The Black Diamond representative was good enough to drive to Seattle for the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop. Among the Black Diamond offerings were their partner-brand offerings from Pieps and Fritschi.
This year, Fritschi is debuting their first tech-compatible binding, the Vipec 12 (previously called the Zenith). I had the opportunity to play around with a binding this afternoon, and though I have some reservations, I’m impressed. As a Dynafit devotee, I won’t be among the first-adopters on a new entry to the tech market, but the Vipec (no not viper) is impressively feature rich.
The binding toe piece is more similar to Dynafit than to other tech offerings like G3. A small wire tab is used to engage the toe wings when stepping into the binding, and a toe tab is pulled upwards to switch the binding into a locked touring mode. As a small detail, the walk and tour modes are so labeled on the toe piece, as in the walk mode above. Overall, functionality is unchanged from a Dynafit toe piece, though I found the wire-tab a somewhat finicky mode of entry– it was a little bit sticky and hard to trigger.
Unlike most Dynafit bindings, the toe wings are mounted on a metal plate which can slide laterally, allowing for greater elasticity before release. This is a popular feature in alpine bindings that is only just now creeping into the tech touring crowd. Release is accomplished by wings which fold out of the way as shown, an interesting solution to one of Dynafit’s release issues. Something you can’t see is the toe release adjustment screw– that’s right, you can set the toe release values.
The heel looks like a love child of a Dynafit and a classic Fritchi– lots of flippy-plastic tabs, but with heel pins. The walk-vs-downhill transition is achieved not by rotation of the unit, as in many tech offerings, but by lever that moves the heel unit forwards and backwards. In the photo above, the black plastic tab actuates the heel; to move the heel backwards, the tab is pressed down and the heel moves out of the way. The first touring step locks down the included brake. Riser is provided by flip-down tabs as on Radical bindings. Durability of these remains to be seen.
When the heel moves forwards, the brake releases and the heel engages with the boot as on any tech binding. There is, however, no tech gap. The problem of boot-binding interference when the ski decambers is handled with a forward pressure spring– if the boot pushes backwards on the heel unit, it can slide backwards to accommodate the boot.
Overall, the Vipec is pretty feature rich. Its design is not as elegant as Dynafit or Plum, and the Vipec has several moving parts made of plastic. Durability remains a question for its first users. That said, it includes release features comparable to the Beast without the weight or price tag. The releasability has led some to speculate about DIN certification, but it seems unlikely that any company will manage a DIN certified tech binding until boot sole and tech fitting are standardized.
I think that this will become a popular option in the touring market– it looks more like a Dynafit than a duke, it offers reasonable usability, its weight is comparable to an FT 12 binding, and it offers many of the release features of the Beast without the price tag and weight penalty. Offering price is yet unknown to me, but I bet that if this comes in around $400, you’ll start seeing it on a lot of touring skis. Hopefully they’re more durable than Fritschi’s step-in bindings. [divider_line]
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