- RERUN: This article first appeared on Couloir Online 12dec05.
- Revised 12apr06, 07jan07, 10sept11.
For years now I’ve heard fellow telemarkers refer to the uphill leg of a backcountry tour as the slog. If ever there were a kill joy term aimed at turning friends off to the allure of the backcountry, slogging is it.Thankfully, binding manufacturers are responding to the call for a return to the freedom implied in a free heel. The latest evidence of that is G3′s announcement of the Targa Ascent binding. Functionally it is the popular, award-winning Targa T/9 binding with a hinge tucked under the toe bar. The hinge allows you to pivot your boot at the toe with essentially zero flex resistance while skinning uphill. When you eliminate that resistance, two things happen; your stride gets longer since your heel can lift higher without resistance, and you’ll spend less energy with each step. The net result is you reach the top of the next run faster and more efficiently. For the average telemarker that translates into more freshies in the backcountry, and I’ll wager it opens the door for a telemarker to win one of those AT dominated rando rally’s some time in the near future too.
To switch modes: Put the tip of your ski pole in the dimple of the switch lever, and give ‘er a solid, sideways smack. The position of the pivot is directly under the toe bar. This makes it feel like you are pushing off your big toe with each step, delivering a natural, biomechanically correct stride. Besides eliminating flex resistance, the frictionless pivot allows the tips of your skis to float to the surface while breaking trail in soft snow, a feature I was more than happy to confirm on a recent sidecountry tour at Whister with over a foot of fresh champagne. With this binding you might even find yourself volunteering for the lead position, or in deep snow, being volunteered.
Another benefit to the touring pivot is snap kick turns can be added to your repertoire of uphill tricks. This might not seem such a big deal until you find yourself trenching through deep pow, an enviable dilemma, or need to switch directions on a steep, icy slope with a crevasse yawning behind you.
Switching between uphill and downhill modes is easy. Put the tip of your ski pole in the dimple of the switch lever in front of your toe, and give ‘er a sideways smack to throw the lever to the opposite side. Easy as pie.
Ascent Cleaning Trick
The idea is to merely toggle the mode switch back and forth a few times to knock the ice off which is preventing it from latching. To do this, the toeplate must be raised enough (in touring mode) for the latch mechanism to move freely underneath. This is most easily done with the ski drawn back. However, that makes it tough to put the pole in the switch “bucket” unless you slide the ski pole between your legs.
In the video below the switch is toggled 3 times. First from tour to downhill mode with the heel raised to clear the ice off the latch under the toeplate. At this point the latch is in the downhill position(forward), but not locked, and the ice is probably cleared away. Then back again to tour mode, and then once again to downhill mode, this time with the ice cleared and the toeplate flat so the latch locks the toeplate for ripping tele turns.
Except, that is, when the locking mechanism at the rear of the toe plate gets iced up. This is only a concern when the humidity is high, and temperatures are in the upper 20′s F (or -1 to -5 C). The first time it happened to me I just smacked the ski pole a lot harder than usual to make the switch. The second time I had to take the skis off and then get out the ol’ Leatherman and chip the ice off. Then I learned from G3 that you can usually get the ice off the heel latch by switching modes with your heel raised in touring mode, and toggling the switch back and forth a few times. That sounded simple enough until I tried and then learned that to do this easily your foot will be in a position that makes it difficult to toggle the mode switch unless you put the ski pole between your legs (see MPG video above). It sounds like a bigger deal than it is, but if you are not aware of this potential problem, you’ll get your panties in a cluster when it ices up. In most conditions the switch is easy to operate.
One concern folks raise is the possibility of the lever switching while you’re skiing downhill, it is set to be locked in downhill mode on the outside edge, where it is less likely to get knocked out of position, and on the inside edge for uphill.
When flipped up, the lift is 70mm high, and an optional wire can be added to increase that to 95mm for sickies who like to make steep skin tracks. Overall the lift allows you to easily skin 5-10 degrees steeper than you might without it.
The downhill portion of the Targa equation has been upgraded too. By ramping the toe plate up 3° rocker launch is reduced, if not eliminated, and shred control is improved by immediately engaging your tele flex with G3′s powerful compression springs. To that end, the Ascent comes standard with a choice of either XRace springs, or the stiffer World Cup springs. The big question is, could I really tell the difference? After years of testing telemark bindings I’ve learned that yes you can tell the difference, but not without doing a side-by-side comparison. By that I mean, either different bindings on left and right feet with the same model/length ski, or consecutive runs with the same ski, but different bindings, on the same run. I didn’t have that opportunity, but do believe that the Targa Ascent delivered a noticeable improvement in downhill control. To make room for the front part of the toeplate pivoting downward the binding is raised a bit from the “standard” 30mm riser to an effective 40mm off the deck. Unless you’re graduating from gear with shims less than 15mm it hardly seems noticeable, and only helps improve leverage with today’s genre of fatter skis.
Though rare, I did notice that in humid conditions the extended length of the toeplate could pack snow underneath with the eventual result that the range of motion was reduced from what felt like 85° to maybe only 45° (probably 40°). If you’re following an established skin track you might not even notice, but if you’re breaking trail in deep fluff this robs you of one of the great features of a touring binding, range of motion. So far this condition occurs less than 2% of the time, but that would be dependent on snow conditions too.
Some of you will be disappointed that the Targa Ascent doesn’t provide release capability. To be fair, providing a reliable release for telemark is an extremely complex and difficult task. Though release would be nice, in the telemark realm we know from experience that it is possible, with luck, to avoid the need for release. On the otherhand, having a more active binding for better downhill control with an easily activated, frictionless touring mode are features you’ll use every inch of every day you’re where you’d rather be.