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This is the GEAR Section. It is here you will find reviews on equipment and our thoughts on variations of the standard tools-of-the-trade such as shovels, poles, boots, and other items. We will also bring your attention to new and necessary (but lesser known) equipment. Last update 06/29/09

 

GEAR OPINIONS

Update: Since we wrote the review below, Marker has developed a new lightweight binding that may be stiff competition for the Fritschi. It weighs only 3.8 lbs and is available fall 2010. Clicking over from the climb to tour mode and changing the climbing bar heights (on the fly) may still be the drawbacks. If these two things rival the Fritschi way of doing things - do we have a new favorite? Stay tuned for more, but until then read below for information you need to know on backcountry bindings.

Marker Tour F12 BC Binding

  

   Marker Duke 5.4 lbs*          Fritschi Freeride 4.5 lbs             Marker Duke 2009                                 Fritschi Diamir Freeride Plus Randonee Binding

 

*Note: The Marker Baron weighs in at 4.9 LBS and the size large Duke is over 6 LBS.                   

 BINDINGS: Marker Duke vs. Fritschi Freeride Plus

The new Marker "side country" bindings are all the rage. It makes sense to me because it is the latest and greatest according to the buzz generated by the marketing machine. But let's take a closer look at this buzz.

Buzz says: Market Duke gives you the highest DIN available. We say 99% of you don't need it. There are many true expert skiers out there doing things most of us will never attempt and their bindings are set from 8 - 11 DIN. Why is it we are willing to pay more for 16? Answer is: if you are hucking big cliffs, big lines, big mountains (via Helicopter) or skiing hard pack at over 50 mph get the Duke.

Buzz says: The Market Baron and Duke transfer the most power to the edge of the ski. This is true, as these bindings are wide and rigid from heel to toe. But, again is it worth paying for? We don't think so, as our top skiers pretty much rule any terrain they ski and look fantastic doing it. Everybody in our group skis on Fritschi, inbounds and out without problems. I don't know anyone who has pre-released in our group and everyone is getting plenty of edge angle. But, give the Markers credit where due; if you plan on running gates and/or spending most of your time ripping on the groomers and only want to ski side-country rarely - then Marker is the binding. It is prudent to remember that the Fritschi allows for more natural ski flex, something that is handy when you want the most edge to stay in contact with the snow.

Buzz says: Duke is a backcountry binding. Absolutely true, but you will be traveling uphill slower than anyone of equal or even lesser strength (if they are on the Fritschi) because of the significant weight difference between these bindings. When climbing, plan on pumping about an extra 2,000 to 4,000 pounds on a climb of several thousand vertical. Do the math for an extra load of 6.4 ounces worth of bindings (per pair weight difference between Md Freeride Plus and Sm Baron). You also need to consider the extra energy needed to move dynamic weight as compared to static weight (think weight on feet vs. weight on your back).

Other Points:

1.The Markers do not convert from the climbing to the alpine skiing mode as easily as the Fritschi. This is a point to consider when you are standing on the summit, with the wind and cold freezing your fingers. Note that I can remove my skins and convert my Fritschi bindings to the downhill mode without ever taking my skis off. Learn this trick and you will never lose an untracked line to other powder hounds.

2. The newest Marker Bindings have a three position climbing aid, while the Fritschi has a four position climbing aid which in the highest position is 1.25 inches taller than the Duke and to the best of my knowledge is the highest aid out there. With skis getting wider and skins having better grip, being able to climb at steeper angles is important. Overall, the Fritschi's versatile multi-position aid makes for more efficient climbing. Don't be fooled, this 1.25 inch height difference will leave the Duke in the dust even - on the shortest of ascents.

3. The Fritschi comes standard (at least in most U.S. shops) with a 90 mm brake, expect to pay about $60 more  for the wider brake. Here, the Marker has one up on the Freeride, as the Duke comes standard with a 110 mm brake.

4. The Fritschi binding bar (connecting from toe to heel) slides freely as the ski bends, allowing the optimum natural flex of the ski. We think this is really important as it allows for better control of the ski and better snow contact.

5. The 2009 Fritschi is wider at the toe for better edge control of wider skis. Still, the Duke and Baron are the leaders when it comes to putting power to the edge. However, this is barely noticeable and not a good reason to choose the Duke over the Freeride in our opinion.

6. The Fritschi Freeride Plus has a neutral pivot point at the toe. This makes climbing more efficient, as your skis move forward under you with less effort and you get more edge grip from the single pivot point, at the toe, when traversing.

7. Look to Naxo NX21 as a comparable binding to the Fritschi for true backcountry travel. The Duke can be your choice for occasional trips to the side country and big time ripping, hucking, and building leg muscles when free heeling it up the hill.

CONCLUSION: Both bindings have a specific purpose in the ski world. Make sure you choose accordingly. I see the Marker as a good choice for those on-piste expert skiers who enjoy only a short and occasional foray into the side country, or for skiers in that special category that really do need a higher DIN setting to keep their skis on.

