Boots and Bindings for the Backcountry

Posted December 26th, 2009

This year’s crop of backcountry boots and bindings is more impressive than ever. On the binding front, most telemark bindings now feature a flip-of-the-switch “tour mode,” offering skiers the same resistance-free uphill performance that AT-skiers have enjoyed for years. Last year’s release of Rottefella’s new NTN binding is also catching on, and there are now several NTN-compatible boots on the market. The NTN design offers step-in convenience, release-ability, and unparalleled control for the hardest-charging backcountry skiers.
Boot choices are increasingly varied, and features such as heat-moldable liners (now standard) and improved adjustability have made them more comfortable than ever. Interestingly, even the biggest four-buckle boots are now considered standard equipment by many dedicated backcountry skiers. It seems as though the downhill control of these boots, combined with the excellent touring performance now offered by the latest AT and telemark bindings, is compensating for their bulkiness. For alpine skiers looking to occasionally venture in the backcountry, a growing variety of AT boots now offers backcountry versatility without sacrificing the power and edge control offered by modern alpine boots. Also, many boots are now coming with “tech fittings”—special hardware needed to make boots compatible with the new G3 Onyx bindings and any Dynafit AT bindings.
Below is a summary of a varied selection of 2010 boots and bindings that are best suited to downhill/off-piste/backcountry adventures in the northeast.
Black Diamond Factor
$730; 9 lbs. 2 oz.;
BD’s most powerful boot, the four-buckle Factor, is back again this season. It features BD’s unique heat-moldable Boa liner, which snugs up with just the turn of a dial. It also has two options for soles: one that is ISO Alpine DIN compatible and one that is “tech-fitted” with the special hardware needed to make boots compatible with the new G3 Onyx bindings and any Dynafit AT bindings. True to BD’s backcountry roots, the Factor also features an especially functional walk mode, rare for such a solid boot, but essential for long tours or just hanging out après ski.
Garmont Helium
$740; 6 lbs. 15 oz.;
The Helium is a versatile and relatively lightweight three-buckle, multi-faceted boot designed for skiers and ski mountaineers who tend to tour religiously. Skiers of all abilities can thrive in this boot. (That said, especially aggressive skiers should consider the Garmont Axon.) Other noteworthy features include a heat moldable liner, a relatively soft and smooth flex, and “tech-fittings.”
Dynafit Zzero 4PX
$650; 6 lbs. 12 oz.;
Designed with the versatile female skier in mind, this powerful, four-buckle boot can handle high speeds and hard pack, but will also keep your feet happy on multi-day backcountry ski tours. Featuring a comfortable walk mode, excellent adjustability, and a smooth flex, this is a great choice for women and smaller-footed, resort-based skiers with a craving for the backcountry.
Garmont Kenai
$710; 7lbs. 8oz.;
In many ways, the Kenai is simply a lighter weight version of the ever-popular Garmont Synergy. Featuring a unique two-buckle design, a traditional 75mm duck-billed sole, a heat-moldable liner, and a very smooth flex, the Kenai can excel in any kind of terrain or snow condition, while driving even the fattest skis. The combination of two well-placed buckles, a power strap, and a boot shell made from four types of plastic allows skiers to adjust the fit and comfort for any type of skiing. However, the most aggressive and adrenaline-craving skiers could be better off in something even beefier. Ultimately, the Kenai is one of the most versatile telemark boots on the market.
Black Diamond Custom
$750; 9 lbs. 1 oz.;
Arguably one of the most powerful boots on the market, the Custom is a solid choice for resort-based skiers who occasionally like to throw their skins in the backpack and head for the backcountry. Featuring a stiff set of bellows and a fairly rigid cuff, this boot makes it easy to dial in your freeheel parallel, but it will require some good breaking in before the telemark turns will flow with ease.
Scarpa Terminator X
$650; 7 lbs. 2 oz.;
This mid-weight three-buckled boot is a good example of the latest in telemark boot technology. It’s compatible with the new Rottefella NTN telemark binding, but it is also equipped with the “tech-fittings” needed for stepping into the G3 Onyx and any Dynafit AT bindings. Although this boot tours like a dream, many telemark skiers may find it challenging to get the same flex and sensitivity from NTN boots as they do with a telemark boot combined with a more traditional 75mm telemark binding.
G3 Onyx
$430; 3 lbs. 1 oz.;
The brand new Oynx represents the first non-Dynafit binding on the market that is compatible with the four-pin “tech-fitted” AT system that many AT and NTN boots now feature. Although it is approximately 50 percent heavier than most Dynafit bindings, the Onyx is significantly lighter than most alpine-style plate AT bindings. Compared to the Dynafits, the Onyx is arguably a bit easier to get into, adjust, and get out of, thanks primarily to larger and more ski-pole friendly levers. The Onyx is mounted on separate base plates that allow 33mm of room for boot centering and size adjustments. You can buy extra plates from G3 for outfitting a quiver of skis using just one primary binding set. Brakes are optional.
Fristchi Eagle
$419; 4 lbs. 6 oz.;
The new Eagle draws on many of the best features of Fristchi’s popular Freeride Plus, while offering more ergonomic touring performance and solid durability at a reasonable price. Compatible with ski crampons and alpine boots, the Eagle is a fully releasable binding similar in function to the high-end alpine bindings on the market. It is also one of the lighter and more tour-friendly, plate-style, AT bindings on the market.
Voile Switchback
$280; 3 lbs.;
Utah-based Voile has a long history of making lightweight, highly functional backcountry telemark bindings, and the Switchback is the fine result of many years of Voile’s dedication to the sport. Offering excellent downhill performance and flip-of-the-switch access to an AT-like tour mode, the Switchback is a great choice for dedicated backcountry skiers as well as resort-based skiers who spend most of their time exploring off piste. Solid craftsmanship and an incredibly simple design have also earned this binding a reputation for reliability and function.
Black Diamond 01
$300; 3 lbs. 11 oz.;
The 01 is back this season, along with its reputation for being a smooth and powerful binding. BD offers a selection of cartridges for the 01 (Free-Flexing, Mid-Stiff and Ridiculously Stiff) serving the variety of skiers out there. Designed to withstand the pressures exerted by aggressive, big-booted skiers driving the fattest skis, the 01 also offers push-button access to “tour-mode.” Some skiers have found this push-button function to be prone to ice and snow build-up, but usually that situation is easily remedied with just a little poking and scraping with a ski pole tip.
Rottefella NTN
$400; 4 lbs. 1 oz.;
While NTN stands for New Telemark Norm, it’s unlikely that this binding will dominate the telemark binding market anytime soon. The NTN represents the very latest in telemark binding technology, and it is still in its early stages of development. At its core, the NTN eliminates the need for the traditional, but cumbersome, 75mm duck-billed telemark sole. Designed with flexing, telemark-style bellows above the forefoot, NTN boots feature elements of many AT boots that make them more crampon- and mountaineering-compatible, and when “tech-fitted,” NTN boots can be combined with an AT binding for fixed heel skiing. Many aggressive telemark skiers find the NTN to be the most powerful binding on the market, but it’s bulk, lack of sensitivity, and more limited touring performance have many telemark skiers hesitating to buy right now. However, several other features worth noting are its step-in convenience, release-ability, binding symmetry (no more left or right bindings with the NTN), boot size adjustability, and the ease with which it switches to tour mode.

Brian Mohr

Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Moretown own Ember Photography and publish They can be reached through their website,