Tele Tech Chronicles: Picking your toes

OMG’s telemark tech toe.

When selecting a 2-pin toe for a tele tech binding keep in mind they were not designed for the stresses of telemarking; they were designed for use in a locked-heel alpine system. In an alpine touring (AT) binding the pins only provide side-to-side clamping power, there is no forward pressure. With tele there is forward pressure on the rear half of the pins from the tension of the tele cable. This forward pressure means the pins cannot open up without overcoming the extra friction it creates. The long-term effects of forward pressure means the inserts may eventually wear through at their rear wall; hopefully not before you decide you need new boots.

Key Considerations

That said, the two things you want to consider when selecting a tech toe are:

  1. The lateral holding power (see table below),
    derived largely from the springs used under the toe arms or jaws.
  2. How easy it is to get into the binding.
The Ion 12 tech toe. Note how much higher these pins are.

Lou Dawson did us all a huge favor when he independently measured the spring force on several popular AT tech toes in late 2015. I can confirm the perceptible difference in clamping power between a G3 and Dynafit is hard to tell once you’re in and the pins are fully seated. It can be sensed by hand if you try to pry a boot off the pins by rotating the heel without a cable adding any tension at the heel. Adding forward pressure changes everything. There are no independent tests of release for the various tele tech combinations possible. IOW – with tele tech you’re on the bleeding edge of telemark technology, an oxymoronic condition if there ever was one.

In addition, not all inserts are created equal which affects the connection and/or releaseability. As a general rule genuine Dynafit® inserts are recommended as a reliable standard. While there are other inserts that may be superior or inferior by brand, such as Solomon or K2, most AT boots have incorporated Dynafit inserts to eliminate customer skepticism. In the tele world the choice boils down to having NTN boots with inserts or not. Prior to the coming season (the 2018 model year) whether or not the inserts were Dynafit® depended on the year and brand; up until 2012 Scarpa made their own inserts, and Crispi did the same until 2018. My own experience indicates no issues with Scarpa’s older inserts but potential issues with Crispi; YMMV.

Ease of Entry

What IS perceptible is how easily you can step in to the toe. There are four things affecting this; pin spacing, fulcrum point, spring rate, and alignment tabs. Pin spacing and alignment tabs help with positioning to close the pins on the boot. When the front of the boot butts up against the alignment tabs the boot is correctly positioned longitudinally (fore and aft). The closer the pins are when open, the easier it is to adjust the angle of the boot (side to side) when you press down so the inserts are in line with the pins.

Dynafit’s Radical toe, v1.0.

The other ingredient that helps stepping in is how quickly the pins snap shut. The further apart they are, or the harder you need to push down to close the pins, the more likely you are to twist the boot as the pins close and miss one or both inserts. The faster the closure rate, the less time you have to wiggle the boot. That’s why G3’s Ion and Fritschi’s Vipec are neck and neck as the easiest tech toes to get in to. Of these two only the Ion is a realistic candidate as a DIY telemark tech toe. The-M-Equipment’s Meidjo, Marker’s Kingpin and Dynafit’s Radical are not far behind. The Salomon binding (manufactured by Plum) has a really strong spring, but a slow closure rate. Nonetheless, the wide alignment bar helps keep the boot steady when stepping in.

The position of the fulcrum point, the point about which the jaws rotate, can enhance the clamping power of the pins. The higher it is above the base of the toe, the further the jaws must open before they reach the “tipping point” where they will open up, or conversely, snap back closed. Most tech toes have adopted a fulcrum point similar to the original Dynafit design. G3’s Ion and The M Equipment’s Meidjo raised this point, which improves ease of entry because they close faster as well as their holding power.

Following the ease of entry leaders are a plethora of classic Dynafiddle toes, ones that require you to learn how to put a pin in one insert and then skillfully rotate your boot down till it connects with the other side. It’s not an insurmountable skill to acquire, but you will occasionally still have moments of frustration when your step-in fiddle feels out of tune. Of these legacy style toes, the Olympus Mountain Gear toe requires the greatest fiddling proficiency due to a wide-mouthed open position.

