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Gadgets and Gizmos: A Trip Back in Time: Ski BinDINgs

By Dave Potter

Last weekend, after enjoying another great day of skiing, The Usual Gang of Idiots and I gathered at one of the local watering holes for the traditional burger and a beer. As usual, the conversation started out about the day’s adventures.

We discussed the best slopes and the best falls. Being men of a certain age, eventually the conversation drifted to days of skiing past. We talked about favorite ski areas that are no longer around, favorite ski trips and favorite ski buddies. We also talked about favorite equipment.

As we reminisced about our old gear, we realized how much gear has improved over the decades — especially ski bindings.

When a couple of us first attached our leather boots to our skis, it was with cable bindings. The fact that the binding had a toe piece that could release at all was due to the efforts of a Norwegian ski racer named Hjalmar Hvam. In 1935, he opened a ski shop in Portland, Ore. Shortly thereafter, Hvam broke his leg on Mount Hood. While recovering in the hospital, he envisioned a new type of ski binding that would release before his leg bone did it for him. The result was the world’s first releasable ski binding.

Over the following decades, the design improved and evolved. But there was one problem: ski boots.

Boots, back then, came in all kinds and shapes made by a variety of manufacturers. Lange made the first plastic ski boot. This helped the problem somewhat. At least, the properties of the boots would now be consistent.

The next challenge was the soles of the boots, which also came in different shapes. A binding would work fine with one boot but be extremely dangerous with another.

Some binding manufacturers overcame this by attaching metal plates to the heel and toe of the boot. Cubco was one of the first companies to do this in 1950, although they really didn’t catch on until the ‘60s. Spademan bindings were introduced in the ‘70s. The Spademan binding had one big metal plate screwed into the center of the ski boot.

Some binding companies solved the boot incompatibility problem by basically clamping a different sole on the boot called a plate. Two plate binding companies that come to mind are Americana and the infamous Burt Retractable. Obviously, neither of these concepts was long lived.

Enter Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), the German national organization that tackled standardization issues in many fields, including the ski industry. They created and set the DIN standard for ski boot sole geometry, which opened the door for binding manufactures to develop safer ski bindings for all models of ski boots from all manufacturers. Most skiers are familiar with DIN scales for binding settings, but these entered the picture later.

At first, all bindings had a scale that was only 1 through 4. But a level 2 on a Tyrolia binding was not the same as a 2 on a Salomon binding, and a 2 on an adult binding was obviously different than a 2 on a junior binding.

Binding companies adopted the DIN scales so, in theory, a bindings setting of, let’s say, 4 will release at the same force across all bindings. The number is derived by taking into consideration height, weight, sex, age and skiing ability.

People often ask me what I think is the best ski binding. I don’t think there’s one that’s the best. I think that with the standards, they’re all good. It comes down to personal preference.

The Usual Gang of Idiots and I obviously discuss some pretty heavy subjects while we’re downing our burgers and beer. But don’t worry, after the second beer we’re right back to talking about the usual manly subjects. Like women and bodily functions and how the snow will be next time out.

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