As admitted ski equipment junkies, it is with great anticipation that we await our circuit of annual January trade shows. Even with the amazing arsenal of backcountry equipment currently on the market, there is without a doubt, always something new and exciting to feast your eyes on for the next season. The stoke meter always tops out when we get to see new toys.
Currently, we’re fresh off a two-day trip to Sacramento and will head to the big Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, UT next week. This is the first installment that will focus on several new and exciting products from these shows. The goal is to give the quick and dirty and follow it by an in-the-field test later this season, if it ever freaking snows.
With side-country skiing and riding absolutely booming in popularity, we knew it would only be a matter of time before the big alpine companies brought product to the table. Marker, with their ever-popular Duke, Baron, and Tour models, initiated the process and has been highly influential in the evolution of the sport. With the Guardian 16 for winter 2012-13, Salomon has followed suite and has brought a solid offering to the mix.
Skiers from strong alpine backgrounds can display a large dose of skepticism when it comes to the performance and durability of traditional backcountry bindings. And for some, this concern is valid. The current state of affairs for many side and backcountry riders is a desire for a binding that looks, acts, and performs like their tried-and-true resort binding. For these rippers, performance of the binding is the single most important feature. Weight and tour-ability are sacrificed for complete focus on the descent.
Salomon states the Guardian 16 is their “proven downhill perform(er) combined with convenient hike and ride technology.” The toe unit, shown in Photos #2 and 3 displays the girth and muscle of a traditional alpine binding, showcasing a 7-16 DIN. It possesses a 80mm toe unit width and a 26mm rise (to base plate). Additionally, the toe has a flat nose for 90-degree pivot, the result “optimal climbing capability.” Like any step-in backcountry binding, the toe height is adjustable to capacitate bindings of different toe heights/shapes.
The underfoot component of the Guardian 16 exhibits strengthened rigidity in order to “improve edge-to-edge power transmission. It is clean, light, strong, and looks to be the area of the binding with the least amount of surface area for potential icing.
The greatest departure from other step-in backcountry bindings is the Guardian’s heel assembly unit. Shown in Photo #6, we can see an oversized platform a la the Marker Duke, a low profile chassis and the hike/ride switch.
Photo #7 shows the binding in low-rise climbing mode, while Photo #8 the hi-rise mode.
In testing the ease of use of the hike/ride switch (Photo #9), Salomon seems to have created a new interchange that will allow the user seamless movement between ski and tour modes. This is a direct departure from the Marker design that requires the user to remove their boot from the binding. The hike/ride lever is slightly spring-loaded and seems to be easy to use with a pole tip.
Photo #10 shows the teeth on the underside of the heel unit that retract when the hike/ride switch is manipulated. The user then moves the climbing riser over onto the teeth track, shown in Photo #7, which eliminates any potential clicking or rubbing. When the user is ready to ski, the process is reversed.
Photos #11 and 12 both show more detail of the underfoot component of the Guardian’s heel unit. Photo #11 shows the hike/ride switch, the climbing wire, and the adjustable componentry that act to either release or lock the binding into place. Photo #12 exhibits the base plate that has visible female receptors that consequently lock the binding into place for the descent.
All in all, the Salomon Guardian 16 looks to be a pretty sick binding that could give Marker a run for their money. Atomic will offer an identical binding with a slightly different color-way, which is identical to the Guardian 16 and manufactured by Salomon under a licensing agreement.
The binding comes with either a 100 or 115mm brake option, possesses a 7-16 DIN, an boot sole length adjustment of 55mm, and is 26mm high. The weight is a burly 1480g per ½ pair, or 6.5lbs for the entire rig. While this is heavy for us nerdy Dynafit folks, we’re convinced that this binding will be extremely well received.
Initial concerns that come to mind are the longevity of the spring load on the hike/ride switch, the degree of icing that so much plastic could create, and the structural integrity of the locking mechanism that holds the binding in place during descent. However, the proof is in the pudding and we’ll be eager to put these to the test when Salomon sends a pair our way. Stay tuned!