Relative Performance Comparison

Manufacturer Model Relative Pin Force Relative Ease of Entry
G3 Ion 12 #2 1st (easiest)
The-M-Equip. Meidjo #4 (est.) 2nd
Dynafit Radical v1.0 #6 2nd
Marker Kingpin 13 #3 2nd
Salomon MTN PIN #1 (est. tie) 3rd
Plum Yak #1 (strongest) 4th
Dynafit Vertical #5 4th
OMG TTS #7 (est.) 5th

  • Fritschi’s Vipec toe is not included in the list above for two reasons. First, the pins can and will slide laterally without opening. They’re designed to do that to work with a heel that does not rotate, yielding lateral release at the toe like the majority of alpine bindings. Secondly, the release tension comes from a spring behind the pins inside the toe housing that extends back to where currently available cable systems would connect. Another contender for a PhD in tele tech nerdsurdity.
  • Dynafit’s Radical 2.0 toe is not included because it allows for rotational movement of the heel. Cursory analysis suggests this will yield poor lateral control while telemarking. The Radical v1 is currently called the Speed Radical toe.
  • The toes with “estimated” retention force were not measured by Lou Dawson, but were estimated by the author based on field tests.

“Safety” Release

Amer Sports tech toe, as either the Atomic Backland or Salomon MTN PIN.

Experienced telemarkers know that safety release does not guarantee satisfaction. Premature release when telemarking is generally worse than no release. Therefore strong springs are recommended to prevent premature release (see table above).

Even when telemarking in control the forces between boots and bindings are huge — significantly higher than when locked heelers lose control. Experience has shown that, while in control, any of these toes are sufficiently strong to hold when tele’ing. It is when you’re on the fringes that things get less reliable. In that case, I suggest relying on luck, with a prayer of faith thrown in for good measure.

When in doubt, “lock ‘em out,” meaning, you can increase retention force exponentially by lifting the toe lever to block the arms from opening up. This is standard procedure when skinning and is often used on the downhill too, especially when you absolutely do not want to risk coming out — either because you know you might (based on experience) or because you still don’t believe the pins can/will hold — usually the latter.

TTS Configuration

The Plum Yak toe.

Besides the toe unit’s holding power and ease of entry you need consider the cable system components. Chief among these is the cable pivot position. In addition you must consider boot size, how much adjustability you want, spring stiffness and travel distance. Also worth discussion are the heel post and climbing bar. Moderating all of these factors is how much DIY you’re willing to do. All these subjects will be dealt with in future episodes of the Tele Tech Chronicles.

7 thoughts on “Tele Tech Chronicles: Picking your toes

  1. “Experienced telemarkers know that safety release does not guarantee satisfaction. Premature release when telemarking is generally worse than no release. ”

    You don’t give the thinking behind this statement.

    Let’s say we want release for a couple of reasons: to get free of the ski in an avalanche and to minimise forces on the body in a fall that may result in bone fracture or ligament rupture. In the BC both events are potentially catastrophic. As we get older tendon and ligament strength declines and so the risk of being immobilised increases.

    I agree that on steep or icy slopes an unwanted release is bad but on medium to mellow slopes it’s usually just embarrassing.

    The trouble is designing reliable adjustable release, and there doesn’t seem to be much effort if any among the new binding makers to even attempt this. For that you have to go back to 75mm.

  2. Excellent to see more thinking in this direction! I switched to a tele-tech system last season from the 7tm power tour, and overall, I love it. Precise edge control, power, and fantastic touring. The 7tm always felt like it wanted to push me onto my tippy toes, plus it was too dang heavy. It did have brakes, though. Although the tech release is reliable (I use Dynafit Radical v1.0 toes mated to a chopped hammerhead), I have to use a leash due to lack of brakes. This is fine on area, but stupid in avalanche terrain. The only option I’ve seen for us tele skiers are the toe brakes available on ATK bindings. The toe brakes are a great idea – they work in tour mode as well – but are only compatible with ATK bindings (and the older rebranded La Sportiva bindings). These bindings are very expensive – especially if you plan to get rid of the heel piece.

    It would be great to have universal toe brakes that could be made to fit other toe styles. Is anyone have any ideas on this (commercial or otherwise)? I’d like to tele safely, and am really not interested in locking my heels.

  3. Thanks Craig! I’d love to see more bindings added to your/Lou’s list – especially some of the lighter weight options that are starting to be more available North America. For example, the Kreuzspitze toes or perhaps the ATK Raider 12 2.0. The latter is light, but also one of the few that has a nice integrated ski brake that would work for a TTS system…

    1. Yes please, to the inclusion of Kreuzspitze and ATK.

      Also, who sells the G3 Ion toe without the heel?

      Thanks to both Dostie and TelemarkSkier for this series.

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