation for premature release, and why the Vipec is more likely to deliver a release that, as an alpine skier, you’ll be satisfied with.
Besides the lateral elasticity, the heel is designed to absorb compressive forces that can occur when the ski flexes. The prevents the binding releasing because the boot is forced forward, potentially binding between toe and heel. Not so with Vipec.
In my experience it didn’t matter whether I was rattling down choppy hardpack or bouncing through the bumps, Vipec held fast. Of course, this was expected; after all, once you fix the heel, you fix the problem, right?
One of the things that you will inevitably appreciate with Vipec is the ability to switch modes without exiting the binding. To free your heel for walking mobility simply push down on the mode switch lever at the back of the heel. This will cause the heel unit to slide back, releasing the heel of your boot.
With the heel free, you can engage a moderate (7°), or mildly high (13°) climbing post by flipping one, or both forward with a ski pole. It does take a bit of practice to flip the posts forward easily, not because it requires much force, but it does take some precision in locating your pole basket or handle to hook the side of each post as necessary. It’s a whole lot faster than spinning the old volcano post on legacy Dynafit heels.
Typically you will want to also lock out release at the toe for skinning up. Unlike other tech bindings, Vipec doesn’t really lock out release, it increases the retention value when you lift up the toe lever. However, unlike previous versions, Fritschi added extra holding power this time around. You still might release if you’re stomping on an icy traverse, but in that case, it is probably because the boot moved far enough laterally for the pins to trigger the safety release. If you’re stomping that hard, you probably should have installed ski crampons a few steps back. Just sayin’.
Speaking of, ski crampons are available in two widths, 95mm and 120mm. Seems like something in the 110ish width would be a popular size. In any case, ski crampons are not cheap, but when you need ‘em, that cost will seem inconsequential.
Even though you can switch from downhill to uphill mode without exiting the binding, the reality is you probably still will to put your climbing skins on. It should be noted, however, it is possible, with practice and good balance, to attach climbing skins with your skis on. Where you will really appreciate the simplicity of changing modes is when you want to quickly free the heel for crossing a long flat zone – too long to skate across and too short to be worth adding skins for – before continuing your descent. With most other AT bindings changing modes requires disembarking from the binding.
Switching back to turn mode is as easy as lifting the mode switch lever back up until it snaps in place.
One of the rare problems with earlier versions of Vipec was the potential for snow to pack inside the heel unit preventing the mode switch from either locking the heel back for touring, or forward for turning. This new black heel addresses that by covering the internal cavity so snow can’t sneak in and restrict the travel range needed to toggle between modes.
AdjustmentsLast year Fritschi fixed the problem with the adjustable pin working it’s way loose. This was done by moving the adjustment pin to the right side, and then adding a wire lock to prevent it loosening while touring. In addition they set the pin gap at the factory so it works for 90% of the inserts on the market. Thus, the likelihood of even needing to adjust the pin gap at the toe is reduced.
You can determine if you need to adjust the pin gap yourself by performing a simple test. Put your boot in the binding, and push it laterally so the toe is deflected about a quarter inch and then let go. If it snaps back without resistance it needs no adjustment. But if it binds and doesn’t return easily, the pins are probably too tight. If they’re too wide, and you push them to the point where they should release (more than 13mm deflection), they won’t.
Fritschi has a good four-point inspection routine that is worth looking at to make sure your boot will work properly with the black Vipec.
The ski brakes work well, but still occasionally do not deploy when switching from tour (heel retracted and brakes locked up) to turn mode. This doesn’t affect deployment when you’re skiing downhill, since the boot holds the brake arms retracted, but in tour mode, it is a latch that doesn’t let go reliably when toggling the heel unit back to downhill mode. Where this is an issue is when you take your skis off to remove skins and you set the ski down without the brake deployed. A quick hand smack fixes that, but you need to remember to check it, lest your ski take off when you look away.
You might still hear some negativity about Vipec, but those comments are almost certainly based on prior versions. The Black Vipec is ready to rock your world. For those who are coming directly from the alpine resort world it has lateral release at the toe, built around 25mm (± 13mm) of elasticity to keep from releasing prematurely. That means you can ski hard without being concerned about the diminutive size of the binding, or it’s plastic frame. It’s a lightweight, 2-pin binding made to make alpine touring fun and safe, with the convenience of being able to switch modes without taking your skis off, something you’ll quickly become spoiled by.
Weight/binding: 1 lb., 3 oz. (545 g)
Brakes widths available: 95mm, 108mm, 120mm
Crampons widths available: 95mm, 120mm
Editor’s Note: Intro paragraphs down to Clicking In were revised 31oct16.