Haute Route, weekend in a log cabin, quick spin up a mountain after work - every ski tour is different, and for just about each one there is an appropriate ski touring binding. Overwhelmed by the choices? Not to worry, read on.

In the past, it wasn’t difficult to differentiate between ski touring bindings, however the range and diversity that is now available fills every niche possible. It is no longer a matter of choice between either/or pure ascent and descent performance or buying an ultralight Pintech binding or a massive freeride binding, there are now numerous specialised touring bindings that are impressive, some focusing on a lighter ascent, some on a powerful  descent.  For laid-back recreational skiers, gram counters or speed junkies, there’s something for everyone. If you have never or not recently, browsed the market for ski touring bindings, it can be a daunting prospect with the plethora of options available: to find the ideal touring binding, it’s best to stay focused on the fundamental differences between ski touring or freeride bindings.

Buying the correct ski touring binding: Z-value and weight

Many ski mountaineers as they climb rely on compact and lightweight. For those that also want the highest descent performance, should consider a frame binding, that has a bit more weight behind it. | Photo: Dynafit
Many ski mountaineers, as they climb, rely on compact and light weight. Those that also want the highest descent performance, should consider a frame binding, that has a bit more weight behind it. | Photo: Dynafit

Just like when buying an alpine binding one of the first directives to limit the selection, is to look at the Z-value. The Z-value (with touring bindings under the standard ISO 13992: 2007 regulated) states what pressure is necessary to release the ski boot from the binding. Bindings with a high maximum Z-value (12-16) are best suited to very athletic, powerful riders who like to challenge their bindings, especially on the descent. Lighter, more laid-back riders and those who prefer to pump their verve into extra vertical metres therefore take it slower on the descent, can also confidently be satisfied with a lower Z-value in order to save money and weight.

Freeride bindings: Frame bindings by Salomon and Marker for downhill performance

Hardcore freeriders will agree: The only reason you arduously haul up that mountain is to feel the rush of full-speed on the descent. Share that philosophy? Then you are best to consider a solid frame binding such as the “Duke” from Marker or  Salomon’s “Guardian”. Salomon’s sturdy freeride binding or a Marker binding accept no compromises or limits on downhill skier performance. The only limit is set by the skier! Given that frame bindings have additional weight, they are not ideal for long days spent ski touring. It’s more about tackling short climbs or venturing through the sidecountry of ski areas to find alluring lines without long hikes. The undeniable extra weight of a solid frame binding in return has the advantage of combining a smooth and efficient stride up with an aggressive descent.

Light and ultra light: Dynafit bindings with Pintech technology

Touring bindings with pins or inserts are now widely used and very popular. Note: compatible ski boots are required. | Photo: Dynafit
Touring bindings with pins or inserts are now widely used and very popular. Note: compatible ski boots are required. | Photo: Dynafit

Tip the scales of the adrenaline-addicted freeride fanatics and you’ll discover the ultra light cadre of ski tourers – with their effortless strides past struggling and wheezing mere mortals on the ascent, they are easy to pick out of the crowd. The first choice for nimble feet such as these, is a frameless Pintech binding. Unlike conventional touring bindings, Dynafit, brand and inventor of the frameless system, have excluded the frame entirely. Instead, it has been replaced with a front and rear jaw and also two iron pins to hold a compatible ski boot in place, the boot, once attached, makes the ski touring binding complete. A Pintech binding brings two distinct advantages to the ascent: Firstly, while in walk-mode, the binding remains on the ski and needn’t be raised with each step, as is the case with a conventional frame touring binding, making striding uphill a much more pleasant experience. The other huge advantage is the considerable weight saving: for example, the Dynafit TLT Speed Superlite, one of the lightest ski touring bindings in the world, weighs in at a mere 370 grams per pair, compared to, for example, the hefty 2,790 grams per pair of Marker’s Duke EPF 16. Saving on weight, giving a 16 Z value and optimal power transmission are all powerful arguments in favour of these ski touring bindings.

