OK, we know now that it will be at least a
couple of years until the new standardized telemark boot sole
will come to market. This begs the question, what do we want
right now? What features and capabilities in backcountry oriented
bindings do we want to see in the interim?
The first thing we would like to see is actually
not a feature at all: real quality control. For far too long
now we have been living with failure, risking life and limb using
products that continue to crater at an alarming rate. Sadly,
tele skiers have come to accept this situation as normal and
part of the tele scene. Recent posts on the Telemark Talk Forum
have expressed this clearly; "all bindings break so choose
the one that gives you the most control" or "parts
failures are a fact of life, get used to it and carry spares".
This is not acceptable. Too small cable swages
that break easily or catastrophic failure of closing mechanisms
could have very serious consequences in the backcountry. Poorly
manufactured plates with toe bars that break, plastic pieces
that snap in the cold, components that are easily damaged by
ski edges and adjustment parts that break, are just some of the
things that we want to see eliminated.
This can be accomplished the way it is done
in every other industry, through strict quality control. Each
individual part must be carefully inspected, and yes, failure
tested whenever possible. Plastic parts in particular. My experience
as a product designer at Kelty Pack many years ago taught me
that the quality of plastic parts delivered from those doing
the extruding, casting or injection molding, can vary wildly.
The only way to assure that a crucial plastic part is up to snuff
is to test it before installation. Once parts have been tested
and installed the entire assembly must be carefully checked.
Before sealing the box or bag, an inspector must make sure that
all the parts are there and that everything is in order. They
then put an "inspected by.." card in each one. This
would assure that the customer gets both a right and a left binding
and all the installation hardware. I know this sounds basic but
we have heard way too many times about customers getting two
left bindings or receiving their bindings with parts missing
Another important part of the quality control
picture is the testing of new designs. The days of testing product
designs on an unknowing public have got to come to an end. New
designs need to be manufacturer tested of course, but consumer
testing needs to be done in a more systematic way. Initial product
runs of 200 to 300 units with all bindings distributed from the
manufacturer directly to customers who agree to provide feed
back would be one approach. Product developers could have the
name and address of each of these first customers and could follow-up
with questionnaires, as well as provide the users with direct-line
contact to the R&D folks. Selling bindings to the public
and waiting to find out what breaks is a poor way to do business,
I'm not saying that this is being done by any specific manufacturer,
but one has to wonder how many are getting their product testing
feedback from the warranty-return department.
Testing is a tricky thing, in the rush to
deliver a new design to the customers, often the product's developer
is tempted to cut corners. It is human nature to avoid seeking
out bad news. In this situation, designers doing this run the
risk of finding out about their product's failures from irate
customers, and disappointed folks writing testy posts on Forums
such as ours. Not a good way to find out about your product.
First and foremost a backcountry oriented
binding must be light weight, at least relatively so. Tele skiers
seem willing to put up with heavy boots and many will even use
fairly heavy skis, probably because the performance increase
is seen to offset the added weight. In bindings, folks seem reluctant
to make the same trade off. Perhaps this is because they feel
that the performance from quality cable bindings is already quite
high and there is a limit to how much weight they will put up
with for the sake of convenience.
A lot of effort has been put into producing
step-in releasable tele bindings. This has resulted in big, bulky
bindings that many feel are more suited to resort use. This is
fine, many, many tele skiers spend half or more of their time
at the resorts and are very interested in these bindings. I fall
into this category myself. But realistically I am unconvinced
that I really need or want a step-in for the kind of backcountry
skiing I do. I can deal with the few times I take my skis off
and on during a bc day if I can have a binding that weighs half
that of a step-in releasable.
What many of us would like to see is a binding
that weighs about what a cable binding weighs now but one that
refines the entry process and makes it easier. A binding that
does not force us to struggle to get the darn duckbill toe into
the plate and under the toe bar. A binding that does not require
fooling around with lining up the cable into the boot heel groove.
What we want is a binding that we can set our boot into and flip
a lever (or throw) for positive closure. Positive enough
that we won't come out of the darn binding when skiing hard.
Myself, I don't mind the bending over to effectively close a
binding I know I won't come out of, but I sure am tired of the
hassle we now experience getting into the current generation
of bindings. The entry process could be made much easier without
the epense, weight and complicted parts needed for full-on step-in
Another thing many of us would like to see
is easier adjustment of cable tension. Imagine if a backcountry
binding did not require a tool to adjust the cable and spring
setting. Now imagine a binding that actually made it easy to
increase or decrease the tension, we could leave it loose for
the ascent and crank it down for the descent! Touring functionality
combined with downhill performance, like many have enjoyed with
the 3-pin cable set-up but without the need to remove and reinstall
the cable. This should be doable, and certainly less of an engineering
challenge than providing a step-in releasable tele binding.
A word about releasbles here: how much weight
do you really want to add for this feature? In my mind the only
reason to have a releasable set-up is for avalanche safety. Dr.
Mike Tuggy's telemark injury study found no statistical basis
for concluding that releasable telemark binding actually reduce
injuries. Therefore, unless one has a workable brake incorporated
into the design, the benefit of a releasable binding is highly
questionable, a safety strap negates the releasable feature completely.
Perhaps a more important consideration, when looking at the merits
of the releasable feature in future backcountry binding designs,
is the much discussed absence of a standard tele boot sole. Until
this boot sole redesign is in place, a stand-alone DIN chartable
release binding will probably remain illusory.
We want an easy to get into, secure, light-weight
backcountry oriented telemark binding
that does not break. Let the boot makers get it together in the
next couple of seasons and standardize the tele boot sole but
in the meantime, give us a perfected and refined tele binding
that does not weigh 4 pounds. Please?
Note: We have a couple of new, backcountry
oriented telemark bindings on their way to us right now for testing
and review, a full report will follow. Stay tuned!
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