Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on January 10, 2014
For all of you supposed expert skiers out there, I have a challenge: Ski Highland Bowl in Dynafit bindings.
That’s what I did on a recent bluebird day when I decided on a whim to extend my morning skin to the Merry-Go-Round on Aspen Highlands. The sky was clear, the weather warm and I was on a Black Diamond ski setup with Dynafit TLT Radical ST bindings. There’s only one way to go and that’s up, I thought. So I made my way to Loge Lift and started hiking up the bowl.
At the summit, a local wearing a purple Aspen Skiing Co. jacket spotted my bindings.
“Aren’t you scared to ski down on those things?” he asked.
“Heh ya,” I said, only then realizing that I was about to drop in on a 42-degree vertical pitch with less than two pounds of metal locking me onto my skis. “I’m just going to take it slow.”
Dynafit’s Radical ST bindings have no frame — meaning the heel and toe pieces are separate — and the heel rotates offering three climbing modes. What could be considered the best (and in my particular situation, the most worrisome) feature of the bindings are the two seemingly weightless stainless steel pins, dubbed the “power towers,” that pinch the toe of your boots.
The towers are what make the binding light and easy to mount, but despite the name it doesn’t necessarily sing stability. Intellectually I know that if technology can put men on the moon, there’s probably a way to lock a 140-pound person to skis with two pins the size of eraserheads. But as I stepped into the setup, my instincts kicked in and I started to think it might be a better idea to walk down the mountain.
Dynafit bindings are made to ensure a quick release on the downhill, almost to a fault. That feature is particularly troublesome, because the weightlessness of the setup makes it easier to jump turn and ski faster than you might on an Alpine setup. That was, at least, my experience.
Questions about the durability of my gear quickly disappeared as I got into a groove skiing down G8. But the thrill of a good powder run came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of South Fork when my left boot released from the binding for no identifiable reason. There was no powder, no random debris that caused the release. Just a small lip on the runout. With a bruised shin and ego, I remounted my skis and, like a Powder Panda on Buttermilk, snowplowed to the catwalk.
The whole experience gave me a newfound respect for the ski mountaineering pros who dominate the Battle of the Bowls each year. It’s one thing to race up a mountain, but it takes a whole other form of insanity to want to ski down on gear that weighs less than a gallon of milk.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the binding. Its weightlessness and easy accessibility makes skinning up not feel like work, but unless you’re as skilled as one of the Gaston brothers or maybe Max Taam, I would stay out of the steep and deep on the Radicals.
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$499.95 Dynafit Radical ST
Ute Mountaineer in Aspen