Ski Touring part 2: bindings
For ski touring – and especially the way up – you need special ski bindings. There must be a “walking position” on it: the heel must be able to separate from the ski and there must be a pivot point at the toe to be able to take steps. There are three types of bindings with such a running position. Each species is designed with a specific purpose. And each species has its advantages and disadvantages.
The first type is the oldest: the frame binding. A frame binding is actually an ordinary alpine ski binding (which you can also use with ‘normal’ alpine ski boots), the heel and toe of which are connected to each other by means of a rail, plate or frame. Hence the name “frame binding”. There is a hinge under the toe piece; behind the heel piece there is a mechanism with which the binding can unfold (for the skins) or fix (for the descent).
These bindings are heavy and the pivot point is not optimally positioned. Because of this, this bond costs a lot of energy to tour with. That weight even counts double. Because the heel piece is attached to the ski boot (as with a normal binding), you have to lift that entire heel piece and frame with every step. The advantages of such a binding are that you can go in with normal alpine ski boots, and that they are relatively cheap. These bindings are really meant for very short tours, furthermore especially for descending.
De toerbindingen van Marker. Van links naar rechts: F12 Tour EPF (Frame), Kingpin 13 (hybride) en Alpinist 12 (pin)
The pin binding
The other extreme is pin binding (or “tech” binding). This is a binding that is minimalistic in design: a loose heel and toe piece that is screwed onto the ski and attached to the ski boot by pins. The pivot point at the pin binding is, as it were, in the shoe; the heel piece is small and stays on the ski, so it doesn’t have to rise every step of the way.
Advantages of such a bond are clearly the weight. Where a frame binding quickly weighs 1200 grams per binding, there are pin bindings of only 200 grams per piece (these are extreme racing specimens; the most common models weigh from 300 grams each). That makes quite a difference. But there are also disadvantages to pin binding. For example, they are pricey and you need shoes with special “tech inserts”: holes into which the pins fall. And that connection with pins usually gives a less solid feeling and less effective transfer of forces to the ski. This is a considerable concession, especially when descending into difficult or heavy snow.
The third category has only been around for a few years: the free-tour bond. That is actually a hybrid version with elements from the above types of bindings. They actually have all the advantages of pin binding: a fairly light whole with a heel piece that fixes the shoe in the same way as an alpine binding. The heel piece is made so that it slides to the side in the walking position so that your heel comes off the ski (without the heel piece remaining on the ski). But furthermore all the advantages of pin binding (light weight, efficient pivot point). You still have the disadvantage of having to have a ski boot with tech inserts on the front.
There are three of these free-tour bindings on the market: the Salomon Shift (850 grams), the Marker Kingpin (750 grams) and the Fritschi Tecton 12 (650 grams). Of these three bindings, only the Fritschi can also set the “release value” of the toe piece. That is the DIN value that we know from alpine ski bindings. Of all three bindings (and all pin bindings) this can be adjusted at the heel piece. But only with the Fritschi (and with frame bindings) also in the toe piece.
Frame binding: heavy, solid, suitable for alpine ski boots, for short tours, especially for descending
Pin binding: light, minimalistic, efficient, less power transfer during descent, require special ski boots with tech inserts, for long tours
Freetour binding: as pin binding; the only difference is the alpine heel piece – solid power transmission, slightly heavier, still requires special ski boots with tech inserts, for a 50-50 trade-off between rise and fall