Rerun: This article first appeared on Couloir Online 08aug01
Rainey Designs beta program delivers major improvements
The Hammerhead increases control for 21st century plastic boots to the same degree that the SuperLoop or Voile 3-pin cable did for leather boots back in the day. Which means the Hammerhead must be doing something dramatically different than other bindings. It is. The key elements are a 6 inch spring with a full two inches of travel (so you can’t bottom it out) and a cable that’s routed underfoot.In a nutshell, performance was improved over the beta version at either end of the tension scale. In high tension mode, the spring was softer, allowing it to engage more progressively. By comparison, the beta version kicked in pretty hard. Then, at the touring end, the new Hammerhead provides gobs more freedom in the heel for easier uphill skinning.
Perhaps the biggest testimonial on how the Hammerhead can improve your telemark technique was witnessed during recent tests on Mt. Hood. Jeremy, a Portland local, was having a tough time weighting his rear foot on his 2nd day ever tele’ing. After locking into a pair of Hammerheads his trailing foot was no longer precariously trolling for snow snakes several feet behind while his arms flailed wildly attempting to gain control. Instead his rear foot was only a foot behind and, unlike before, he was clearly able to hold an edge with the rear ski. While not in perfect position (c’mon, it was only his 2nd day), his arms ceased to flail wildly as well. Now imagine adding a Hammerhead to your finely honed technique.
Not everyone will appreciate the way, or degree to which it increases control. If you prefer a neutral feel, you might consider it too much. However, Rainey maintains his tradition of adjustable pivot points, so you can easily achieve a neutral feel.
The Hammerhead does more than deliver downhill power. Backcountry skiers will be grateful for the attention given to ease of adjustment, the reduction of rocker launch, and most importantly, the ability to adjust the pivot points for a truly free heel touring experience (note: this was before free pivoting tele bindings). Adjusting tension is as simple as spinning the spring-like cable sheath between the cable spreader and the heel yoke. For major changes in tension, push the button on the cable guides and move ‘em forward for less, back for more. For that true, free heel feeling alluded to above, you can completely remove the cable guides. It should also be noted that cutting the cable will be near impossible because it is routed inside the protective armor of the toe plate, not outside it.
We do have a few concerns about the Hammerhead, notably its long term durability in regard to its ability to stay attached to a ski (it creates more force, hence more force to rip them out), the longevity of the cable guide push pins, and snow buildup. Despite that, we must confess that analytically the Hammerhead appears rather bombproof. We will however, emphasize our caution until time proves otherwise.
Options: Climbing Bails, Ski Crampons
Hammerhead Beta Program Breaks Ground
Breaking new ground is standard fare for Russell Rainey. Having been through 10 years of trying to make the SuperLoop break proof, Rainey decided that was way too long to develop a solid product. Those who broke their SuperLoops agree, and unfortunately lots of telemarkers with a scared past are slow to forgive. Many blame manufacturers for “testing” their product on the consumer.
So Rainey decided to turn the tables. Rather than trying to respond to consumer complaints with annual upgrades, he decided to reverse the classically cynical sales mantra, “sell, then tell”, and tell his customers up front that if they bought the first 300 pairs of his new binding, the Hammerhead, they would be participating in a beta test program.
Lots of folks scoffed, but it makes sense. In larger industries with larger customer bases it is a simple procedure to get a large customer sample to prove product concepts, work out bugs, and refine them before taking them public as a finished product. The problem with the telemark industry is that the available number of testers that manufacturers will trust is typically small. They are only willing to work with those on the inside circle. The boldness of Rainey’s move was to open up and work with his customers.
From the revisions evident in the production version of the Hammerhead, it appears to have paid off. Rather than working with a group of insiders, Rainey opened up the field and got real feedback from real people who were willing to gamble $200 bucks that the Hammerhead was better than any other telemark binding. Unlike inside testers, they had something at stake and were intent on getting their money’s worth.
Now that the production version is refined enough to start selling, Rainey is confident enough to kick in the second part of his beta program. Everyone who paid their entrance fee to be on the Hammerhead test team will receive a completely new pair of Hammerheads. For those who laughed about the beta testers getting stuck with a premature product, it appears the testers are having the last laugh at everyone who didn’t get in on the program.
Furthermore, Rainey has said that he will provide the beta test team with whatever functional upgrades are developed as a result of this first year’s lessons. He’s banking on the fact that the number of significant changes between the beta and production version of the Hammerhead equated to about five years of development time by the old method of responding to customer complaints. That should mean there aren’t many more to go before it can’t be fixed anymore without developing a totally new product.
Telemark bindings as a whole come up short compared to randonnée on several counts. Now that boot design has stabilized consumers will be impatient to see the rest of the backcountry features absent from the telemark equation filled in. It would seem that adoption of this sort of Beta test program might speed things up. It might not either. The market will be watching the success or failure of the Hammerhead very closely for more than one reason. Stay tuned.
Look for more insight on this and many other bindings, plus an in-depth look at the direction telemark bindings are headed in the October 2001 issue of Couloir Magazine (shipped mid-September to subscribers).
Note: This article first appeared at Couloir Online 08aug01