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Plum Guide: New Binding on the Block
We recently had the opportunity to visit the Felisaz production facility in the French Haute-Savoie. Felisaz have just released a new “tech” compliant ski touring binding which looks like being the most serious competitor yet to Dynafit’s dominance in this sector.
Felisaz are based in Thyez in the Arve Valley which runs from Chamonix down to lake Geneva. The inhabitants of the alpine valleys were always looking for additional sources of income during the dark winter months. Salvation came in the 18th century with the development of Swiss Watch Making. Workshops specializing in precision machining developed. Hydro power from the Arve in the 19th century accelerated this trend. Following the First World War the area became a center of excellence for cam-controlled turning machines and later CNC machining producing parts for the automotive and aeronautical industries amongst others. 65% of French production is located in the valley which boasts around 1000 small and medium size companies.
Given their specialist background Felisaz were approached by the Chablais section of the French Alpine club who asked them to help develop an ultra lightweight ski mountaineering race binding. Production was fairly confidential, the firm would receive orders from the cognescenti for bindings or other parts but this production enabled the company to build its skills, in particular with binding release.
The financial crisis in 2008 led to short time working in auto-companies. The order book was thin. This was an opportunity for Felisaz to spend more time developing a real ski touring binding for everyday skiers looking for a robust and easy to use product. The Dynafit patents granted in the early 1990s had expired allowing new entrants to develop compatible bindings. At the same time international ski mountaineering competition rules required competitors to use heel and toe pieces from the same binding product. No more mixing and matching Dynafit toes with trick Italian heel pieces. Manufacturers would have to produce both ends if they wanted to remain in the game.
After a couple of years beta testing and small series orders from local shops Felisaz have decided to go into mainstream production. They hired a materials specialist and with the latest computer aided design techniques improved their initial design, reducing materials in non critical areas while allowing a significant margin in load bearing and high wear parts. The result is the Plum Guide. In fact it is not just one binding but four different models. A standard model similar to the Dynafit Comfort with a heel turret for binding adjustment. The big advantages are four different holes in the turret so you can always engage a ski pole no matter how the heel piece is oriented, left or right handed. The binding also has a machined ski crampon holder, no more breakages on critical traverses! The binding weights in at 660 grammes without screws.
A pro ‘S’ model replaces the heel turret with a flat plate. This gives a single heel riser position for steep climbs but many experienced skiers never use the second position. The plate has a slot to allow rotation with a ski pole. This “pro” model saves 30 grammes.
Both binding give a a lateral DIN release of 5 to 12 and frontal of 5 to 13, which is interesting if you are carrying a heavy touring pack on a multiday trip. Finally the Guide XS and XXS have the same characteristics but with a DIN of 3 to 7, ideal for lighter skiers such as women and kids. The heel gives 3cm of adjustment, around 4 to 5 mondo points. Great if you change boots or sell your skis and bindings.
The binding is made largely from European sourced aerospace quality aluminium billet, exceptions are the screws, the high tensile steel heel fork and a machined polymer block. The Felisaz operation is impressive. PisteHors visited in the evening, the factory floor was empty. The computer operated machines turn night and day, eating huge aluminium rods from one end and popping binding parts out the other like hen’s eggs.
The Plum has been tested and is compliant with the DIN/ISO standard 13992 covering Alpine touring ski bindings and is expected to receive its full certification during the season after field trials. This is a first for a “tech” binding.
So with Dynafit already occupying the bread and butter tech binding space who is going to buy the Plum? Although it looks similar to a TLT the binding can be better compared to the FT 12. Weight wise the Guide S is 30 grams lighter than the TLT and more than 200 grams lighter than the FT12 while offering slightly higher DIN settings than the FT 12. The street price of the FT 12 is around 350 euros, but you do get brakes for that. Plum will release a ski brake for next season.
So for a price premium you are getting a much better finished product. We trust the 2 years beta testing and the years of experience in precision machining are a guarantee of quality but ski touring is a harsh environment. We see this as a BMW compared to Dynafit’s Ford. Each has its place in the fast expanding ski touring market place. The arrival of new entrants into the tech binding space will only confirm this technology in the eyes of customers and provide innovation and competition.
Posted by davidof on Thursday, 23 December, 2010 at 02:09 PM
Great article. Thank you. Reminds me of Hope mountain bike parts back in the uk. People with deep pockets are going to love owning bits of quality engineering.
Posted by on Wednesday, 19 January, 2011 at 11:58 AM
I thought i saw some connection to BMW here, does anyone know if this kind of speicialist work was ever offered to BMW?
Posted by on Wednesday, 19 January, 2011 at 01:00 PM
When I spoke to Felisaz I said that the bijoux bike part market really has to be their model. Hope and Royce are excellents examples as our some of the American outfits like Phil Wood.
Dynafit are heading more in the direction of Shimano. Their new radical range has moved to a four hole pattern on the front which they have patented which presumably means Plum, ATK, Haero cannot produce a hole for hole compatible binding. Witn Dynafit moving almost exclusively to skis with inserts in the toe this means you will be locked-in to Dynafit.
The heel lifters don’t seem to offer any clear advantage to me, at the expense of more complication.
Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 19 January, 2011 at 02:06 PM
I agree about the heel lifters. Something so clean and simple is now fussy and fiddly. The Dynafidle-fidle may have been born. What stops them rattling around on the descent? ( I am sure they have thought of that, but not sure how it works?). A good reason to buy Plum I suppose. I am personally looking forward to the good Dynafit deals that will become available when the new range is on the horizon. Although the Plums would look nice in the cave along side my Chris King headset and Hope M4s with pimped out red bore caps
Posted by on Wednesday, 19 January, 2011 at 02:32 PM