Sep 22 2011

Dynafit goes bi-sensual! Can you believe it?

You won’t believe it!

John Holleman keeps it tight and light.
Tioga Peak, California.

The concept behind Mark Lengel’s Telemark Tech System binding is so simple it’s a wonder no one tried it before. Perhaps there was a quack or two out there who did and didn’t even believe it themselves when they tried it, or they knew no one else would, so they abandoned it (afterall, they’re quacks).

It seems odd that the common view from backcountry’s religious sect know as telemarkers — who originally espoused light and simple gear for traveling in the mountains — would not recognize the value of the Dynafit system for enhancing the free mind that flows from a free heel. But as pinheaded telemarkers we didn’t – probably because telemarkers have been as poisoned and deluded with the bigger is better concept as much or more so than alpine skiers. Witness the trend in tele for phat skis, stiff 4-buckle monster boots and, consequently, heavy metal cable bindings.

As a tribe I can guarantee it’s going to take some time for pinheads to open their minds to the possibilities that the Tele Tech System (TTS) provides. However, when they do it will spawn a new generation of ski alpinists we’ve only been able to dream about until today.

On the tele-resistance scale, the Telemark Tech System is right at the top of the scale.

With a system this light, it won’t be hard to offer the ability to switch between locked, resistive or free heels, all in one rig depending on conditions or mode. Very few telemarkers I know have a problem with using a variety of turn styles, from variations within the telemark theme, to mixing in parallel turns either for the sake of variety, or to deal with conditions at hand. It is in this latter instance that the option of locking a heel becomes very appealing. Even die-hard tele-all-the-time pinners will admit that on steep and icy terrain the parallel turn rules. And in this instance very few would refuse the option to hold the heel down nice and tight, especially when falling is not an option, nor is losing a ski.

But I digress here actually, because what, at the moment, is most interesting to notice is how telemarkers have fallen prey to the same syndrome that most alpine skiers are duped by. Their eyes deceive them and they think that Dynafit, or more generically, Tech bindings simply aren’t strong enough to do the job. Their small size is undeniably the cause.

Whaaat? That's all there is to it? Say it ain't so.

I remember the first time I spotted a pair. We were skinning up the west ridge of Baldy Bowl, on 10,040-foot San Antonio in 1989. I’d heard about these puny little bindings that the Euros were using when we chanced upon a guy wearing a pair. No one believed such a small binding could actually hold a man to a pair of skis.

Ordinarily we’d just stare at any new gear we saw in the field since it was obvious the gear we used needed improvement. This time we stopped the guy and asked if he’d let us really look at ‘em. He knew exactly what we needed to see, so he disengaged and let us inspect ‘em up close. They were so small they defied belief. Indeed, from the get go that’s what Dynafit bindings do.

Even if they did hold, there’s no way they could provide any reasonable measure of release safety. The wearer admitted as much, but laughed it off by saying he hardly ever needed release and besides, as far as he could tell, they released whenever they should so he had no complaints. We figured he was just loopy ‘cuz he probably drank too much French wine and those Euros were funny anyway. Besides, there’s no way something that small could go the distance. It might be light and it might release exactly as he said but there was no way those things would last more than 30 or 40 days without breaking.

Smaller than your fingers, but far stronger.

Such it seems is the instinctive reaction to Dynafit bindings. We think that for something to be strong it needs to be massive and beefy. Yet when you stop to consider other examples in life you realize that brute force is rarely the way to go, especially when there is a more elegant solution possible. So it is with Dynafit, replacing raw power with strategic power integrated into a functional system. It takes a while for your mind to accept it, which is why I’ve long maintained that Dynafit tests a mans faith because you won’t see that it works until you believe that it works.

Contrary to the popular myth that we believe in something after we have seen it, quite often you can’t see the value in something until you first believe it. Any man or woman who has a strong religious faith realizes the importance of that premise. It can literally turn your view of the world upside down, or in the case of the transformation of Ramer’s tuning fork release plate to a pair of Dynafit toe nipples — inside out.

And this is the thing that is so ironic, since telemarkers have earned such a reputation as religious zealots for proselytizing their manner of turning. Just as new backcountry converts have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that a binding as small as the Dynafit can even keep you reliably attached to your ski let alone be more durable than a massive hunk like the Duke, telemarkers can’t believe the same things. That’s the problem when your belief gets watered down with sound bite dogma and you stop using your brain.

John Holleman testing tele ideas.

I’ve had similar ideas floating in my head for years but Mark Lengel made those ideas into drawings then real pieces of material that incorporate the Dynafit toe with a tele cable. There is no doubt he questioned the veracity of those steel nipples to hold a tele boot while flexing too. Except he had enough faith to test if what he believed was really so. And I’m here to say, it’s a go. If you’re not sure, then I simply need to echo what I’ve told new turn earning alpine skiers for years – you just need to have faith that it really works.

Despite being an ardent promoter of Dynafit to my locked heel friends, I shared your lack of confidence for the ability of such a small package to work for tele too. It just couldn’t possible be strong enough to hold your toe while cranking a tele turn, and certainly not repeatedly. But it only took a nudge from Mark Lengel for me to see it was possible and now that I’ve tried it, my belief in the Tech system as the future of bindings for ski alpinists is rather firm.

Tele be or not be tele, that is the question.

This use of tech toes for tele has me wondering about G3’s long term plans with Onyx too. Even if they are working on something for tele, rest assured this writer would be among the last people on earth G3 would share that information with so their denial of a new tele binding must be categorically dismissed or assumed, depending on how you look at it.

Since it is very rare for any concept to be pursued by only one party at a time, I’m sure they’re playing with ways to make Onyx the do it all binding. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the toe and heel pieces slide on a nifty universal mounting track, or that the heel piece slides to the rear to disengage, something a switch hitter would want so they could free the heel or hold it tight, without having to exit the binding. Nor is G3 blind to the potential for NTN, especially those boots with a Tech fitting in the toe.

Which is part of the whole allure of using tech toes for telemark. If you can reduce the weight of the tele side of the package to only two pounds, it isn’t asking that much to add the weight of a rando-racing style heel for occasional pitches with a locked heel. No, this wouldn’t have the safety factor of a Duke, or even a Dynafit ST, but whenever I’ve wanted a locked heel, safety was defined by not releasing. Even teleheads who are weight conscious would be willing to accomodate 3 pounds if it offered vestiges of release and the ability to use one rig to that’s bi-sensual. Locked heel for when you want a firm foot to drive your edges or the sweet flex of a tele turn wherever you prefer it.

The Caveat
Now I don’t mean to be hypocritical here in acknowledging the fly in the ointment of my faith in Dynafit. There is one item that remains to be seen – the durability of a tech system toe subjected to telemark’s notoriously destructive forces over time. That it performs admirably on the tour and turning is no longer a question. How long it lasts before wearing out or breaking remains to be seen. The free-heel turn stresses a binding more than a locked heel one, of that there is ow doubt. However I remain confident that durability can be theoretically improved with change in materials.

The recognition that a tech toe works as well in the tele realm as it does in the alpine, perhaps even better, is good news for those with an alpinist view, especially those who are bi-sensual.

© 2011

Verdict on the TeleTechSystem binding

Day 2 on the TTS binding

Day 1 on the TTS binding


PS: I don’t care that you don’t care that I tele.