2019-2020 Fritschi Xenic 10
Test Locations: Chugach & Kenai Mountains, Alaska
Days Tested: 6
Release Value Range: 4-10
Available Brake Widths: 85, 95, 105 mm
Available Crampon Widths: 85, 95, 105 mm
Climbing Aids: Flat, 39 mm
Forward Elastic Travel: 10 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 1 mm
BSL Adjustment: 25 mm
Stated Weight per Binding (no leash, no brake): 280 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight per Binding (no leash / no brake): 314 & 326 grams
MSRP: $429.95 USD
Ski Used: Black Diamond Helio 116, 186 cm
As we noted in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout, the category of ~250-400 g touring bindings is quite competitive at this point, with a lot of options that perform quite well on the up and the down, given how light they are.
I spent part of this past winter skiing on the Xenic here in Alaska with a variety of different boots in a variety of different conditions, so here’s my take on Fritschi’s lightweight binding.
Design — Toe Piece
At first glance, the biggest departure of the Xenic from many other bindings in this ~300 g class is its plastic construction. While there are other exceptions like the Marker Alpinist & Dynafit TLT Speed, many of the bindings in this class are primarily made of metal. Having spent many days on various versions of the (mostly plastic) Fritschi Vipec and Fritschi Tecton, the Xenic’s appearance is familiar and based on bindings with decent track records, but it looks quite different from the machined and forged parts of many of its direct competitors.
One feature that separates the Xenic from other bindings in this class is its “fixed stop and step-in pedal.” This appears to be a simplified version of the same concept on the Tecton and Vipec wherein the boot makes contact with the “step-in pedal” which engages the toe wings / jaws to snap into place. The “fixed stop” refers to the small block of plastic just in front of the toe that, when in “ski” mode, assists in opening the toe wings for improved frontal release in the case of an “over the handlebars” type fall.
I’ve heard stories of the “fixed stop” causing stride issues and even boot damage on various Vipec and Tecton versions as it prevents your boot from pivoting super far forward, but on the Xenic this seems impossible as the toe block moves freely when in “walk” mode (which is also why it doesn’t reduce the range of motion you get in the toe, contrasting the Vipec & Tecton).
One of the big differences between the Xenic’s toe piece and the vast majority of other tech / pin bindings is that the Xenic’s toe wings / jaws only move horizontally, instead of pivoting out and down. Fritschi says this design is aimed to decrease accidental pre-releases.
Design — Heel Piece
The heel of the Xenic, while it doesn’t look like many other tech bindings, is very similar in terms of functionality.
One of the biggest things that separates it from bindings like the Salomon MTN / Atomic Backland Tour, Dynafit TLT Speed, & Marker Alpinist is that the Xenic uses independent heel springs, rather than a fixed “U-spring.” The main upside with this is that you can fine-tune the release value of the heel, and U-springs have been shown to cause premature wear on the tech fittings in ski boots, which in turn has the potential to affect the release characteristics of pin bindings.
Springs aside, the Xenic’s heel functions pretty similarly to most tech bindings. The heel pivots 180° to switch between ski and climb modes, and there is a single heel riser so you get a flat touring mode and a moderately high riser.
One other notable difference with the Xenic vs. many lightweight tech bindings is that the Xenic’s heel sits on a spring-loaded track that not only gives you 25 mm of adjustment for boots with different BSLs, but also provides 10 mm of what Fritschi calls “length compensation.” Essentially, the spring-loaded heel of the Xenic functions similarly to the forward pressure settings on an alpine binding in that the heel piece of the Xenic can move along the ski when you flex and bend the ski, with the goal of reducing pre-releases that can happen when a ski is flexed with a binding that has a fixed heel. Fritschi recommends setting up the Xenic so that there’s a 1 mm gap between the heel piece and the heel of your boot, a gap that’s notably smaller than most bindings without length compensation and is likely a large factor in the Xenic’s solid downhill performance (more on that below).
The Xenic comes standard without brakes or leashes, but you can purchase Xenic brakes for $65. I opted to forgo the brakes, so I can’t comment on them here.
