Me: 5' 11" / 170 pounds / 33 years old
Boot / Binding specs: Tecnica Cochise Pro 130 - 300mm BSL, so small binding size with 115mm brake.
Mounted on: 2013 Salomon Rocker2 115 in 188cm.
Days Skied & Where: 2 uphill, 5 lift assisted. Tahoe area, Squaw, Alpine Meadows, Kirkwood, Northstar.
As someone whose only previous experience in the back and side country involved carrying my skis over my shoulder, this year I decided it was time to get a little more serious and invest in an AT binding and some skins. I'd resort skied for a day in the past on some Marker Dukes and while I thought they were decent enough, they didn't inspire a great deal of confidence in firmer or chopped up conditions. So when Salomon / Atomic announced the release of their new Guardian / Tracker 16 binding while promoting a more stable, responsive feel for the descent, it was exactly what I was looking for (in theory at least). The intention of my setup was to mount them on a powder ski that I could use at a resort without feeling compromised and then take outside the resort to go chase after more powder after everything was tracked out.
The highest praise I can give the Guardian in terms of downhill performance is that I simply forgot I wasn't skiing on a regular downhill binding. If you were to blindfold me and have me ski one run on this binding and another run on a Look Pivot 14 or Marker Jester, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you which was which.
After I had them mounted I noticed a very small amount of play in the heel piece and was initially concerned it would lead to a sloppy feel when skiing, but upon clicking in my boots and applying pressure/weight to my skis, the wiggle disappeared and they felt rock solid. I've since taken them at high speed on hard pack, busting through chopped up crud, a couple of 8-12 foot drops, and a very ungraceful 360 with a sketchy landing, and I have as much confidence in the Guardians now as I do any other binding.
As for the uphill, being a back country noob I can't provide a great deal of comparison to the other AT options out there, but I can share my observations. First, at 1482 grams per binding, they're obviously very heavy compared to a tech option like Dynafit. Plus, having them mounted on a 115mm wide / 188cm long ski isn't going to help matters in the weight department, so I was admittedly a bit concerned about how much work I had ahead of me.
After a couple of tours through boot-deep powder I was pleasantly surprised. The weight really wasn't bad at all and when setting the skin track they had a nice smooth gliding motion and what felt to be a fairly efficient pivot point. It's worth noting that my Cochise boots have a walk mode to increase range of motion and are notably lighter than regular alpine boots, so that likely helped my cause on both points. The flat walk mode, which is actually about 2 or 3 degrees because of the way the climbing bar flips down and must take up some space under the heel, felt just fine during flatter stretches. I know some folks have complained about this but it didn't bother me at all. The fully upright climbing mode was confidence inspiring and there wasn't any slipping as my heel came down each time to make contact with the bar.
When transitioning from climb to ski mode, it was easy to accomplish using my poles. There was some build up of snow under my heels where the metal connector hooks to lock you into ski mode are located, but one or two kicks and I was able to lock back down without any problems. I have yet to try to remove my skins without stepping out of the bindings (mainly because they're new and G3 glue is particularly sticky), but for those who are able I can definitely appreciate the value in being able to transition that way.
Overall I'm extremely impressed with the Guardian 16. For someone who is just getting into the back country or really values downhill performance and intends to use the same setup in-bounds at a resort, it's a great option and/or way to get started.