In my opinion, the Marker is for hucking big cliffs, very high speed ripping on firm or cruddy surfaces, and Big Mountain blasting. Hopefully, this last group of skiers have access to a helicopter, because the Marker will slow you down on long ascents.  Become addicted to out-of-bounds forays and you will most likely end up with the Fritschi.


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POLES: Self Arrest Grips

          In the beginning, when a skier fell on a steep descent, if was frequently followed by the big slide. Then, because of this painful and sometimes fatal activity, self-arrest grips were developed. Think you don’t need a pair? Well, consider this. During the late spring, some of the best ski descents are bagged due to the enormous amount of big faces that offer excellent corn skiing (the snow made for our fragile egos). Yet, there is a caveat. You need to climb these big faces or bowls in the early hours of the day, while the snow is still hard, in order to reach the summit of your descent before it thaws beyond perfect corn. Ascending these frozen faces without a way to stop sliding, if you fall, typically does not end well. Hence, the self-arrest grip suddenly appears very useful. Do not try to save money here by purchasing only one self-arrest grip, always get a pair. This makes it much easier to get at least one blade in the snow before you reach terminal velocity. Below is an excerpt from our book, A Weekend Warrior’s Guide to Expert Skiing, which will give you the low-down on this valuable tool.  

            The first self-arrest grip I saw was developed more than two decades ago by ski equipment icon, Paul Ramer. It is pictured in Figure 18.1 on the right side, and although today’s modern versions vary, the principle remains the same. There is some sort of blade attached to the grip of your ski pole, and when you fall, the blade is thrust into the snow and dragged down the slope, biting into the surface until you come to a stop. Without self-arrest grips, in many steep descents you will fall and slide until hitting immovable objects (usually rocks) or until you reach the bottom of the slope. Long falls on steep terrain most often result in minor to severe injury or death.

            These bladed grips can save lives and reduce injury, but you should never depend on them as a guarantee you won’t get hurt when skiing steep slopes. The grips allow you to relax more, and concentrate on the task at hand instead of being engulfed in fear.

            It is this notion of self-arrest grips alleviating fear that reminds me of a recent incident I witnessed in the Alps a few winters ago. During the trip, a few of us hired a guide and boarded a helicopter bound for a high plateau, at 14,500 feet above sea level in the Alps. Our goal was to ski down the glaciers to the village, about 8500 vertical feet below us. Everyone was having a good time until we came upon a narrow constriction filled with just a few meters of ice. Just below it skiing looked good again, and we decided to side step down this few feet of ice with our skis on. It seemed unnecessary to rope up for safety. However, this icy section was about 45-degrees steep, so the guide went first as a confidence builder for the rest of us. Just after him a second skier started to descend, wanting the guide to stay close below and offer moral support. Then it happened; the second skier started to get anxious and slipped on the ice, falling into the guide. They slid together for a short distance before the guide was able to stop.

Figure 18.1 Self-Arrest Grips. When the going gets tough you can’t live without them! Many steep descents in the USA and Europe carry with them the moniker “If you fall, you die.” But, not with grips this arresting.


           The anxious skier was not so lucky, and plummeted 1500 vertical feet to the valley floor. This person received cuts and bruises, was knocked unconscious, and suffered some abrasions, but lived through the fall to ski another day. In the Alps, a fall of that distance usually ends in death. But amazingly, this skier launched off a snow ramp and flew over many meters of rock debris before landing safely on the other side in the snow. Self-arrest grips probably would have given the skier enough confidence to side step down the short icy section, knowing a fall would only result in a few feet of sliding, as compared to a 1500 vertical foot screamer.
            These special grips are not just a tool for the backcountry, and can be very useful inside ski area boundaries as well. I have personally witnessed serious falls on black diamond and double black diamond runs that resulted in people sliding from 500 to 1000 vertical feet, and sustaining injuries that could have been avoided if they were able to arrest their slide with this type of grip. When using these grips, be aware that you can injure yourself on the blades, so it is imperative you practice using them before it gets serious. If you are going to practice stopping yourself with these grips, be sure to practice on a slope that loses its steepness in a very short distance and has a safe run out at the bottom. The slope must not have rocks, trees, or obstacles in general that you could hit. Be sure to have someone with experience show you how to employ these grips.
Self-arrest grips will never be a substitute for good ski technique, but they do add a margin of safety.
            Skiing the steeps is an adventure, but I am not encouraging you to go looking for steep skiing, with or without these special grips. You need to decide for yourself when it is your time to go in search of this scarier and more dangerous type of skiing.

Be sure to buy two, for if you ski with only one self-arrest grip it will be in the wrong hand when you need it. Trust me, this is the voice of experience speaking! If you would like to prove this, just go out and practice self-arresting in a safe environment. First practice with one grip, then two, and let me know your findings.

 

 

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