There is no denying the fact that backcountry skiing has sky rocketed in popularity within the last few seasons. Lake Tahoe is a prime example, with it’s dizzying amount of world-class ski terrain, North America’s most epic snow pack, relatively safe avalanche conditions, long spring corn season, and copious bluebird powder days. These aspects of the Tahoe backcountry, coupled with the mainstream popularity of the sport as a whole, has come hand in hand with incredible equipment innovation. A master in this category is Dynafit, maker of the popular TLT alpine touring binding.
German manufactured Dynafit is arguably the king of the mountain when it comes to alpine touring bindings. While there are other great bindings for sidecountry and moderate backcountry travel, when it comes to weight, power, and efficiency, Dynafit has few rivals. The focus of Part I of this review is to compare and contrast Dynafit’s new Radical ST versus their traditional Vertical ST. While both bindings are currently available, the goal of this review is to provide base knowledge that will aide the consumer in differentiating between the two models. Consequently, this beta will act as a springboard for our successive Dynafit comparisons: Part II will compare the Radical FT versus the Vertical FT-12, while Part III will contrast the Radical Speed and the TLT Speed.
The Radical Series is Dynafit’s newest offering to the alpine touring world. Ultimately, their goal is to provide the same tried-and-true touring capability, lightweight, and functionality, while appealing to the broader base of freeride rippers currently populating the backcountry. Traditionally, there has been minor hesitation to convert to Dynafit because of the binding size, a maximum DIN setting of 10 or 12 (binding dependent), and the lack of an alpine-style toe DIN. However, with the advent of the new Radical Series, the majority of these doubts should be put to bed. Here at Alpenglow Sports we put our full-faith in the binding. Our heroes are backcountry skiers like John Morrison and Robb Gaffney – and if these guys can do what they do on Dynafit, the bindings are plenty hardy for the general public. For example, watch Morrison rip the Mendenhall Couloir on Mt. Laurel last season.
In order to get an authentic understanding of the goals behind Dynafit’s Radical Series, we thought it prudent to compare/contrast the major differences between the traditional Vertical ST and the new Radical ST. We chose to discuss these bindings in Part I of our Dynafit series, as they will be the bindings in highest demand this winter. The two bindings are similar in a number of ways: (1) max DIN of 10, (2) comparable weight with brakes (2.29 lbs for the Vertical ST, 2.34 lbs for the Radical ST), (3) ability to capacitate a brake, (4) ski crampon capability, (5) three heel rise settings, and price ($460 Vertical, $490 Radical).
The Radical is differentiated from the Vertical by six major characteristics. The first four are found in the newly refined toe plate and are the major aspects that will increase the effective user-friendliness and ski-ability of the Radical. Shown below are the toe units of the Vertical ST (left) and Radical ST (right).
First, and perhaps most importantly, is the size, shape, and material of the Radical base plate. As shown in the photo, the toe unit of the Radical is noticeably different than that of the Vertical. At 67x125mm (57x149mm for the Vertical), the Radical base plate is a squatter, wider unit. Also shown in the photo is the new four-hole mounting pattern of the Radical (B.). This departs from that used for the Vertical, which employs a five-hole pattern (A.). The two foremost screws of the Radical are 12mm further forward than those of the Vertical. Don’t fret if you want to exchange your old Vertical for a new Radical though, as there is ample room to capacitate the new holes, and you will only need to drill two new forward holes. Dynafit has also chosen to depart from their traditional use of steel for some of the binding toe componentry in the Radical. Instead, aluminum is utilized almost entirely throughout the toe unit, shown by (C) in the photo.
Photo 3 shows the undercarriage of both toe units. The new shape of the Radical toe is even more apparent from this vantage point, with the usage of a grid-panel on the base plate. We assume this is employed to create enhanced lateral stiffness via more direct contact with the top sheet of the ski. Both binding choices use a plastic base plate, but we can see from Photo 3 that the Radical base extends the entire width of the toe plate, while the Vertical does not.
