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Modern Binding Tech... Compromising Safety and Release?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

It has been several years now that Marker changed it's premium toe design to the new "Triple Pivot" horizontally oriented spring design.  Obstensively, this was touted to reduce toe pre-release issues, give a wider footprint to more easily tip wider skis up on edge, etc.  At the same time they changed their premium heel design from the Twin Cam heel to the Inter Pivot Heel.  These changes are represented by the Marker Royal Family lineup of bindings (Jester, Griffon, Duke, Baron, etc.).   Tyrolia (et al) made a similar move when they came out with the Attack 11 and 12 toe piece.  Now, Salomon has the Guardian/Warden toe.

 

Seems to be a lot of reasons for this change from traditional toe pieces to the horizontally oriented spring design.  First it allows for easier adaption to the AT style binding that pivots at the toe area when hiking, secondly is "stiffer" laterally for a stronger connection from boot, binding and boot, and lastly "reduces" pre-release upwards due to decompression etc, and they are lighter in weight.  I would also add, much cheaper to manufacture.  

 

These modern bindings have been wildly popular, the Marker Griffon has consistently been the top seller in the North American market.  But, as a shop rat that works on and test hundreds of pair of ski bindings every year, I have some reservations about these design changes.  These types of toe pieces test fine when they are new and are used with new boots, but the functionality and consistency is much diminished as time goes on, they also have a lot more friction between boot and binding than the traditional toe pieces have (had), and the lack of upward release is also concerning.  As I understand it, the backward twisting fall leads to the most common debilitating leg injury (ACL injury).  So, why no upward release features in these "modern" binding toe pieces?  Aren't injury liabilities still a concern?  or Do upward release features even make a difference in safety?   Are there more injuries today than 10 years ago?   I haven't seen the statistics,  I just don't know, 

 

Binding marketing and design used to be targeted at "safety" and convenience.  Now it's about retention, weight, and "hikability".  The "Best" bindings are all about retention at all costs - appropriate for the top 1-5% of the ski market- film stars, cliff jumpers, racers, etc.  But are these best for the "average" skier, the families, weekend warriors, that ski most of the time on piste and moderately.     

 

In my shop, I am seeing a sizable part of my customer base shying away from the "modern" design.  Many have had issues where the binding did not release when they thought it should have, and are concerned about the safety.  I have a box with used Marker Jester, Griffons, Dukes, etc. that these people have traded in.  These folks are looking for a quality binding that is focused on safety first, but that is becoming increasingly hard to find.  The more safety oriented bindings are targeted at beginners or lightweight intermediates. Where are the quality options for more advanced skiers?

 

I am also not a huge fan of these toe pieces, and run older traditional designed bindings on all of my personal skis and my families' personal skis.  Although, I haven't experienced a toe release (or pre-release issue) for over 30 years, I am not willing to compromise my knee ligaments, if I need to release out of a toe someday. Are these concerns justified?  I don't know for sure, but I wonder....

post #2 of 14
You raise some interesting points. I have both types of binding and can't say I have noticed any difference in release performance.

A more important issue for me is selecting the right DIN setting. I wonder how many people overestimate their skill level and have the DIN cranked way up?
post #3 of 14
You could ski FKS or PX bindings, and you won't have to worry about Markers.
post #4 of 14
Chipping in late on the conversation, but something not mentioned I think is where most skiers are in terms of weight distribution today which has decreased the need for upward toe release - at least outside the trick park.

Go back 30 years to the days of straight skis where about <20% were carving with forward pressure and I think you see more upward release "saves". Why? MOGULS. And all those short-radius, rotational skid-turns which covered nearly every bit of advanced terrain with moguls . The technique of the day - in and out of the mogul field - had a lot of people (pretty much anybody without some race training) sitting back in the ski slightly to un-weight the forward edges and make faster skid turns.

Now you'd be hard pressed to see anyone doing that beyond the bunny hill, as carving with forward pressure and proper edging is so much easier. With weight properly forward, you are not going to fall back as much. I don't have any data either about types and frequency of particular falls - but I think you probably have much less of that kind of fall today.

