Last weekend we spent a day touring in the south-Savoie and a day in resort. The contrast to our backcountry eyes couldn’t have been more stark. Out in the high mountains with routes of 1500 to 2000 vertical meters nearly everyone is on Dynafit bindings even if skinny “matchstick” skis have slowly given way to larger “freeride” boards. Our resort day was surprising, surprising in the number of skiers now equipped with touring bindings in order to practise a bit of “sidecountry” skiing. Short climbs from the top of ski lifts to find stashes of fresh powder long after the visible runs are tracked out.
For sidecountry, the weapons of choice are Fritschi Freerides, Naxos and the derivative Dynastar Early Tram. These are recognizably touring bindings even if they can take a reasonable amount of resort pounding. Fritschi even made an alpine binding based on the same pattern.
People have often asked why isn’t it possible to simply mount an alpine binding on a touring plate. You have all the advantages of good release and high DIN settings but would be able to unlock the heel for touring. We’ve been here before. One example was the Petzl / Sk’Alp 8007 binding from the 1980s. A Salomon 447 toe piece was connected to a modded Look heel unit via a plastic plate. The main disadvantage was that it used a seperate toe unit for climbing, requiring you to remove skis to go from climb to descent mode and the binding used leashes rather than ski brakes.
It seems like an idea whose time has come. Marker are making a foray into the growing backcountry snowsports sector with the Duke. Unveiled at the Munich ISPO and Vegas SIA trade shows the Duke offers a DIN 16 alpine binding with freeheel functionality. Parts are shared with Marker alpine bindings but this unit is said to be the result of two years in research and development. A solid chassis links the toe piece with the heel unit and this also enables the heel to be adjusted for different boot lengths. Something that will please hirers. The binding integrates a ski brake. The front pivot point is just under the toe, none of the complexity of the Naxo so it should be solid but still offer a reasonable stride. The unit locks down onto a plate screwed to the ski using a level under the foot. Like the Sk’Alp 8007 you must remove the boot to change from climb to ski mode. In practise this probably won’t bother the majority of skiers. As with the 8007 weight seems to be a problem with the Duke said to be 400 grams heavier than a Naxo 21 although metal parts are used extensively. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The Duke has picked up the European Ski Awards best ski binding for 2007 category as wel as an ISPO Outdoor Award.
The Duke will appeal to skiers who are going to be doing very little climbing. In France, with its extensive lift system, this could be quite a sizable market with many routes requiring just a few hundred meters of vertical to access. Assuming the binding proves to be reliable enough you can imagine the typical skier as someone spending a morning doing light tours, including some cliff hucking and an afternoon pounding the slopes. Will the alpine heritage and DIN 16, as opposed to the Naxo/Fritschi DIN 12 really give it the edge for skiers looking for a single quiver setup. We are not totally convinced.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 05 February, 2007 at 07:46 PM
Lou Dawson has more information on the Marker Duke here
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 05 February, 2007 at 09:04 PM
I recently saw a pair up close and was not impressed at all. super heavy and look like they would completely ice up in most conditions...and the toe piece was a bit funky, similar to the naxo and silvrettas that barely hold in toe of boot...crappy heel riser that looks like it would last even less then the old emery ones; also on Duke no ski crampon?
sadly the Fritschi is still the most solid on the market, despite a dismal track record of repeated massive failures impossible to repair in the “field”.
Posted by on Monday, 05 February, 2007 at 10:11 PM
From our experience here in the states, Marker bindings are laughed at. Early release, heavy, etc etc. I have not seen the Duke up close besides pictures, but I have add a pair of Naxo’s for 2 years now and they have worked problem free. Naxo’s and Fritschi’s are still the strong leader for sking the resort and the Backcountry.
Posted by Mongo's Last Dance
on Tuesday, 06 February, 2007 at 01:16 AM
The lack of ski crampon kind of sets the tone for the Duke although once again they can borrow a trick from the old Sk’Alp 8007 and fix a Petzl half-moon binding. I agree that the riser - a bent bit of wire - also looks pretty ahem… retro.
I think Marker might tap into a fashion thing for backcountry gear with high DIN settings for budding Jamie Pierres. More SUV than Humvee.
Posted by davidof
on Tuesday, 06 February, 2007 at 10:10 AM
Skied the Duke. Its made for short hikes, inbounds/outtabounds, not touring. Great for fat skis- its wider to pressure edge quicker. Only a half pound heavier than the Fritschi. If you’re into the turn, not the tour, this is the pow-ski binding.
Posted by on Wednesday, 14 March, 2007 at 07:14 AM
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