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March 12, 2013

Plum Guide Updates

I recently had the chance to upgrade my fleet of Plum Guide bindings from the 2011 versions I'd purchased from Marshal Olson to the current 2013 models. Ian at Apex Mountain Products was kind enough to facilitate a swap - I had asked for upgrade short toe levers, but he was keen on bringing the rest of the stuff up to current spec as well and agreed to swap my older bindings for new.

I'm really excited about the switch, not because I've experienced any serious problems with the older design, but because Plum has quietly improved a number of things on the binding and in my opinion they're all worthwhile changes.

The only real complaints I had with the 2011 models were with the toe lever design and a slight loosening of the heel pins. The original long toe levers were prone to "autolocking" by themselves or with just the slightest pressure from heavy snow or crust. While I commonly ski with the toes locked out, I'd prefer to be able to make this choice on my own, and the new levers stay put in "ski" mode unless you pull up on them. Also, the flat top profile on the old levers hit the toes of my two touring boots (Dynafit TLT5P and Mercury), which knocked the binding out of lock mode during uphill kickturns or if you slipped and dropped a knee to or close to the ski deck. Not good to be suddenly disconnected from your toepiece while skinning. I solved the problem by grinding down the toes of both boots, but really hard forward pressure on the lever base could still pop the binding open. In bench testing it looks like this won't happen with the new, shorter design levers. Nice.

2013 Plum Guide bindings, showing the shorter toe levers, black anodized arms, and machined slot for a heel bumper on the heelpiece base. Click here to view 2011 version.

There are other obvious changes to the toe unit - the toepiece arms are anodized black (not sure that this does anything functional) and the ski crampon slot is more sculpted with a more independent centering tab. They are still tight, and it's still difficult to work a Dynafit or B&D crampon into the slot at first. I suggest spraying the slot and crampon with silicone spray or TriFlow lubricant and working it into the slot a few times before you go out - it gets easier after a few insertions.

Toepiece detail: Black toe arms and a much more effective centering tab for ski crampons

At the heel, there are obvious and not-so-obvious changes. There's a slot CNC'd into the front of the base plate to allow the attachment of a Plum heel support pad. These come standard on the Yak and J'Envoie du Gros models, and support the boot heel during moments of high stress so that not all the force is taken by the heel pins. A great idea that people have tried to enact in the past by screwing corks or pieces of cutting board under their heels, this is a tasteful OEM solution that should be seriously considered if you're heavy or like to drop stuff on your tech bindings.

The original top plate screws, which are all that really attach your heel to the ski, were Torx 10 head machine screws with a very fine thread. Several users reported pulling them out, and Plum responded by going to a T-9 head screw with much coarser threads that should really hold in the polyvinyl heel body. I suspect the move to a smaller T-9 head is to help prevent people from overtightening the screws. The heel pins themselves seem to be made of a different sort of steel with less chromium content (they aren't nearly as shiny) and the part of the pin that is supported by the leading edge of the bindings is slightly thicker. All of these changes are for the better in my opinion. The fore-aft adjustment system, which some people have complained about (loosening screws cause slipping of the heel unit) appears unchanged, though I've never had an issue with this.

My original heel pins had developed a small amount of play where they entered the heel housing (they're held in place by black plastic blocks). To be fair, I've had the same problem with Dynafits as well. The fix was to disassemble the top end of the heels and wrap a thin strip of electrical tape very tightly around the pins before reinserting them. I'm hoping the slightly larger diameter pins in the new units will solve this; if not I've got a good idea of how to fix it. The Dynafit fix, by the way, was cutting a piece of duct tape to fit under the "holding blocks" and reassembling . . .

Heelpiece detail: One T-9 screw partially removed showing coarse thread, beefier and not shiny heel pins

The leashes shipped with the new bindings are totally revised as well. Stretchy fluorescent green loops that fit most boots more tightly are still fastened with long buttons that look like they came off one of my mom's Chinese dresses, but they are fairly easy to fasten or unfasten with gloves on. I doubt I'll use these much, as I still prefer the springy red Dynafit leashes that come with the Speed Radical, but the Plum ones are now decent. Finally, they sent me a 2014 product catalog with the order, and they're actually showing 85mm, 100mm, and 115mm ski brakes for the Guide, as well as 100mm and 115mm brakes for the Yak. Lack of a brake system has been one of the main drawbacks to the Plum bindings for some people (I'm not one of them), so this MAY be the impetus that pushes them into the Plum camp. I say may because the brakes are quite unconventional, mounting under the toepiece with the brake arms facing forward rather than back. Time will tell if these are viable or not, I guess.

