If you have ever gone ski touring, or at least researched the equipment, you have probably come across the “tech” binding system, a type of Alpine Touring (AT) binding that allows the heel to be released to skin up hills. The differences between tech and AT binding systems is apparent simply by looking at them — rather than clamping the boot in a step-in fashion like regular alpine bindings, tech bindings hold the boot with four pins, two that lodge into a molded fitting in the heel and two that clamp into holes in the metal toe fittings.
The original Tour Lite Tech (TLT) binding was released by Dynafit in Europe in 1990 and hit North America three years later. It had a slow uptake in Canada and the U.S., mainly because of its unconventional design and fragile appearance.
But alpinists were quick to catch on to the weight savings and the binding proved to be surprisingly robust, leading to several refinements over the years and Dynafit's domination of the tech binding market.
After the patents for the TLT system expired a few years ago, several companies such as Plum and La Sportiva began to release their own versions of the tech binding, but effectively the design has changed little since 1990.
Still, to this day, skiers in Whistler will go on and on ad nauseum about how they ski “too aggressively” for such small bindings, and how they would rather lug several more kilograms of metal and plastic up the skin track for peace of mind that their bindings won't pre-release. Eric Hjorleifson myth busted that notion a few years ago when he was filmed dropping 30 foot cliffs on a pair of Dynafits.
The Marker Dukes were heralded as the new age of downhill performance in the backcountry when they hit the market six years ago, unseating the ageing Fritschi Freeride as the AT binding that didn't compromise downhill performance. The Dukes were great and everybody had a pair, but its days are now numbered — people want to schlep less weight in and out of the backcountry, and they no longer have to compromise downhill security.
Enter the Beast.
Dynafit were incredibly secretive about the development of this very resort skiing capable binding system, which has release value (RV) of 16.
Note that RV is not a certified DIN value (the standardized RV on alpine bindings) because no standardized test has been developed yet. The point is that you can now ski on a tech binding with the high RV that many resort skiers feel they need, but with enough elasticity to release when they are supposed to.
In the past skiers have resorted to “locking out” Dynafit bindings when skiing on exposed lines or big faces to prevent pre-release. This adds a hazard of knee injury if you crash and the skis may stay attached to you if you are caught in an avalanche. But with a recommended retail price of $990 and a limited manufacturing run, the Beast certainly won't be on every fat ski in the Peak Chair line this season.
Swiss binding manufacturer Diamir (inventors of the Fritschi Freeride) have also thrown their hats in the ring this year with their new toe-releasable tech binding, the Vipec. With an RV value of 12, half the weight of the Beast and coming in at $625, the Vipec represents a much more plausible option for those wanting to ski the resort and the backcountry on the same binding.
The polarity that separated resort and AT bindings for years is rapidly closing and as more manufacturers catch on to the fluid backcountry market, prices will come down and those wielding the weight on the skin track will get left even further behind.
Vince Shuley is a backcountry enthusiast with an eye on his piggy bank.