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How to Choose an Alpine Touring Binding

Building your backcountry kit has a lot of moving parts. How light do I want to go? What’s the safest set up? Can I throw double backflips on my tech bindings? Alpine touring bindings are one of the more important pieces of your backcountry setup. Bindings connect you directly to your skis and deserve a little extra attention. They play a big role for both the uphill and downhill performance of your entire set up.

You CAN backflip on tech bindings! PHOTO: Bianca Germain

Fear analysis paralysis no longer! Today we break down the different types of touring bindings and what you might want to be looking for. The biggest factor in choosing a touring binding (and really any ski gear), is figuring out what exactly you are looking to prioritize with the set up. Is it uphill efficiency? Downhill performance? Easy transitions? Knowing what exactly you want your gear to do helps narrow down the options. Ultimately, you’ll be happier with the gear you wind up with.

The Basics: Downhill vs. Touring Bindings

Ski bindings have one goal: bind you to your skis. The ski industry has come a long way though, and downhill bindings now also provide suspension, power transfer in turns, and ideally should come off in the event of a crash. Traditionally, touring bindings lack those extra bells and whistles that help them perform like alpine bindings.

Elastic travel allows your boot to actually move around inside the binding, which provides better suspension by absorbing vibrations and inconsistencies in the snow. With fixed toe pieces, traditional alpine touring bindings never had that feature. On top of that, downhill alpine bindings carry greater contact points with the boot. The more contact points you have, the greater power transmission, and more responsive a ski binding will feel.

Traditional alpine bindings are all held to international safety standards (ISO/DIN) that tech bindings aren’t. When set correctly, alpine bindings are designed to come off in the case of a crash or big impact. Tech bindings are not normally held to those standards, and can be less consistent to come off if needed.

More and more, touring and tech bindings feature new technology that help them perform better on the downhill.

Frame Bindings

Frame bindings are essentially a full, downhill alpine binding that sits on a frame that can unlock and hinge up and down for uphill skinning. We love frame bindings since they give you the ability to give you full, downhill skiing performance and safety, with the bonus option to tour. 

marker baron alpine touring binding
A Marker Baron in uphill action.

As you might imagine after looking at one, that frame adds quite a bit of weight. Generally, frame bindings click in around 2500g for the pair (which is close to how much some pairs of skis weigh). They certainly aren’t optimized for touring, but sit at a much friendlier price point than other tech bindings (lets say roughly $350 vs $500+), and they don’t require you to get new touring boots. You simply click in with your alpine resort boot, unlock the frame, and head uphill. Frame bindings serve as an awesome way to get into touring and backcountry skiing, without needing to drop a bunch of money on a whole new setup. 

Hybrid Bindings

It seems like this is where most of the innovation in touring bindings is coming from these days. Ever since Salomon introduced the Shift binding, this has created a whole new world of “one ski quivers”. Now, skiers can choose from the Salomon Shift or the Marker Duke PT. Both of these bindings function as a fully rated downhill bindings (and ride like them too), but transition to touring bindings in walk mode. This gives you the best of both worlds!

shift as alpine touring bindings
The Shift binding stays light enough to carry around and provides great downhill performance (especially for those dicey spring conditions). SKIER: Doug Evans

These bindings are much more lightweight than their frame counterparts (the Shift weighs around 1800g for the pair), but feature tech fittings in the toes and require tech compatible boots to travel uphill. This is ideal for folks looking to ski mostly inbounds at a ski area, or who prioritize safety and the downhill skiing experience.

“Roller” Pin Style Tech Bindings

Right now, this class of bindings are the gold standard in touring binding tech, and typically have the most features to improve that downhill ride. Roller pin bindings have two individual heel pins in the tower that can rotate and move around, as opposed to the traditional fixed U-Spring style. This typically gives you greater customization with your release values.

Dynafit rocked the backcountry world by introducing a rotating toe piece. This simulates some elastic travel, giving you that nice smooth ride on the way down. Ideally if you were to release, you’d come out at a nice angle with minimal knee tweaking. This is one of the only TUV certified tech bindings out there, giving it an extra safety rating over other similar bindings.

Is my binding broken? No, just rotating! The Dynafit Rotation in action.

Powder7 staffers are huge fans of the ATK Raider binding, which offers an extra piece called the Freeride Spacer. This is a little piece that fills the gap between your boot and the heel piece of the binding, increasing contact points and improving power transfer.

Other binding manufactures have started to introduce a “gapless” heel design. You can find these in the G3 Ion and Zed. Normally, there’s a bit of gap between your boot and the actual heel tower to accommodate for the ski flexing beneath you. With a gapless design, your boot and the heel tower have no gap between them, meaning the heel tower actually can flex along with you and the ski. All of this is an effort to improve both power transfer and a smooth release.

sending on alpine touring bindings
You can still send big with tech bindings, in this case, the G3 Ion. PHOTO: Bianca Germain

U-Spring Tech Bindings 

Typically the lightest out of the whole bunch, these bindings use a fixed U-spring in the heel. These fixed U-springs are a bit of an older style, but are still much sought after for their simplicity and how lightweight they are. These include bindings like the Salomon MTN (binding choice of Cody Townsend for the Fifty Project) and the Marker Alpinist. 

A U-spring from the Salomon MTN. You can see, the name really sums it up here.

Since these springs are fixed, they tend to wear out the tech fittings on our boots a bit quicker, and have less adjustment for release values. That being said, if you value uphill efficiency and ease of use these are some of the best options out there. These are great options for folks looking to really save weight and put their bindings through the paces.

OK, So What’s the Bottom Line?

There’s no hiding this, some bindings are better at some things than others. Like we mentioned above, the best way to choose an alpine touring binding is based on what you’ll be doing the most with that set up.

Are you looking for a pure tech binding, but want a really strong downhill ride? Look to some of the rolling pin designs, like the G3 Ion, Dynafit Rotation, and ATK Raider. Are you racing friends uphill for long backcountry missions or hut trips? Consider a U-spring to keep it simple. Are you not even sure if you’ll like this touring thing, but still want to give it a whirl? Rock a frame binding for a bit.

As always, the best gear is the gear that suits you and your style the best. Don’t worry about the hottest new item or biggest hype. You’re walking uphill to go skiing in a world with high speed lifts (which sounds a bit silly when you put it that way), so keep it easy on yourself.

Curious about other backcountry gear? Take a peek at our favorite alpine touring set ups this year.

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