Machined slot to attach an aftermarket heel pad at the front of the heel baseplate

Newly designed high visibility leash still sports old-school "button" fasteners

March 7, 2013

Dynafit 2014 Demo

Dynafit, the company that's responsible for the Tour Lite Tech system and the TLT5 boot, is practically synonymous with ski touring. Anyone who aspires to travel far or fast on touring skis probably has a number of their products in their quiver, or will in the not so distant future. This doesn't mean the company sits around resting on their laurels, however - Dynafit's R&D department, now with the added brainpower of Eric Hjorliefson in the mix, has the developmental pedal to the metal on a number of fronts.

Paul, Brandon and Ryan from Dynafit were kind enough to put on a dealer demo event today for evo employees, and seven of us turned out at Hyak to sample some of the 2014 Dynafit product. The star of the show was the much-hyped Beast 16 binding, a burly tech clamp with a "DIN" of 16 and plenty of elasticity for hard charging lift-served as well as next-generation touring. I didn't ski it, as the special boots needed (a unique tech heel plate is required) wouldn't have fit without some boot work, but Shanti "Hippy XL" Sommers from the shop (our biggest employee) got in a lap with no issues. The binding is lighter than it looks, since much of the mass at the heel is a hollow housing for the added spring system and comes in at a very reasonable 957 grams. Compared to a small Duke EPF at 1432 grams or a small Salomon Guardian at 1470 grams, that's a weight bargain if it delivers similar performance. Careful of the "extra" spring-loaded heel retention bar, it looks like it could easily separate a small rodent into two halves.

The concept of the Beast 16 doesn't exactly ring any bells for me personally, especially since I don't seem to have retention problems with existing 12 "DIN" tech binding designs, but for the guy or girl who wants to rock one big ski with a stiff AT boot as their only rig, and who genuinely needs a release value in the teens, it might just be the Holy Grail. Time will tell. Besides, Hoji skis it.

Ryan points out the Beastly lifter system, with his finger on the "low" riser. This is halfway between a "flat" and conventional Dynafit "mid" position.

Beast 16 toepiece. The toe unit rotates 12 degress in either direction to avoid opening the jaws when in ski mode. Black plastic lever goes forward and locks the turntable to skin.

Dynafit hasn't been sitting around hi-fiving each other in the boot department, either, though they probably deserve to after the successive releases of the TLT5 models and the Freetouring Vulcan, Mercury, and One boots. Both of these designs reached heretofore unheard of levels of lightness, stiffness, and mobility for their classes and they deserve all the accolades they've received. For 2014, they are revising the TLT5 line with the TLT6. The TLT6 will come in both the Mountain and Performance models and be somewhat wider in both the midfoot and toebox, which is good news for my feet but might not please narrow-footed people who fit the TLT5. There will also be a thicker liner to address complaints about the TLT5's warmth (or lack thereof), no Acti-Flex zone under the metatarsals, and revised buckles.

TLT6M boot (TLT6P samples haven't arrived from Europe yet) - a further evolution of the light & fast ski tourist's best friend

In the ski arena, proven winners like the Manaslu and Huascaran remain in the lineup unchanged from this year. The Stoke and the Mustagh Ata SL are gone, replaced by new designs called the Grand Teton and Cho Oyu. I took a lap on each, starting with the 174 Cho Oyu in 5-6 inches of very heavy new with the temperature rising to above freezing as we skinned. The Cho Oyu has a striking, futuristic look, with severely tapered tip and tail, a seemingly tight turn radius, and a squared-off tip with a metal insert for the skin hardware. It looks like something out of Blade Runner, but with a reported weight of 1080 grams in this size was a pleasure going up the hill. It performed admirably for a 89mm waisted ski going down in thick variable snow with "surprise" crust and sudden, "throw out the anchor" stickiness, and I'm anxious to try it on harder snow - at this weight it's a prime contender to replace my Mustagh Ata SL's as my spring/summer/fall ski. There will also be a new version of the Nanga Parbat, almost identical in construction to the Cho Oyu but with a narrower waist (80mm) and done in red.

Jordan holds the Cho Oyu - carbon weave is visible through the windows in the tip, and carbon stringers through the graphics mid-ski

My second lap was on the 182 Grand Teton. This ski is a mildly revised version of the Stoke; with Greg Hill jumping ship last year to Salomon, they needed to get something new to fill the category in a hurry. The dimensions are very similar to the Stoke (106mm in the waist) and the construction is as well, with just a bit more rocker in the tip to facilitate float. When I last skied the Stoke it was the 173 length, so this one felt a bit heavy, but it rocked the sloppy fresh like nobody's business, which is what it should do. Someone should have told them the NW native-inspired topsheet art comes from an entirely different region of the US than Wyoming, but the small legend "In Memory of Steve Romeo" on the tail gets the win.

Ryan holds the 2014 Grand Teton as he demonstrates how to cycle the toepiece to remove snow from under the toe arms

The evo crew at the top on lap 1

Sierra and Shalbot get their exercise

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"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .

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