If bindings were cars, the Switchback would be a Subaru for its all conditions versatility. It isn’t the most powerful binding on the market, but it easily goes where others can’t. Weightwise it’s light, three pounds per pair. On the “road” it tracks superbly, uphill and downhill, and if you know how to drive ‘er, you can out maneuver higher-powered vehicles. And for those who insist on more power, the Switchback X2 is like Subaru’s WRX – the same AWD functionality with more horsepower under the hood.
Like a Suby, the Switchback is a no frills ride, but well engineered. The toe plate is a hunk of bombproof, heat-treated stainless steel that wraps around the toe of a duckbilled boot in a unitary design with brass bearings for the pivot. Tele resistance comes from Voile’s classic Hardwire cable assembly using solid cable bars and linear compression springs. The heel lever has been improved to be tougher and to latch with a more solid snap, whether on top of the heel step, or in the groove. It’s also easier to take off, especially with the tip of your ski pole.
Switchback has enough power to control whatever ski you’re comfortable driving with a 3-buckle boot. On the Hammerhead scale it comes in around HH#2.5ish, due largely to side routed cables that deliver a smooth, slow engagement of tele resistance. Fully loaded the binding feels like HH#3. In soft snow, the sensation is delightful and there’s no need for more. On firm snow, just drop low and there’s power enough to hold an edge as long as your head’s screwed on right.
As soon as your ski gets wider than 100mm underfoot most skiers are better served with a more powerful binding, which is when the Switchback X2 is probably a better choice. The basic components are the same, but the pivot location for the cables is moved back 1¼ inches. To make room for that the toe plate is longer and the tolerances on everything made tighter. A subtle but not insignificant result is that the boot is held slightly further back which increases the touring ROM from 50° (SW) to 60° (SWX2).
Fat rigs mean bigger boots and wider skins and more surface area for the snow collect and you can end up hauling around over 10 pounds per foot in the skin track. Ugh. At only three pounds per pair the Switchback is the perfect antidote for the overweight heavy tele blues. For the SWX2, add a few more ounces per foot.
When it comes to touring, the Switchback mode switch is among the easiest to use. A thin, pear shaped loop of stainless steel sits at the front of the binding. Flip it to the right to lock the toe, or left to loosen it. It is spring loaded so it moves super easily with a slight rotational force and a smidgen of dexterity. Because the locking tangs are hidden inside the toe riser, they don’t ice up themselves, and tend to push off any ice that might build up on the horizontal locking bar. It’s not quite as simple as the push button toggle of BD’s O1, but it’s more reliable since it rarely ices. It tends to play hide-n-seek under snow, making it hard to put your pole in the right place to switch it.
In tour mode the toe plate rotates over 50° by itself. Stick a duckbill in it though and the range of motion is max 50°+. I say plus because you always get a degree or three more due to the bellows flex of a tele boot, but the toe plate itself only delivers 50.
Immunity from Ice
Compared to other telemark bindings, it is the least prone to icing. After hundreds of tours and more than twice as many mode changes I’ve only had ice prevent switching back to turn mode three times; always in super sticky snow due to snow glamming on to my ski crampon post first, then growing so large it impeded closing the back of the toe plate. The locking tangs always worked so it is debateable that the binding itself iced up.
It does have a slight icing issue that affects range of motion but it’s only noticeable when doing a switchback in deep or steep slopes. On the wet coast, I notice getting a bumper of ice under my duckbill about 25% of the time, which reduces the range of motion to about 45°+. This has zero effect when simply striding, but sometimes, like when making a jack-knife switchback, the tip of my ski doesn’t flip up as high as I’d like. It barely rates being a complaint, more like an observation of the limits to man’s ingeniousness.
There’s only one thing I really don’t like on the Switchback — the climbing post. Specifically, they’re too dang hard to flip up. It’s not terrible, but compared to spring loaded heel risers like the original UTB heel, G3’s Ascent heel, or the HammerHeel it takes a lot of effort.
Outside of the ease of engagement, there is a lot to like about Voile’s heel post. It is easily adjusted for position thanks to a mounting channel. What most of you will like is that it comes with two heights of climbing post — high and higher (45mm & 75mm).
These negatives are pretty minor. If I skied more at a resort, with bigger boots and bigger skis, Switchback might not be my fave. For 80% backcountry using low- to mid-fat skis and boots, it’s the best 75mm telemark touring binding there is.
Weight/pair: 1362g • 3 lbs.
BUY SWITCHBACK HERE
Weight: 1452g • 3.2 lbs.
BUY SWITCHBACK X2 HERE