I often mount my own skis and I appreciate it when binding manufacturers are consistent from year-to-year and product-to-product when it comes to their mounting hole patterns. It’s easier on shops and operations because they don’t have to buy new jigs for every new binding and it’s easier on consumers who might want to replace, warranty, or upgrade to new bindings without having to redrill their skis. In my perfect ski world, there would be two or three total hole patterns that all manufacturers would work around. But alas, I’m not in charge of the ski industry.
The Xenic story is partly good in this regard. The good part is that the heel pattern seems to be the same as the Tecton and Vipec. Unfortunately for skiers like me who want to replace an old pair of Vipecs with the new Xenic, the toe patterns are different. The hole width on one set of toe holes is still the same, so I was able to make it work by using a Vipec jig, but as far as I can tell, the Xenic does not share the same exact hole pattern with any other bindings on the market.
Uphill Performance / Transitions
The most notable thing I experienced when stepping into the Xenic each time is that the “step-in pedal” works as intended and it’s quite easy to engage when stepping in. Unfortunately, no matter what boot I used, it’s consistently been very difficult to flip up the lever to lock the toe into climb mode. I thought that it might get easier when swapping boots but I’ve now used 19/20 boot models from Scarpa, Dynafit, and Atomic and all of them were very difficult to get the lever to snap into climb mode on the Xenic in real-world winter conditions. I have to pull hard enough that I can feel the plastic flexing and often wonder if I’m going to just break the lever. So far it hasn’t broken but the process hasn’t gotten any easier as I’ve used the bindings more. Blister reviewer Sam Shaheen has also spent some time using the Xenic and he has had the same issues with the toe lever.
Once you have the toe lever in position, the second step to start ascending is to rotate the heel piece 180°. I’ve gotten used to rotating heel pieces but, like most bindings in this class, rotating the Xenic heel piece takes a bit of muscle. Once it’s rotated into the climb position you have two options: flat or the single riser. The riser is 44 mm off of the deck where the heel of the boot otherwise sits. At first glance, the Xenic’s riser looks pretty tall but it’s actually one millimeter lower than the Marker Alpinist’s single riser (which isn’t particularly high), once you factor in the height of the platform in “flat” mode, which is quite high on the Xenic (more on that later).
I prefer a mellow-angle skin track, and if I’m breaking trail the fairly low riser height of the Xenic or Alpinist is only an issue if the terrain constrains me into some tight or weird spot where I have to climb more steeply. When following other people’s (poorly done, in my opinion) steep skin tracks, the Xenic’s heel riser does feel low and I alternate between cursing my bindings for being low, the person who made the track for going too steep, and myself for being too lazy to make my own track.
On the top of the run, I rarely remove my skis to remove my skins. Doing so decreases my chance of losing a brakeless ski, is faster, decreases the chance of ice / snow interfering with my toe pin / boot interface, and is just easier and less effort in any snow conditions once you learn to do it well. Because of this, I do fight a little with any binding that requires rotation to swap into descend mode (which is the case with most bindings in this class)with. It’s certainly doable with the Xenic but it’s a little awkward, especially in sketchy, exposed spots. With the Xenic, flipping the riser into the high climb position does allow for a bit more leverage and an easier transition. For reference, I’d say the Xenic is comparable in turning difficulty to the Marker Alpinist, harder to turn than the Dynafit Superlite 2.0, and much easier to turn than the Black Diamond Helio 145.
The last time I used the Xenic was a cold day with light, dry snow. After a long ascent that involved removing skis a few times to boot up tricky sections, I clicked in at the top and rotated the heels to descend a fairly big run. My boot heels wouldn’t engage when I tried to step into the binding heel pieces and it was very disconcerting to see that the heel piece had slid back on its elastic travel or “length compensation” to the point where the pins were too far back to engage with my boot. I tried warming the bindings and tried tapping them to remove any ice or unstick the heel piece but I couldn’t get the heel springs to pull the binding forward into the proper position. I finally resorted to using a screwdriver to adjust the binding position forward one centimeter and was able to click in. I worried that I might break the binding on the way down because I had eliminated the elastic travel, but they seemed to fare okay. Once I was home I brought them inside and after warming up, the heel piece slid back into position and I then re-adjusted them back to where they’d been so my boots fit properly again.
