I first started back country or "alpine tour" skiing three seasons ago (2008-09) and have been hooked ever since. BC skiing has some appealing similarities to mountain biking, in that for the most part you earn your turns. I like that. There is also a certain sense of adventure to it all, as you are out "in the wild", that really gets me stoked.
For the first two years, I used the popular Fritchi Freeride binding either on skis I demo'd or on the pair I eventually bought, some used G3 rapid Transits. However, the engineer in me immediately noticed some shortcomings with the Fritchis:
- the pivot point for touring mode is a little awkward to say the least
- the binding design places you a good inch and a half in the air
- you are lifting the binding AND your boot when you tour
Tech bindings, also referred to as "Dynafit" after the most common brand available, solve the majority of these problems. They use pins on the front binding that lock into boots with the correct fittings which also provide the pivot, and they have pins at the back that lock into the rear of your boot. Lighter, lower and with a better pivot point, Tech bindings would appear superior.
New for 2009 following "three years of intense research and development", the G3 Onyx is designed to solve the common issues of tech bindings and be the ideal AT binding. Well, we'll have to see about that...
Th Onyx, all mounted up on my G3 Rapid Transits and ready to play. I deliberately left Tree's skis in the background to show the difference with the Fritchis.
The toe locked into the tech fitting with the "din booster" lifted. While G3 says it isn't required for touring, I typically lift them as I am not the most graceful skier, and have twisted out a few times already.
The heel pins locked into my boot.
The first heel lift. G3 says they are "pole actuated" but I've found them a little tricky.
The boot resting on the second heel lift.
This pictue shows the boot angle with the second heel lift compared to the Fritchi with the top heel lift also. Pretty much the same.
Trying to show the difference in pivot location. Too bad I didn't have a boot in the Fritchis...
The Onyx in the foreground is in "tour" mode with the lever down. The one in the background is in "ski" mode with the lever up. It is very important to make sure you have the lever all the way up and the heel piece completely locked, as it is quite easy to get a "false" heel lock (where it feels like your locked in) just to rapidly switch to "tele" mode when you make a couple of turns! (happened to me twice before I figured it out...).
An unintended consequence, but a good one. With the Onyx in "tour" mode and the ski brake locked down, waxing and tuning has never been easier.
I picked up my set of last year's Onyx's about two weeks ago for a pretty good price as the shop I got them from had decided to get away from AT skis and focus on regular alpine gear. Win for me! I took them on my recent trip to Mount Cain and skied the last four days on them. I have to admit, they take a bit of getting used to. However, the obvious benefits including less lifted weight, less overall weight and a superior pivot point have been immediately noticeable.
I did a quick tour up Forbidden this morning, and I have to say I've never climbed faster. Now that I have the heel piece figured out, I feel secure descending. I will post more thoughts on these bindings later in the season, and also intend to explore the whole "multiple base plates - one binding" dealio...
For more info, check out G3's very nice site for the Onyx at http://www.genuineguidegear.com/gear/bindings/onyx.
One more note, if you are looking for a pair, the 2010 models go up to DIN 12 (2009's only go to 10) and there is also the "Ruby" available, although I am not quite sure the deal with that model..oh wait, it's women specific...here are a couple more shots to whet your appetites...
They also come with leashes if you don't want to use brakes...
Tour mode with the brake still up. All you have to do is step down, and the brake locks.