Bindings are one key to skiing control and safety. They absorb shock, filter out vibration and reduce fatigue. Skis, boots and bindings work in unison, and a good pair of bindings can even help you ski better.
The bindings you buy should match your Skier Profile (described in our Downhill Skis article). Here's how this translates to bindings:
A binding's ability to release at the right moment is as important as its ability to hold you the rest of the time. Release settings are often referred to as DIN (short for Deutsche Industrie Norm), a set of German standards that has long been used by the ski industry. Alternately, some manufacturers may use the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Standards) equivalents.
Release settings (whether DIN or ASTM) are based on your height, weight, age, skier type and boot sole length. The lower the number, the less force a binding needs to release. All bindings offer a range of release settings (usually 3 to 10 for intermediate models and up to 14 or 16 for advanced models).
Skier type is one of the key distinctions. Release settings should be based on how aggressively one skis, rather than simply his or her competency. For example, a technically proficient skier may have Type 3 skills, but chooses to ski more cautiously (Type 1 or 2). This skier would want a lower release setting. Conversely, less-skilled skiers (Type 1 or 2) may be skiing more aggressively and need a higher release setting so the vibrations and jarring of a fast run don't prematurely release the bindings and cause a crash.
IMPORTANT: Be honest when choosing your skier type. Release settings should be calculated and adjusted only by a certified technician.
This spec gives an indication of what size boots will fit into the bindings. Bindings with a large adjustment range will fit a wide range of boot sizes. This is most often a factor on kids' bindings.
Many bindings come with built-in or optional lifters. Lifters increase groomer and high-speed performance by stiffening the ski under the boot and adding leverage for better edge angle and response. Lifter materials may also help dampen ski vibration on the snow and absorb shock on landings. They help boost the energy transfer from the foot to the ski's edge. Marker, which has about half of the bindings business in the US, says their research shows that a lift of 11 to 12mm is optimal for 95% of the skiing population. Too much lift, however, lessens the returns making the ski heavier and less versatile.
Not everyone wants or needs lifters. Some powder skiers prefer little or no lift, so their skis are less "turny" and more stable when going straight at speed. Similarly, terrain park skiers require little or no lift for jumping, landing or skiing backwards.
Bindings are typically made of a combination of metal and plastic. Today's plastic is impact-resistant and tough enough for most skiers. But if you ski aggressively on your edges, you may want to go with a tougher binding with more metal parts.
In general, the more expensive the bindings, the more performance features they offer. High-end bindings may use titanium and/or carbon and offer advanced shock-absorption technology. Other bindings are still high quality, but without the added technology and higher prices.
The position where the binding is mounted on the ski affects performance. Most ski manufacturers recommend a mounting position, and a qualified ski shop such as REI will mount them as suggested. The farther back the binding is mounted, the stiffer and less "turny" the ski feels. Because women's center of gravity is farther back than men's, their bindings are often mounted slightly forward of center. This allows for less fatigue and better control when skiing. Park and pipers also tend to prefer a forward mount.
Shop technicians either attach bindings to a premounted track integrated into the ski by the manufacturer, or they drill holes in your skis to screw in the bindings. Each time a set of holes is drilled, the ski is weakened slightly. Different manufacturers use different drill hole patterns, so buying the same brand of bindings to remount on an old pair of skis can help avoid extra holes.
After purchase, your bindings should have their release settings set and tested by a certified technician. As noted earlier, this setting is based on your height, weight, age, skier type and ski-boot-sole length. The technician will have you fill out a form to answer these questions. Have this done at the beginning of each season or every 20 days of skiing. Important: We cannot guarantee release in all conditions and circumstances.
By Susan Schnier
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Last updated: Tue Nov 20 10:33:24 PST 2012
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