I haven’t used them since then for fear of repeating the issue. I had used the Xenic multiple days prior to that in equally cold conditions with no issues, although on one other occasion I noticed the gap between the boot heel and binding was bigger than it should have been. It seems to me that the heel piece experienced some kind of icing while climbing and froze into the rearward position where it must have moved back to while climbing the steep slope.
This is not an issue we’ve experienced with other bindings in this class and there’s a chance it could be a fluke with the Xenic, but it is disconcerting.
Aside from the heel issue mentioned above, the Xenic has felt good in descend mode, especially for how light it is. Except in rare circumstances, I always ski my bindings as designed with the toe piece in the proper “ski” mode (rather than locking out the toe in “climb” mode). I have had my share of toe-piece pre-releases but had no issues with the Xenic in this regard. The heel piece elasticity does work (except when it didn’t, as discussed above) and it smooths out the ride similar to the Marker Alpinist, perhaps even slightly more than the Alpinist, which, in that particular regard, was the best binding we used in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout.
I skied the Xenic with the heel release value set at 10 at all times and never came out of the bindings. Fortunately, I didn’t experience any big crashes while using these but had my share of skiing too fast / out of control moments while using stiff boots (Dynafit Hoji Free) and the reasonably large 186 cm Black Diamond Helio 116 and never popped out of the Xenic. I suspect at least one of those moments would have resulted in a pre-release in my old Dynafit Radical FT’s.
The main downside, for me anyway, to the Xenic is it has a fairly large difference between toe and heel height, creating an above-average binding ramp angle. The Xenic’s toe pins are 32 mm off of the ski and the heel pins are 45 mm of the ski, equating to a 12 mm difference. Compare that to the Marker Alpinist, which is 34 mm at the toe and 36 mm at the pins, and especially for those with a shorter BSL, that’s a pretty big difference in ramp angle.
I won’t say that I immediately noticed the Xenic’s ramp angle and I’m pretty sure I’ve skied many years on bindings with much more radical ramp angles (looking at you Dynafit Vertical and Radical), but when going back and forth between the Alpinist and Xenic I could feel it and I prefer the lower ramp angle of the Alpinist. Some skiers might prefer the higher ramp angle as it’s something that does come down to personal preference, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting.
Safety / Release
In theory, the toe block mechanism of Fritschi’s tech bindings should make any forward release more reliable and safer than on bindings that don’t have it. As I mentioned above, I haven’t taken any big crashes on these to test that theory. I’m sure there are certain falls for certain people where there is an advantage with this toe design, but my experience with a plethora of tech bindings is that if I crash hard enough for my heels to come loose (and my toes aren’t locked into “climb” position), the toes usually pop loose without too much trouble and this would be the situation where the toe block release would function.
The Xenic does not offer the adjustable lateral toe release that is a feature of the Tecton and Vipec series of bindings, but it does still feature fine adjustment for release at the heel and its lack of a U-spring may make it more reliable in the long run compared to U-spring bindings.
The final issue I had with the Xenic is that the “Toe-Block” on one of the bindings broke off the toe piece. I have no idea when this happened but I came back from touring one day and when I was putting my skis away I noticed that a part was missing. It hasn’t significantly affected the function as far as I can tell, except for eliminating the possibility of the forward release that I discussed above. Black Diamond / Fritschi said this would be covered under warranty.
Who’s It For?
Given the many good options in this category, it’s tricky for me to recommend the Xenic based on my experience with it so far. With a competitive weight, good downhill skiing performance, and a few novel features like the “step-in pedal,” it has a lot of potential to be a good option in the increasingly competitive and capable 250-350 g binding class. Unfortunately, my pair had some durability and functional issues that made me quit using them partway through the winter.
The Fritschi Xenic has a lot of potential to be a lightweight binding that skis and tours well. Unfortunately, I had multiple issues with my pair, making it hard to recommend at this point. We are eager to see if Fritschi is able to make some updates and address those issues, as the Xenic could be a very competitive option in this class.