To ski into the backcountry under your own power, you need bindings with a tour mode that allow your heels to come up. And in the past, you had to choose between uphill comfort and downhill performance—and safety—when picking out your equipment.
Fritchi Diamir’s Vipec binding eliminates the need to make that choice. It’s the first two-piece, lightweight touring binding with an adjustable release setting (like the DIN setting on an alpine binding) that releases from the toe and the heel—keeping you secure while shredding, but also allowing you to promptly release when needed.
And this is a significant upgrade. To (hopefully) keep you from tearing your ACL, a binding must release during a big crash or under the torqueing forces of an avalanche. Historically, AT bindings tended to prematurely release in ski mode in rough conditions, putting the skier in danger. To avoid this issue, skiers would put themselves at risk by using a toe lockout that wouldn't release—even during a crash or avalanche.
The Vipec solves this problem with a set of wings that fold down flat to release your toe and potentially save your knee. But it won’t release during normal skiing, even if you huck a cliff or chatter off irregular snow at high speeds. The toe has a sliding carriage that moves side-to-side to provide play on par with alpine bindings. It’s not the first binding to allow lateral movement without popping off, but it’s the best at preventing pre-release.
Skiing frontside runs at Snowbird, it was hard to remember that I was using a flimsy-looking tech binding. And when someone else in my group who was skiing the Vipec crashed, the binding released easily and predictably.
The Vipec’s solid alpine performance comes from its heel piece. Unlike other tech bindings, you don’t twist the heel piece to switch between tour and ski modes. You flip it up, more like an alpine binding. So when you’re skiing, you don’t lose power through side-to-side movement of your heel as you would in other tech bindings, which tend to rotate slightly during powerful turns.
The Vipec, compared to most AT bindings, doesn’t need to be locked. Simply raise the toe lever to make the jaws stiffer in climbing mode, which thankfully doesn’t affect ski mode at all. Heavier or more aggressive skiers can dial up the release value as high as 12. (Note: There is no DIN rating for touring bindings yet, but I found that the Vipec never prematurely released even when I was skiing slabby, wind-crusted backcountry conditions.)
Another great thing about the Vipec is that it’s very easy to switch from tour to ski mode. You just click the black lever by the heel of your boot to slide the heel carriage back, freeing your boot so it can pivot on the toe pins. There are also two lifters you can flip up that make climbing steep hills easier. To put the binding back in ski mode, just click the lever back up.
So yes, the Vipec is very, very good, but it’s not perfect. It certainly takes a little practice to get into, and it’s finicky to mount—I suggest taking it to a shop, at least until Fritschi modifies the screws that hold it together. Finally, the tour / ski mode lever was a bit stiff—possibly because the bindings I tested were brand new and hadn’t been broken in yet.
But those are minor issues for backcountry skiers who don’t want to sacrifice weight on the climb or safety and performance on the descent. It’s also about $400 hundred dollars less expensive than the next best available option, the Dynafit Beast ($1000.) If you ski in the backcountry and care about releasability and downhill performance, this is the binding you should buy. Despite a few kinks, it is by far and away the best option out there that I've tried.
The Vipec is the binding I’ll be mounting on my next pair of skis. Compatible with all but uber-light randonnee boots.