Also, when your carving on a highly edged ski, it's probable that any force that might pull your ski away from the toe would also latterly pulling it to one side of the toe. I.e., even in a backward fall, if I'm edged I'm going to fall to the side as well.

Other's thoughts...?
post #5 of 14
Eh, upward release is still important. The Griffon is a free ride binding, and you'll appreciate upward release if you get air off something and get in the back seat.
post #6 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by gdeangel View Post

Chipping in late on the conversation, but something not mentioned I think is where most skiers are in terms of weight distribution today which has decreased the need for upward toe release - at least outside the trick park.

Go back 30 years to the days of straight skis where about <20% were carving with forward pressure and I think you see more upward release "saves". Why? MOGULS. And all those short-radius, rotational skid-turns which covered nearly every bit of advanced terrain with moguls . The technique of the day - in and out of the mogul field - had a lot of people (pretty much anybody without some race training) sitting back in the ski slightly to un-weight the forward edges and make faster skid turns.

Now you'd be hard pressed to see anyone doing that beyond the bunny hill, as carving with forward pressure and proper edging is so much easier. With weight properly forward, you are not going to fall back as much. I don't have any data either about types and frequency of particular falls - but I think you probably have much less of that kind of fall today.

Also, when your carving on a highly edged ski, it's probable that any force that might pull your ski away from the toe would also latterly pulling it to one side of the toe. I.e., even in a backward fall, if I'm edged I'm going to fall to the side as well.

Other's thoughts...?

Carving as the be-all and end-all of skiing is an idea that is 10 years out of date. Lots of people are spending more time off trail and in the trees now than they were then. Which, depending on where you're skiing, means either skiing 3D snow, or skiing in conditions where the technique is little different than skiing moguls. Ungroomed, bumped up trails have not disappeared either, not by any means. 

 

I think your perspective may be very heavily colored by your location, but keep in mind a large chunk of the skiing populace doesn't inhabit Midwestern bumps. 

post #7 of 14
Quote:
Carving as the be-all and end-all of skiing is an idea that is 10 years out of date. Lots of people are spending more time off trail and in the trees now than they were then. Which, depending on where you're skiing, means either skiing 3D snow, or skiing in conditions where the technique is little different than skiing moguls. Ungroomed, bumped up trails have not disappeared either, not by any means. 

I think your perspective may be very heavily colored by your location, but keep in mind a large chunk of the skiing populace doesn't inhabit Midwestern bumps. 

I don't disagree with you. But consider:

(1) Manufacturer lag - the days of "full carve" skiing may have passed but that doesn't mean the idea isn't what manufacturers have designed / tested their products against .

(2) Learning path for the off trail skier - I don't think you can argue that the path to advanced skiing today involves mastering the front-side carve (compared to the days of straight skis where it was "the wiggle"). That process changes where the fore-aft balance is for an advanced skier who is off trail today. On or off piste, weight distribution and edge angle are different than years ago when the older type of 180 degree toe release technology was ascendant.

(3) Off trail risks - skiing 3D terrain, the risks are different for the manufacturer. Imagine you are Marker getting sued by someone who claims your binding didn't release correctly. On-piste with a recreational skier who just fell and no release... very bad. On the other hand, in an off-piste situation (e.g., I hit a branch / stump / rock / whatever), I think you get to sit back and say injury was an assumed risk. That has to get factored into the manufacturers cost-benefit analysis.

I wasn't saying upward release isn't important. But that I think the frequency with where the skier is in the back seat are fewer, manufacturers can be more accepting of the economic cost of those cases where a failure of upward release leads to injury. And in many of those cases they have some pretty strong legal arguments to avoid paying out anyway...

On that note, I'd like to make another "in the old" days comment, and say that years ago people kept their equipment for much longer than they do now. The OPs observation that the failure rate becomes an issue over time follows the calculus that if the "norm" for useful life of equipment is considered 3 seasons, and you happen to be the unlucky guy out on a 5 year old setup where the bindings fail to release, you are going to have to show that you had them shop tested, etc. otherwise it's going to be viewed again as though you assumed the risk by skiing on an "old" binding that wasn't bench tested.
post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by gdeangel View Post


(2) Learning path for the off trail skier - I don't think you can argue that the path to advanced skiing today involves mastering the front-side carve.

