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January 5, 2014

Fritschi Vipec in the Flesh

Pro Ski North Bend received a few of the new Fritschi Vipec tech bindings a couple days ago, and I stopped by to check them out. "In the Flesh" is a bit misleading, as the bulk of the binding appears to be plastic, but let's face it, most tech bindings incorporate a bit of plastic in their construction and there is "good" and "bad" plastic. This appears to be quality, high density plastic. In the real world of ski touring, 200 lb. guys on wide powder skis tend to stress boot-ski connections more rigorously than 135 lb. super smooth and experienced European beta testers, so time will tell if they made the right material choices.

The concept bears some similarity to the Dynafit Beast, but instead of rotating at the toe to increase elasticity, the toe arms and undercarriage slide side-to-side in the housing. Toe retention can also be adjusted via a screw at the rear of the plastic toe housing. Inserts are available in several colors (stock is black) to match your clothes, boots or mood. In use, the toe works much like a conventional tech binding, with the wire bale activating the toe mechanism and the front lever locking the toe for skinning when pulled up (only one click, though). There is a curved insert that can replace the black/colored ones to allow your boot toe to push the lever forward and release it when in "skin" mode, though I'm not sure why that is such a good idea - I've always gone to lengths to assure this won't happen when I experience a knee fall as it's usually in a steep and slick spot where I least want to lose the ski.

The heel is something of a departure, though it shares the rearward travel feature of the Beast and is meant to be set up with almost no gap. Push down on the black lever with your pole or hand, and the heel slides backward while locking the brake in the up position (I assume this is what's supposed to happen, though I couldn't get the brake to stay up while playing around with it in the store). You can thus go in and out of tour mode easily on the fly without removing your skis or performing some sort of sketchy "Van Halen" move with your pole handle. Climbing lifters are two flip up plastic hoops much like the G3 Onyx ones, and weight is a claimed 599 grams per ski with brakes (470 grams without) though they were mounted on a demo board and I couldn't weigh them. It would seem that leaving the brake base on the heel would be a good idea if you chose to not use the brakes, as it would add heel support ala the Plum Guide/Yak/J'Envoie du Gros.

Looking forward to getting a chance to try these out in the field, and kudos to Fritschi both for broadening the range of tech binding offerings and developing some new technology in the search for better performance. Thanks to Dave at Pro Ski for the guided tour!

Vipec toepiece - the colored plastic pieces attached by the chain are to color-coordinate the toe with your outfit

Vipec heel unit - the heel pins are spring loaded and adjustable for release value

Heel piece rear view - the black piece of plastic in the center of the photo is the "tour-ski" lever

Toe piece rear view clearly shows release value adjustment screw and 5 to 12 range

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