We interrupt our regularly scheduled rollout of skis to discuss a new AT binding that will accompany us to Las Leñas:
Salomon Guardian 16 and Atomic Tracker 16
In the last few years, it’s become evident that the demand for a high-DIN alpine binding with a legitimate AT/touring function isn’t going away.
In 2011, MFD Inc. released a new AT binding system called the Alltime. MFD’s setup caters to those who want to access the untouched expanses of backcountry terrain, but don’t want to sacrifice the performance of a high-DIN alpine binding. (For a very detailed look at the MFD system, see our extremely nerdy review.)
If you refuse to deal with BCA’s Alpine Trekkers, or aren’t satisfied with certain design aspects of the Marker Baron or Duke, MFD’s system is a very good alternative.
But it’s now up against some serious competition.
Over the last three years, the engineers at Salomon and Atomic have collaborated with their own team athletes (including Cody Townsend, Mark Abma, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, and others) to develop a new, 16 DIN AT freeride binding. The binding will be released this fall in Salomon’s and Atomic’s product lines as the Guardian 16 and Tracker 16, respectively. (The two bindings are functionally identical, they only have different paint jobs for the two sister brands.)
Our testing of the Guardian 16 and the Tracker 16 begins in Las Leñas, and they will be mounted, respectively, to the Salomon Rocker 2 115 and the Atomic Automatic: two flagship, big-mountain skis paired with an AT binding built to do one thing: “provide the power, precision and on-snow feel of a high-performance freeride binding, with the benefits of a very convenient hiking [touring] system.”
The Details (And The Competition):
(For the sake of clarity, we’ll mostly refer to the Guardian for this preview, but, again, the Guardian 16 and the Tracker 16 are one in the same.)
Lower, wider, and easier: those are the main selling points of the Guardian and Tracker.
If we take a quick look at the comparable 2012-2013 Marker Duke EPF, Salomon’s design does seem preferable in most areas.
The Guardian has a 26mm stack height over the ski compared to 36mm on the new Duke. (In testing the MFD Alltime system with the FKS 140, we also measured a 26mm stack height)
The Guardian’s 80mm-wide base is designed to improve energy transfer when mounted on fatter powder skis. For 12/13, the Duke has a much wider chassis than the 76mm interface of previous years. (Marker says that it is “28% wider,” but we’ve also been told that it’s 90mm wide, which isn’t 28%…. In any case, the Duke EPF is recommended for skis over 88 mm.)
Unlike with the Duke or Baron, you won’t have to step out of the Guardian to switch between touring and ski mode. The release mechanism is designed to be operated easily with a ski pole, yet it seems totally secure.
The Guardian’s climbing riser, when fully flipped under the heel piece in touring mode, is designed to help prevent ice from building in the locking mechanism. The Duke has been known to freeze up, making it difficult to switch the binding back into ski mode, so we’ll see if Salomon’s design solves the problem.
We’re also happy to see that the Guardian has an adjustable toe height. While it’s not identical to Salomon’s Driver toe (which also has adjustable wings), this seems like a more durable design than the adjustable AFD plate Marker uses on the Duke. Salomon says the Guardian is designed to be used exclusively with alpine ski boots, though with this option to adjust toe height it’s likely that some folks will explore compatibility and fitment with AT boots.
The Guardian is mounted with four screws in the toe piece and six on the heel (compared to 4 in the Duke), with a slightly wider spread pattern than that found on Marker’s bindings.
A common complaint about the Duke is the play that tends to develop in the toe’s pivot mechanism. Unlike the Duke, the Guardian’s toe pin interfaces with metal bearing which should make for a more durable and long lasting pivot mechanism.
With a stack height lower than the Duke, less torque ought to be imparted on the Guardian’s components when driving a wide ski (compared to the slightly taller Duke), but it will still be interesting to see whether the heel or toe of the Guardian develop any slop throughout the season.
Salomon engineers say the torsional rigidity and lateral stiffness of the Guardian is comparable to that of the Salomon STH 16, thanks to the Guardian’s aluminum torsion bars; that sounds awesome. But we’re curious to see how those bars—paired with the Guardian’s locking mechanism in the heel—will affect ski flex.
According to Salomon, some elasticity is built into the locking mechanism of the heel, which allows the ski to flex naturally. It’s difficult to confirm this simply by looking at the Guardian and flexing the ski, but there does seem to be a very slight amount of vertical and lateral movement between the mount plate and the heel when the binding is locked in place. We’ll see how it feels on snow.
Initially, it seems like the Guardian and Tracker may have the upper hand over the Duke—there’s no denying that Salomon and Atomic’s design seems more functional—but what about the weight?
In general, it seems fair to say that people looking to buy the Guardian or Tracker won’t be the most weight conscious demographic out there. Salomon has made it clear that high-DIN downhill performance and functionality on the ascent were the most important factors in developing the Guardian. If this binding is really going to deliver the level of performance and burl it promises on the way down, some weight penalty is inevitable. Still, if we compare numbers with some of the Guardian’s most direct competitors, things don’t look too bad.
The Guardian / Tracker weigh 6.52 lbs. / 2,960 grams per pair.
The MFD system mounted with a Salomon STH 16 Driver weighs 7.76 lbs. / 3,522 grams per pair. (MFD plates weigh 600 grams each, and the STH 16 weighs 5.11 lbs. / 2,322 grams per pair.) This stands as the most direct comparison given the 16 DIN and adjustable toe of the Guardian/Tracker. An MFD system mounted with the STH 14 Driver (2,120 grams per pair) would weigh in slightly lower, at 3320 grams.
(If you wanted to try and shed more weight off an MFD system but maintain at least a 14 DIN, you could go with the standard STH 14 which lacks the manually adjustable Driver toe. Such a setup would weigh in at 3,250 grams per pair. Note, however, that Salomon is not releasing a standard toe STH 14 this year, only the STH 10 and 12 bindings are available with a regular, non-Driver toe.)
The re-tooled 12/13 Marker Duke, in a size small, weighs 6.08 lbs. / 2,760 grams per pair. (The large size, which fits a 305-365mm boot, weighs 6.15 lbs., or 2, 790 grams per pair). This is slightly heavier than in previous years due to the 12/13 Duke’s widened platform.
And What About Price?
The Guardian’s MSRP is $449. That’s the same or slightly cheaper than the Duke EPF.
The MFD plates cost $279 (down from $300 in previous years). Of course, you may need to add the price of your preferred alpine binding. If not, and you already have the binding to use with the MFD system, then it’s certainly more affordable.
It would be a stretch to call the design revolutionary; Marker came out with the comparable Duke in 2007. But the Tracker 16 / Guardian 16 looks like it could be a very timely and important evolution in the growing class of true AT freeride bindings.
So that’s our preview (and you can now go check out our first review of the Guardian and Tracker.) We leave in a little over a week and a half for Las Leñas. If there’s anything else about the Guardian and Tracker that you think we need to consider, let us know.
Now, stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming. We’ll post our next ski selection shortly.