But that I think the frequency with where the skier is in the back seat are fewer...

Interesting.  In my observations, I think people without strong carving skills skiing off trail, especially in the powder.  It seems to me that the new ski technology allows folks with less technical skill to ski varying/difficult/powder conditions with more ease.  This appears to result in a lot of skiers who are way, way in the back seat.  I have no idea if that results in more backwards type falls but it is a perhaps a fair assumption.

post #9 of 14

OIh boy.....Have you looked around on the hill lately? Are you skiin with your eyes closed

 

The hill is cock full of back seat drivers.   this is one area where newer skis may not have helped, In fact I think to some extent exacerbated it. 

 

If you are going to pull a hard carved turn at speed  on a pair 13- 21M rec skis you best be driving forward.  Way more forces to deal with than the old 50M straight skis!

post #10 of 14
Quote:
If you are going to pull a hard carved turn at speed on a pair 13- 21M rec skis you best be driving forward. Way more forces to deal with than the old 50M straight skis!

Good point.

So much for my theory that on-piste carving had something to do with a deliberate evolution of binding tech. Still, I'd love to see the ACL injury data year-to-year on falls off-piste vs. off-piste...
post #11 of 14

@coolhand (the OP):

 

I hold similar feelings as you about current binding tech, but I arrived at those feelings from a different angle.

 

When I returned to skiing in 2013, after being off skis for 14 years, I expected to see big strides in binding tech.  Instead, I was disappointed.  It seemed to me that binding tech had actually *regressed*.  I took one look at the horizontal toe spring designs (and all the plastic) and didn't like what I saw.  I guess I expected the ski industry to make more progress.

 

Coming from a technology background, I've had to deal with standards & compliance on a regular basis.  One thing I came to understand is that "standards" - and the defined processes of compliance testing - can sometimes lose sight of the actual overarching goals.  That is:  big $$$ applies influence (ie: business politics); "standards" authorities are influenced by $$$ and politics - and that combination tends to shape how important actual innovation & real product improvement is.  Also, with bindings, there's the added angle of liability - which tends to suppress innovation because insurers often see it as potential "new risk".  It seems to me that this might be what has been going on with ski binding development for over a decade.

 

Seriously, I can get my hands on a relatively powerful multi core micro server TODAY that has the form factor of 1/3 of a credit card - for 5 bucks.  Cheap, compact/tiny, high storage density batteries & capacitors exist that can easily (and reliably) fire compact servos - triggered in pico-seconds.  Cheap tiny micro sensors (compression, tension, acceleration) can easily be employed to monitor skiing dynamics in bindings in real time.  Heck, just a hybrid binding design (combination of conventional mechanical with some digital assist) could be a big leap forward (I said "could" - not would; it all depends on the manuf actually making a good product).  You could even "record" the sensor metrics to your smartphone (forces, angles, etc, over time) which would be fun to review later - I'm sure racers would like that.

 

But, no, what we get is a cheap-to-make horizontal toe spring design with a lot of plastic.

post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by coolhand View Post
 

It has been several years now that Marker changed it's premium toe design to the new "Triple Pivot" horizontally oriented spring design.  Obstensively, this was touted to reduce toe pre-release issues, give a wider footprint to more easily tip wider skis up on edge, etc.  At the same time they changed their premium heel design from the Twin Cam heel to the Inter Pivot Heel.  These changes are represented by the Marker Royal Family lineup of bindings (Jester, Griffon, Duke, Baron, etc.).   Tyrolia (et al) made a similar move when they came out with the Attack 11 and 12 toe piece.  Now, Salomon has the Guardian/Warden toe.

 

Seems to be a lot of reasons for this change from traditional toe pieces to the horizontally oriented spring design.  First it allows for easier adaption to the AT style binding that pivots at the toe area when hiking, secondly is "stiffer" laterally for a stronger connection from boot, binding and boot, and lastly "reduces" pre-release upwards due to decompression etc, and they are lighter in weight.  I would also add, much cheaper to manufacture.  

