With some estimates giving the Swiss backcountry ski-binding manufacturer Fritschi over 70% of the market it would seem that they are masters of all that they survey. However with shorter and shorter product cycles in the increasingly dynamic freeride sector this is no time to stand still.
Three new bindings pose a threat to the dominance of the Fritschi Diamir and Freeride bindings. Most important of which is the Naxo, designed by former Fritschi engineers and offering a real crossover between the world of backcountry freeride and alpine skiing. More exotic but likely to appeal to skiers wanting to make longer multi-day trips is the Silvretta Pure. Finally, Dynafit have re-jigged the Tristep to overcome the problems with the front toe-piece. Dynafit seem to have a pretty much unassailable position in the pure-play randonée-binding market.
It was therefore only a matter of time before Fritschi reacted. Out goes the Titanal III, it is already out of stock in Europe, and in comes the Explore. The name is certainly less geeky, conjuring up the image of liberty and adventure. The binding isn’t a huge change. Fritschi know that reliability is important in the backcountry. The key is evolution not revolution.
The main change is the new award winning Diamir Axiom ski crampon (Harscheisen). This clips onto the toe piece and folds out of the way when not in use. It can be activated with a ski pole. How many of us have started across an icy slope and wished we put our ski crampons on earlier? Dynafit already offer this possibility with the Lowtech binding but you have to be pretty flexible to fix your crampons on a steep slope. Note that we had problems using the old Diamir Titanal crampons which, according to our vendor should be compatible with the new bindings.
The toe platform has been redesigned and widened offering better release for Vibram soled touring boots and more effective energy transfer. The heelpiece and brake are also lighter and said to be easier to operate although our tester found that the heel doesn’t always stay fixed in the second and third climbing positions. The binding is also some 4mm higher than the TIII giving more leverage.
The binding is supplied with a stop strap, which attaches using Velcro. We found this more practical than the old plastic clips although many skiers make their own mini strap using climbing rope. The Velcro seems like a good idea in terms of safety if the skier is caught in an avalanche.
We contacted Diamir for their comments, particularly the problems our reviewer encountered with the crampons. Their representative told us that the new Diamir Axion crampon is compatible with bindings from 2004/2005 and will be available at the beginning of the 2004-2005 winter season. The old Diamir Titanal bindings are compatible with the new binding models and that anyone experiencing problems should contact their supplier.
Thanks to Bicouette who tested the bindings recently (without crampons!) on the Taillefer Mountain near Grenoble and for the photographs.