The 6 Best Backcountry Bindings of 2012
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Marker Duke Bindings
THE SELL: Maximum downhill performance with some tourability. THE TEST: Marker now makes lighter bindings (the Baron and Tour F10/12), but the updated Duke, which has a wider binding chassis for stronger power transfer from boot to ski, remains the most powerful and torsionally rigid AT binding on the market. Two other smart improvements: the updated AFD pad (the part of the binding under the forefoot) is now compatible with almost every AT boot on the market, and the higher climbing bar makes for easier skinning on steep tracks. THE VERDICT: The updated ergonomics and chassis are welcome; it’s still the best binding for someone who skis predominantly in-bounds and only occasionally goes on short tours. 5.7 lbs
Twenty-Two Designs Axl Bindings
THE SELL: A stout, free-pivot touring binding that can take a beating and drive the biggest skis. THE TEST: The stainless-steel Axl isn’t light. But most testers were willing to accept a little heft on the uptrack for what one described as “unmatched lateral stability and power.” A new heel lifter now accommodates nearly every boot on the market, and on the downhill, unlike other bindings, the Idaho-made Axl has three settings for its underfoot-mounted cables to satisfy styles from big-mountain chargers to meadow skippers. THE VERDICT: Plays best with stiff boots and big boards. 4 lbs
Rottefella NTN Freeride Ski Bindings
THE SELL: A resort-oriented step-in telemark binding with increased safety and mucho power. THE TEST: With its safety release, standard brakes, and four cartridge options to cover nearly every modern telemark style, the unchanged NTN (only the paint job is new) remains our favorite binding for aggressive skiing in our out of bounds. It tours pretty well, too. But, at more than four pounds, and with a walk mode that's not quite friction-free, it isn't nearly as efficient as a lightweight, free-pivot binding like the Voile Switchback X2. THE VERDICT: The most alpinelike binding available in terms of edge control and step-in ease. 4.4 lbs
Dynafit Radical FT12 Bindings
THE SELL: A resort-worthy Dynafit binding. THE TEST: We were skeptical, but the Radical, with its wider footprint and stronger lateral impact resistance on the toe-piece towers, really is tough enough to handle daily in-bounds wear and tear. Because it’s low to the ski and offers no lateral play, the FT12 turns on a dime, in-bounds or out. And at a pound and change per binding, it still received high marks on the way up. Efficient heel-post climbing aids adjust with the flick of a pole, making transitions easier. THE VERDICT: Toughest Dynafit we’ve tested. 2.6 lbs
Voile Switchback X2 Bindings
THE SELL: The lightest free-pivot telemark binding on the market. THE TEST: The Switchback has long been a tester favorite for fast-and-light touring setups; our only gripe has been its lack of power. Seeking to address that, Voile overhauled the X2 this year, pulling the cable routing back more than an inch to create what one tester described as “greater lateral control and a much more active engagement.” Voile also outfitted the X2 with a longer, more supportive toe plate and stiffer cartridges. THE VERDICT: It’s definitely got more oomph, but some testers still longed for more power. 3.2 lbs
La Sportiva RT Bindings
THE SELL: The lightest touring binding on the market. THE TEST: Built out of an extremely strong (and expensive) aluminum alloy, with hardened-steel heel pins and stainless-steel springs, the 10-DIN RT is a lot stronger than it appears. And despite how light it is (less than a pound per pair), the RT has all the touring features we look for: a three-position heelpiece, integrated crampon attachments, and brakes ($125; sold separately). Our only gripe is that you can’t adjust the heelpiece with your ski pole; you’ve got to twist it by hand. THE VERDICT: A deceptively full-featured binding. 13 oz
La Sportiva’s new alpine-touring bindings, the RTs, are built with the same tech fittings as the Dynafit bindings they’re modeled after, and they work with all Dynafit-compatible boots.