 

These modern bindings have been wildly popular, the Marker Griffon has consistently been the top seller in the North American market.  But, as a shop rat that works on and test hundreds of pair of ski bindings every year, I have some reservations about these design changes.  These types of toe pieces test fine when they are new and are used with new boots, but the functionality and consistency is much diminished as time goes on, they also have a lot more friction between boot and binding than the traditional toe pieces have (had), and the lack of upward release is also concerning.  As I understand it, the backward twisting fall leads to the most common debilitating leg injury (ACL injury).  So, why no upward release features in these "modern" binding toe pieces?  Aren't injury liabilities still a concern?  or Do upward release features even make a difference in safety?   Are there more injuries today than 10 years ago?   I haven't seen the statistics,  I just don't know, 

 

Binding marketing and design used to be targeted at "safety" and convenience.  Now it's about retention, weight, and "hikability".  The "Best" bindings are all about retention at all costs - appropriate for the top 1-5% of the ski market- film stars, cliff jumpers, racers, etc.  But are these best for the "average" skier, the families, weekend warriors, that ski most of the time on piste and moderately.     

 

In my shop, I am seeing a sizable part of my customer base shying away from the "modern" design.  Many have had issues where the binding did not release when they thought it should have, and are concerned about the safety.  I have a box with used Marker Jester, Griffons, Dukes, etc. that these people have traded in.  These folks are looking for a quality binding that is focused on safety first, but that is becoming increasingly hard to find.  The more safety oriented bindings are targeted at beginners or lightweight intermediates. Where are the quality options for more advanced skiers?

 

I am also not a huge fan of these toe pieces, and run older traditional designed bindings on all of my personal skis and my families' personal skis.  Although, I haven't experienced a toe release (or pre-release issue) for over 30 years, I am not willing to compromise my knee ligaments, if I need to release out of a toe someday. Are these concerns justified?  I don't know for sure, but I wonder....

In fact one can argue that the emphasis on retention can make a binding safer. Top end bindings are made better at retention by increasing the elastic travel--the distance the toe or heel can move before it opens. This allows the binding to absorb transient shocks without releasing which in turn allows the use of a lower DIN setting. I am certainly not in the top 5% of ski ability but having been seriously injured by a pre release I consider retention to be as important as release.

 

The reason there has been no major technological advance in bindings, other than the incremental improvement in elastic travel, is that the problem is not technological--the problem is and always will be the fact that the two functions of a binding--retention and release are opposed to each other, and each skier has to decide in which direction the balance is tilted. When you list yourself as a Level III skier you are accepting a higher risk of injury if you fall in order to reduce the risk of releasing when you don't want to. BTW there is a very simple way to make bindings safer that applies to a large number of skiers--lose weight. You will be able to lower your DIN setting without pre releasing, while your bones and ligaments will be just as strong.

post #13 of 14

I have  to agree with oldgoat about the weight comment.

 

In Dec 2009 I was about 10lbs heavier then previous skis years, Dec 19th I pre-released out of my AC40's, DIN at 8.5 where it had been for years. After surgery to install a plate on 7 screws in my left collar bone, I was back on skis 8 weeks later in a 18" dump, I pre-released out of my Gotama's with the Duke binding. I skied to the lift cranked the DIN to 9.5. Later I checked the DIN chart and found I should be at 9.5 now.

 

The last pair of skis I bought I had The Knee Binding installed. It's a little heavier but I like the thought of what it can do. I'm still at 9.5.

 

OH yea, Also have  to agree with Atomicman, I see lot's of back seat skiers out there. I'd say 70% or more here in the East.

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by gdeangel View Post

Good point.

So much for my theory that on-piste carving had something to do with a deliberate evolution of binding tech. Still, I'd love to see the ACL injury data year-to-year on falls off-piste vs. off-piste...
You seem to be ignoring the fact that a good deal of ski bindings have upward release in the toe. Tyrolia and royal family bindings are one of the few that don't.
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