Ski touring and ski mountaineering with a Dynafit and Plum touring binding 

While specialised alpine touring bindings are designed for delivering maximum performance in climb or descent, the deciding factor on an average, will primarily come down to the use between a frame and Pintech. In soft snow and with normal riding, there is barely a noticeable difference in skiing performance. This makes it easy for anyone wanting to put together a pure ski touring set for untracked slopes and at the same time gives confidence in taking up with a Pintech binding such as the TLT Radical FT Dynafit or the Plum Guide. Serious compromises in terms of downhill performance need not be made. For the purpose of saving on weight, the financial investment is greater than that needed to buy a framed touring binding, however the advantages out-weigh the out-lay – multi-day hut trips and high altitude routes. After all, the less weight the more your back and knees will thank you after a long day of climbing.

The connection between high ascents, descent performance and frame bindings

The situation is different on hard surfaces: Most Pintech bindings have little to no elasticity, so that every bump and  vibration is felt by the rider – like a bike without suspension. On soft snow it’s not a problem, since this provides sufficient damping. For those who want to ski with alpine touring bindings on a prepared piste, are much better off with a frame binding.

With an alpine touring binding from Fritschi you will benefit from low weight, high performance with a higher safety descent. | Photo: Fritschi
With an alpine touring binding from Fritschi you will benefit from low weight, high performance with a higher safety descent. | Photo: Fritschi

Because of defined deployment behaviour framed touring bindings provide shock absorption significantly longer, therefore giving a quieter ride on hard surfaces and at higher speeds. Frame bindings such as the Marker Tour F10 / F12 or Fritschi Diamir  Scout 11 are definitely still light enough for long climbs, and also perfectly suitable because of their resemblance to an alpine binding for ski touring beginners.

Fritschi hits the market with the first Pintech binding with lateral and front release

According to the skeptics; the main shortcoming of Pintech bindings on off-piste performance has long been the trigger behavior. Unlike a frame or alpine binding, they trigger on the heel and due to their low elasticity in the front clamp had caused quite a few false alarms when going over bumps. Many an extreme skier had in the past, locked the front jaw, to avoid losing their skis in critical situations, subsequently increasing the risk of injury by the impact of a fall when the skis weren’t released from the bindings. Several manufacturers have now found a solution to this hairy problem. Fritschi have created the Diamir Vipec – the first Pintech binding defining sideways and frontal activation. Marker and Dynafit have even gone a step further: Both Marker’s Kingpin and the Beast by Dynafit have a TÜV-certified release according to DIN / ISO standard – an award that had so far, only been accredited to frame bindings.

Above all, the Dynafit Beast is designed with its high Z-value (14 or 16) as a full freeride binding, and finds a close parallel between high ascent and descent performance in a touring binding. Professionals will more than likely still resort to a specialised binding to push them to their limits for either ascent or descent; However, for those who wish the best of both worlds and are ready to pay a little extra, should look more closely at the Beast.

Accessories for ski touring bindings

  • Compatible Boots: When buying a Pintech binding it is essential to ensure that the ski touring boots are fitted with inserts making them Pintech-compatible. If manufacturers vary from boot and touring binding, it is particularly advisable to check the functionality before the first tour.
  • Lanyard: To save weight, a safety strap can be used instead of a ski brake, preventing the loss of the skis on many Pintech bindings.Ski stopper: ski stoppers weigh a little more but reduce the risk of injuries because the rider detached from the ski in the event of a fall. Depending on the manufacturer and model some Pintech bindings can be retro-fitted with a ski-brake.
  • Crampons: Crampons provide additional support and make it possible to climb on icy slopes. They are fastened to the binding and are also available for most touring bindings.

Safety and Maintenance Tips for touring bindings

  • Ski service: The touring binding should be checked prior to the start of each season by an expert. This not only increases the life span, but also ensures that it is still working properly after several years.
  • Let the professionals mount and set bindings. | Photo: Dynafit
    Let the professionals mount and set bindings. | Photo: Dynafit

    Mounting touring bindings:

Installation and adjustment should be performed only by a trained expert! Incorrect assembly /  adjustment of the binding could lead to considerable risk of injury.

  •  Ski care: ski bindings are designed so that they require virtually no maintenance. Hard dirt can be removed with water, however, cleaning agents should not be used! These can damage the oils and fats of binding and impair function. Store in dry conditions.

CAUTION: knowledge of avalanches and terrain as well as a complete avalanche backpack including relevant equipment for off-piste are a must!

Read more about ski touring and avalanche safety: