Bindings. The interface that brings the power from your ski boot, through to your ski. The ski touring binding has to achieve this whilst providing as much safety as possible in the event of a twisting fall. They also have to remain lightweight, and allow skiers to release their heel from the binding when they want to go into touring mode.
If you think that some touring bindings look confusing, that’s because they are. There’s a lot of research and development that’s been pumped into these nifty little clamps, so let’s take a look at the features that make all of your ski touring missions a reality.
Frame or Pin Bindings
There’s two different types of touring bindings. ‘Pin’ bindings and ‘frame’ bindings. Put simply, pin bindings (also known as tech, pintech, or low-tech bindings) utilise pins that clamp both toes and heels. For that reason, these bindings require specialised boots (all the boots in our list of the ‘Top Touring Boots’ feature pin inserts for pin binding compatibility).
We’ve featured one frame binding within our roundup of the top ski touring bindings. This, the Tyrolia Adrenalin 13, is essentially offering all the downhill performance of a normal alpine binding with a frame that connects the toe and heel to allow for a free-heel touring mode.
We’ll save drilling down on the pros and cons between frame and pin bindings for another article, but will briefly point them out below. The short story is that if you’re serious about getting into touring then you’ll want to look towards pin, or hybrid bindings.
“If you’re serious about getting into touring then you’ll want to look towards pin, or hybrid bindings”
Frame binding pros: Cheap, full downhill retention, don’t need touring-specific boots, durable.
Frame binding cons: Heavy, inefficient touring mode, increased stack height on ski, carrying weight of binding through each stride.
Pin binding pros: Lightweight, efficient touring mode, easy to repair, ability to lock-out toe in no-fall scenarios.
Pin binding cons: Expensive, need specific touring boots
It’s tricky to compare the two types of bindings like-for-like these days, as there’s recently been a surge in the production of ‘hybrid’ touring bindings that combine pin binding touring efficiency, with alpine binding downhill performance – check out the Salomon Shift and Marker Kingpin M-Werks 12 as examples of hybrid bindings done well.
Elasticity / Retention
By far the most important characteristic of any ski binding: how well is it able to hold your boot on the ski as you’re arching some high power turns? It’s no good owning a binding built with weaker springs or softer plastics that’s not able to withstand the forces typically put through it at high speeds.
Opposite to the retention of a binding is release: how well does it allow your foot to release from the binding in the event of a twisting fall? Smooth release from a binding could potentially save you from knee ligament damage, or even a broken leg. Touring bindings have come along leaps and bounds in terms of safety release these days, so you can be sure you’ll be buying into a safe binding when laying down the cash on a modern binding.
As with all things ski touring, the weight of the touring binding matters to many, but there’s always trade-offs to be made. In the case of touring bindings, it’s between binding performance and weight. Put simply, lightweight touring bindings offer feeble downhill performance, but of course have the advantage of extremely low weights, whereas heavier binding offer unparalleled downhill performance, at the cost of more weight.
Heel risers allow you to lift your heel to a height whilst ski touring. This means that your foot is able to return flat whilst the ski is on a steep slope – saving you from having to stretch your Achilles to painful lengths in each stride.
Some buyers prefer the simplicity of just two heel risers (usually 0˚ and 5˚), whereas others may feel more confident with the full three risers. Some bindings, frustratingly, don’t come with the ability for your foot to be flat to the ski when in touring mode – which might put off a few potential buyers.