In 1984 Fritz Barthell patented the original frameless (tech) binding. In the early 90’s Dynafit launched the Tourlite boot/binding combo revolutionizing the ski mountaineering industry and saving pounds off skiers’ feet. Over 30 years later, Dynafit still makes their bindings with unparalleled quality; copied, but never matched.
“Tech bindings” refers to all bindings that utilize the Dynafit model of a sprung toe piece with optional lockout and a heel unit that can lock the boot in place or allow it to pivot for uphill climbing. All these bindings need a special compatible boot with “tech” inserts at the toe and heel. We often receive questions on our avalanche and backcountry ski courses about the bindings we use, so I thought I would throw out a few pro tips for using tech bindings.
Practice.Sounds obvious, right? But, it can be tricky stepping into these bindings in varied terrain. Early on, in my usage of Dynafit bindings, I had them out on the carpet at home stepping in and out of them hundreds of times. Today, many of the less race-oriented Dynafit bindings like the TLT Radical FT have guiding side towers to make this process easier. I was very grateful for my practice when I picked myself out of the trees on a powder day and was able to easily step back in. (Yes, guides fall occasionally)!
Keep the snow and ice out. On a long skin or when carrying skis on a climb snow and ice can build up under the heel and toe. When it is time to rip skins, check that there is no snow or ice under the toe and heel. Any snow is normally cleared by just popping the toe piece into lock mode a few times (as though you tried to clip in but failed). In wetter climates, you may need to scrape under the toe piece, this is rarely needed in Colorado. Then, once you have clicked the toe in, lift the ski off the ground with the heel still free rocking the ski back and forward to pivot the toe and ensure you have good contact. The heel usually clears by rotating the heel piece into downhill mode.
To lock the toe or not? The toe piece of most tech bindings has some sort of lock out mode. This makes it a lot harder to accidentally unclip and means that when touring uphill with the extra torque of the whole foot pivoting you don’t just pop out. The toe should never be locked out downhill skiing in avalanche terrain as the skis will act as an anchor and pull you deeper down in the event of a slide. The only time I will ski with toes locked is in steep “no fall” terrain. If I am skiing this terrain I gotta be pretty certain on my snow stability and the need to not lose a ski trumps other considerations.
Ski brakes? Some of the lighter and more race oriented bindings like the TLT Speed Radical and TLT Superlite 2.0 bindings have no ski brake. This saves them a lot of weight, but gives less security in the event of a release. Leashes can be good on a deep powder day, but for the reasons stated above shouldn’t be used in avi terrain. Speaking from experience of having seen a ski shoot off down the slope and almost spear a ski partner, come up with a good strategy when transitioning. Flip your skis over in the snow or stab them vertically. Finally, remember if skiing your Dynafits in a ski area you must have brakes or a retention device. It’s the law!
I have been skiing the Dynafit TLT radical ST tech bindings for many years and had “plate” style touring bindings before them. Although the conventional touring bindings are easier to use, basically being a regular binding with a tour mode, tech bindings far outweigh (or under weigh) them for touring. The weight savings alone are a real game changer and make the uphills a pleasurable experience. When ski touring, loving the uphills as well as the down is so important, and this is difficult when you feel like you are weight training on a never ending treadmill with 10lb weights around your ankles. I have never felt held back or timid about skiing a line on my Dynafit bindings and frequently ski them inbounds with confidence. My final advice, maybe a warning, is that if you demo Dynafit bindings you will never want to go back to your big heavy bindings!