Binding Mayhem

If you’re anything like us, you’re a little bit irritated and maybe a little bit confused by the binding situation in the ski market these days. This morning as I was setting up the photo for this comparison I sent a snapshot to Patrick Moore (known to the cool kids as Toque, only because he’s so Canadian) for his comment. Patrick is a great friend and equally great wax nerd, and we send each-other espresso pictures and tidbits on a regular basis. Here’s our exchange:

Z: Quick take on binding options: confusing or awesome?

T: Confusing. Bindings are, unequivocally, the most ridiculous part of the ski industry. By far.

So that’s his opinion. But it’s not why I shared the conversation. It was his follow-up that ensure that this would be a web post, and not just a facebook picture. Here it is, straight from Toque:

I don't use gifs often. But when I do, it's in relation to bindings.

I don’t use gifs often. But when I do, it’s in relation to bindings.

ioin_iron_man_mini-fridgeThe most irritating thing about bindings is their cost. We know how much goes into developing and producing skis and it’s easy to justify the expense of skis, and rationalize the performance benefits of good skis. But bindings are basically widgets. They’re cheaply made necessary commodities and they cost around or above $100 per pair. $100? For chrissakes, I can buy this Ironman refrigerator for only $50! You think that sucker has less molded plastic or stamped steel in it? Or do you think it has a bigger market so they’ll make their money on volume? Please.

Leaving aside my price griping, we have a lot of options to deal with this days. Fischer and Rossignol have teamed up to develop a new slide-on plate system called IFP (which stands for Integrated Fixation Plate). The new IFP plate skis from Fischer and Rossignol will only work with a new Turnamic binding from Fischer or Rossignol. Meanwhile, Rottefella continues to license their NIS (Nordic Integrated System) to Madshus and others. To confuse things a little more, Fischer has released an NIS-compatible version of their new Turnamic binding. And none of this even acknowledges everything going on at Salomon with the SNS and Prolink (NNN compatible) platforms.

When we consider that all we really want is a functional way to hold the boot to the ski, it’s tempting to ask the question: why? Why make it all so complicated? Well, the answer is simple, and I’ve already alluded to it. It’s profitability. Bindings are a great way to make money. I guess Fischer and Rossi got sick of paying too much to Rotefella for boot soles, NIS plates and bindings, and wanted to make all that profit themselves. The good news is that the introduction of the competing system has, in fact, driven prices down, marginally.

The other good news is that Boot/Binding compatibility is going the right direction. Salomon still supports their SNS system with the SNS sole, and the Pilot and Propulse bindings. But everything else, including the Salomon Prolink system, is all universally compatible across all NNN-style boot and binding solutions. So, no matter what NNN boots you’ve got, you can click into any NNN, Turnamic, or Prolink binding.

The more confusing thing is the proliferation of solutions at the ski/binding interface. That’s what we’re going to try to simplify for you. For now, we’re focused on NNN solutions. The only solution for SNS compatibility is to screw-on an SNS binding. Those can be screwed-on to all existing binding plate systems without much hassle. You might see some Salomon sponsored World Cup athletes using Salomon Prolink bindings screwed on top of skis with plates on them. This comes down to sponsorship obligations – there is no good reason to screw a Prolink binding onto a ski with a plate mounted for another binding system – your Prolink boots will work with other bindings.

Alright. That’s a lot of words. Time to cut to the chase. The chase starts here:

Bindings

From Left to Right:

The left-most ski is sporting the new IFP (integrated fixation plate). You can screw an SNS binding onto it, but for NNN compatibility your only option is a Turnamic binding.

Second from Left. Fischer Turnamic Skate Race Pro.
$90
108grams (weights do not include plate).
Position is adjustable in 5mm increments, with three positions forward and three positions back of neutral (same as NIS). The adjustability is tool-less – you don’t need a key. But you need a strong finger to operate the catch.
This is a functional binding and its performance is on-par with everything else here. The binding is actuated by twisting the large knob at the front of the binding. This is easy to do with gloves on your hands, which is positive. You can only adjust the heel plate position by removing the entire binding from the plate.

Third from Left. Fischer Turnamic Skate Race Pro NIS.
$90
110.5grams.
Look closely. This ski has an NIS plate. This is a Turnamic binding for use on your NIS-plate equipped skis.
The adjustability is the same as all the others – 5mm increments and the same number of positions. The adjustability is tool-less – you don’t need a key. But you need a strong figure to operate the catch.
This is the one binding we haven’t actually skied on, but we can make some assumptions based on shared features and functions. This is a functional binding and its performance is on-par with everything else here. The heel plate is not attached to the body of the binding, and is easy to adjust because the little catch lever is lifted off the plate far enough to slide your finger under. But you will want to make sure to position the binding far enough back so that you don’t stand on that lever.

Third from Right. Rotefella Xcelerator 2.0.
$90
93.5grams.
Position adjustment requires a separate NIS key.
You’re probably already familiar with this binding. It is elegant in its simplicity, with only one moving part. It’s also irritating to use. It can be very hard to actuate the clasp with gloves on your hands. Some racers have felt that the binding doesn’t provide the most positive and secure feeling on the ski. Occasionally a batch of bindings has had issues staying latched shut. Nobody loves these bindings, but they generally work well, with only a slight tinge of irritation creeping in around the edges of your experience. These bindings sit lower on the ski than any other options, but about 1mm.

Second from Right. Rotefella Xcelerator Pro Classic (with a skate bumper).
$130
98.8grams.
Position is adjustable in 5mm increments. Adjustment is tool-less. No key is required. But the heel plate adjustment is almost impossible with gloves on – especially if it’s cold out (like, say, in winter).
We started using these bindings on demo skis because we figured the tool-less operation would make it a breeze to swap bindings from one pair to another. Almost. The heel plate thing is a bummer – especially when your hands are already frozen from standing out in the cold handing out skis. But this isn’t a problem for most skiers!
The upside is that these are great to ski on. They sit just a little higher off the ski, with about 1mm more ramp than the normal Xcelerator binding (very much on-par with the Turnamic bindings in terms of position off the ski). The platform is wider, and the connection is more secure from foot to ski than the Xcelerator. This is the binding I prefer to skate on. Funny thing that it’s made to be a classic bindings (we just swap out the bumpers). The actuator is still a pain in the cold with gloves on. The expense is absurd.

Right-most. Rotefella Xcelerator Pro Skate.
$130
117.8grams.
Same positions, same tool-less operation as the Pro Classic.
Remember binding wedges? This sucker lifts your toe about 5mm higher than any of the other bindings. That wedge idea really peaked a couple of years ago, and while some skiers still really like the feel of a wedge, I personally feel that these are too extreme to be a day-to-day solution. While most racers stick to one binding platform, I like to have the wedge bindings available for those days when they seem to really make a difference. They almost always feel more slippery than flat bindings, but we only occasionally find them to actually provide higher average speed. The problem is – when they’re faster, they can be significantly faster. We’ve seen 20 seconds in a 1.5km loop at the most extreme (Craftsbury snowmaking loop – tested by Amy, who is infallible). On the downside, some skiers (like Noah Hoffman, for example) really struggle to ski well on them. I think it has to do with ankle flexibility – the extreme wedge bindings require more of it.
What can I tell you? We keep these around, and use them when it makes sense. But we don’t sell a lot of them or recommend them too liberally.

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