Do you want your skis to be light and agile, or solid and dependable?
When it comes to choosing equipment for ski patrolling, there is a debate whether to use traditional alpine gear, or alpine touring gear. For those unfamiliar with alpine touring gear, or AT gear, it is a specialized boot and binding system that allow the heels to detach and enable the skier to apply climbing skins to travel uphill. Light weight skis with a moderate flex are the chosen platform for most alpine touring setups.
The ability to climb is useful in many situations including out of bounds rescue, avalanche rescue, avalanche control and recreation. Negatively, AT gear is generally less durable and not well suited for daily use in a ski resort setting. In addition, some popular AT setups including Dynafit, G3, and Silveretta do not come with ski breaks. You can purchase breaks at an additional cost or use leashes, which can be problematic and are definitely not suited for ski patrolling. Before you decide to buy an AT setup, let us examine some of the pros and cons.
So Alpine vs AT for ski patrol?
Many patrollers in North America are required to have touring gear for work. Most of the patrollers I know have two sets of skis in their quiver. One for touring, and one for everyday on hill use. Some people ski their touring setups full time without issue. It all depends on how heavy you are, how aggressive you ski, and what your patrol involvement is. Some of the more durable, patrol ready bindings are the Fritschi Freeride Series, and the Marker Duke and Jester bindings. Fritschi has been making backcountry bindings for years, continually improving on their classic design. These are great a choice for patrolling and recreational backcountry travel. They switch easily between climbing and skiing modes, and are more durable that Dynafit bindings. For the everyday Patroller, these bindings can wear out in 1 or 2 seasons. They also ski differently than your average alpine bindings due to the fact that they sit higher on the ski. All and all, the Fritschi Freeride is a classic, and a good choice for a multitude of applications.
Another popular make of AT binding is the Dynafit. These bindings are lighter than their Fritschi and Marker counterparts. They are the choice for touring purists and randonee racers alike. The defining feature of the Dynafit bindings is their two piece toe lock system. A pair of spring loaded pins lock into two small holes in touring specific ski boots. This system can then be locked in place. The toe release has a maximum DIN setting of 10, but can be put in a lock down mode as well where the toe piece will only release under extreme force. This is a serious consideration and could lead to potential injury if used improperly. Most Dynafit models do not come with ski brakes. If you plan on using Dynafits while patrolling, buy a model with brakes, such as the Vertical FT, or Radical ST.
Use of leashes is not recommended. If you crash hard enough to eject from the bindings, the leashes keep the skis close to your body, increasing the chance you can fall on an edge and cut yourself. There more than a few skiers out there with scars from this very situation. Secondly, taking skis off and removing leashes can be tricky in cold weather. They tend to ice up, and can be difficult to operate with cold hands. In summary, Dynafit bindings are designed more for backcountry skiing than daily use in a ski resort. Granted, an experienced ski patroller that is familiar with their equipment may still choose this option.
The most bomb-proof alpine touring binding is the Marker Duke. Here Marker has created an alpine binding that tours. Meaning that the binding is durable, heavy and sits low on the ski like a traditional alpine binding. This binding is suitable for the resort skier that tours occasionally or likes to shred slack country lines. Changing from touring to skiing mode is tedious as it involves taking the ski off to release the heel piece. The Din setting on the Duke goes to 14, making it the choice for heavier, aggressive skiers. If you want to be confident that your binding can take the abuse of repeated cliff drops and big air, this binding is for you. This binding is popular amongst Patrollers that want to have one set of skis at work. Before you buy Alpine Touring gear, make sure you know what you are getting into. Try before you buy, and if touring is something you are serious about, two pairs of skis is the way to go.
What do you have in your AT setup and why? Share it in the comments below.