Photos 4 and 5 display the subtle difference in the tech fittings of each toe unit and the overall enhanced mass of the Radical. Most notable is the advent of Dynafit’s “Side Towers” in the new Radical toe. This addition is a direct ploy to cater to fans of other step-in touring bindings, thus making the binding more palatable to a larger user group. The towers act to halt the forward progress of a boot, whereby the user weights the system and the pins snap into the toe of the boot. Secondarily, the towers act to defuse side impact and prerelease. Of additional note is the usage of Torx screws in the Radical unit, opposed to Pozi screws of the Vertical. Make sure you add a T20 Torx bit to the repair kit. Photo 6 shows a good vantage point from behind the toe unit. Of specific note here is the prominence of the Side Tower in the Radical. While the stack height of both toe units is 6mm, we can see that the wings beneath the pins are supported more in the Radical.
The new Radical toe unit also has a completely redesigned toe lever, shown in photo #7. Instead of the blockier lever of the Vertical, the Radical is shaped more like a talon and is much easier to manipulate from underneath with a glove, mitt, etc. Many people have broken the Vertical design, which is usually operator error, but perhaps this design will yield less damage. More than anything it looks like they’ve reduced the bulk and weight of the lever, which is a bonus.
Photo 8 shows the difference in design and location of the ski crampon slot between the two models. While the Vertical displays the traditional plastic ski crampon attachment close to the toe unit itself, that of the Radical is steel and positioned further back under the ball of the foot. We aren’t sure what performance feature this will make, but can hypothesize that the use of steel in that area of the Radical stiffens the binding just a bit more. Also, the aft-position of the ski crampon attachment could yield more crampon purchase in mid-rise while skinning. Currently, there is only a Dynafit-manufactured ski crampon for the Radical. Other great companies like B&D are assuredly working on a non-Dynafit version, but they currently aren’t offered.
As shown in Photo #9, the heel unit of the Radical is markedly different than that of the Vertical. Photo #10 shows a comparison of the three separate riser heights for both the Radical (top) and Vertical (bottom). Instead of using the “volcano” of the Vertical to manipulate different riser heights, the Radical now employs a two stage integrated climbing riser. These are easily engaged with a pole basket and utilized after one single turn of the entire heel unit. This is shown in Photo #10 by the red directional arrow on the heel unit of the Radical, which retains the same position regardless of climbing riser height.
Some Vertical users complain of a ghost-rotation of their heel units. The result is stepping into ski mode, some curse words and the inconvenience of removing the boot from the binding in order to reset the equation and keep skinning. The Radical heel possesses an internal “stop” pin in order to combat this issue and prevents counter-clockwise rotation back into ski mode. The only potential inconvenience we can see with the new Radical heel is the need to bend over in order to rotate it back into ski mode.
Photo #11 gives another vantage point of both heel units. Most notable is the plastic heel of the Vertical, contrasted with metal of the Radical. Due to the usage of plastic, some users have experience breakage of the Vertical volcano which, while not uncommon, is avoidable and in most instances operator error. As such, we are entirely content with the new metal risers of the Radical.
Also apparent is a difference in max riser height, with the Radical coming in markedly shorter. We are uncertain how this will relate to climbing ability, but can hypothesize that it might be problematic with larger boot sizes, especially in the instance of steep skin track usage.
Also shown is the new AFD brake of the Radical and larger, easier to see DIN numbers. This is due not only to the size of the numbers but their white color imposed on the black heel. The brake is of note as it is yet another attempt from Dynafit to make the Radical Series more widely accepted by alpine skiers currently getting into the backcountry. The new AFD brakes are also compatible with Vertical bindings in case a switch is desired, but these brakes won’t be available to purchase until Fall of 2012.
In conclusion, the Radical Series looks to be yet another evolution in the continued success of the Dynafit brand. While the verdict is still out, our hope is to revisit our three-part Radical Series review after field usage of all new models this winter. In our eyes, the brand has made a positive step towards their goal of making a binding that is now more appealing to the backcountry masses accustomed to traditional step-in alpine bindings. Add the wider toe unit and higher DIN of the Radical FT, to be reviewed in Part II of our series, and the Radical Series looks to be a real winner. This is especially true as users continue to blend the grey area between backcountry and resort equipment.