2nd Look: Marker Kingpin 13

Going Downhill

Let’s get right to it: to me, the Kingpin’s heel feels like a revelation compared to the tech bindings I’ve skied that use heel pins. The Kingpin utilizes an alpine-binding-style, step-in heel, and there is something very familiar and comforting to me about clicking into an alpine-style heel piece at the top of a line. (See Paul Forward’s review for more on this.) I much prefer that interface to heel pins, and even though the technology has been around for a long time, I don’t love the idea that the only thing connecting the heel of my boot to the heel piece of the binding are two small pins.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Salomon MTN Lab for Blister Gear Review
Jonathan Ellsworth on the Marker Kingpin 13, Mount Cheeseman backcountry, NZ.

And more than just liking the idea of an alpine-style heel is my real-world, on-snow experience about how the Kingpin’s heel rides. Simply put, it feels less harsh than the Dynafit Radicals and the G3 IONs I’ve skied and used—especially in firm, nasty conditions.

I’ve now skied both the Kingpin 13 and 10 down some pretty shit *!@% snow, and I don’t find myself thinking about my bindings; I can focus on the line and my skiing.

Caveats:

(1) If you spend most of your time skiing soft, good snow, you may not notice as much the difference I’m describing, because the snow is providing the suspension for you.

(2) Right now, I’d say that 60-70% of my ski days are inbounds, so I’m frequently skiing on dedicated alpine bindings. So if I’m going from a Marker Jester or Look Pivot alpine binding to a standard tech binding, the difference is very noticeable and jarring. And the Kingpin reduces that difference. But if you aren’t regularly going from alpine equipment to AT equipment, you might acclimate to the feel of tech-pin heels and ski them happily. I don’t ski them happily, which is a major reason why I love the Kingpin.

Another Thing: Locking Out vs. Not Locking Out the Toes

Neither Paul Forward nor I ski the Kingpins with the toe pieces locked, and I’ve not had any pre-releases in them. (I weigh ~180 lbs, and Paul is 10-15 lbs. heavier.)

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Marker Kingpin for Blister Gear Review.
Jonathan & friends under a full moon in the Taos backcountry. (photo by Justin Bobb)

I always skied the older Dynafit Radicals with the toes locked. I have not locked out the toes of the G3 IONs while skiing them, and never had any issues / pre-releases in the ION. So good on G3 for that. But I much prefer the heels and overall suspension / ski-ability of the Kingpin to the ION, making the Kingpin the clear winner given my criteria.

Transitions

I’ve got about 35 days touring on the Kingpin, and I’ve had no issues. I know some others have reported issues with icing (I’m not aware of any tech binding out there where someone, somewhere, hasn’t expressed frustration over icing), but all I can say is that Paul Forward and I haven’t had any problems.

Thankfully, I’ve only experienced the Kingpin 13s and 10s to go from walk mode to ski mode simply and easily.

Would I use the Kingpin inbounds? (Should you?)

Short answer: No.

Because the Kingpin is a touring binding, and I think we all need to stop expecting lightweight touring equipment to function just as well as dedicated (and heavier) alpine equipment. That goes for boots and skis and bindings—but especially AT bindings.

Longer answer / Caveat: I’d be more willing to turn my “No” into a “Yes” if…

(1) You are an expert skier and a very finesse-oriented skier. Such skiers could very easily still find themselves in situations where some elasticity in the toe pieces of their bindings could come in very, very handy, but the more finesse you have and ski with, the less stupid it might be for you to consider using the Kingpin as an everyday, inbounds binding.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Salomon MTN Lab for Blister Gear Review
Jonathan Ellsworth on the Marker Kingpin 13, Mount Cheeseman backcountry, NZ.

(2) The above point would be bolstered further if you said you spend very little time (a) skiing hard in firm moguls, and (b) you don’t spend much time jumping off of stuff to firm, flat landings. The more you want to do (a) and (b) on a touring binding (while expecting those bindings and your knees to have no issues) the more I think you ought to consider a frame-style binding like the Marker Duke / Baron, or the Salomon Guardian, or perhaps the Dynafit Beast 16. (While I haven’t skied the Beast 16,  given that I like to have a flat-mode for touring and given that I’m not that into heel pins, I’m personally not terribly interested.)

(3) 70-80% of your ski days are touring, and you’re only in the resort 20-30% of the time. And you’re willing to dial things back and not ski like an idiot when skiing firm, bumped-up, or variable conditions. So do whatever you want to do, but my primary interest in this review is to rave about the Kingpin as a piece of AT equipment, without encouraging anyone to also expect it to be an amazing piece of inbounds, alpine equipment.

So could I ski it in the resort? Yes. But for where and how I like to ski, I have little interest in forcing the Kingpin into service as an everyday resort binding.

Bottom Line

Tech bindings are wonderful for going uphill, and alpine bindings are wonderful for going downhill. The Marker Kingpin’s tech toes and alpine-style heels make this binding the closest thing to offering the best of both worlds and at a competitive weight.

If you have different priorities for your ski touring, you may prefer other options out there. But for me, the combination of overall convenience + ease-of-use + tour-ability + weight + ski-ability & on-snow feel makes this the first touring binding I’ve ever loved.

21 comments on “2nd Look: Marker Kingpin 13”

  1. Hey Jonathan

    Could you see the Kingpin as an NZ club fields binding? It’s not exactly “resort” skiing, and there aren’t many bumps/moguls at Cgraigieburn, but as you know we get our fair share of variable conditions – begging to be skied fast!

    Cheers

    • (1) See all the caveats in my review. (2) It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some people were / are happily skiing the Kingpins at the club fields. But when those conditions are variable or worse, seems to me you’d be very wise to bump up the finesse and / or slow things down. Everyone has to answer this question for his or her self, but for me personally, I think it’s still too much fun to ski the clubbies hard and fast — big GS turns in variable / refrozen snow — and I think it’s just obviously better and safer in those cases to be on a good alpine binding. But to each his own…

  2. You guys should seriously have a look at the Fritschi Vipec. Especially the new black version, which seems to have resolved the last of the issues they had as a new binding.

    I find the lateral release at the toes to be very reliable up to now, with no pre-release issues. I’ve skied it quite a bit inbounds and don’t feel much harshness either, which could be attributed to the elasticity it gains in the toes (like an alpine binding).

    I’m not saying that it will replace an alpine binding, but I chose it specifically because I thought it would be a better at pulling double duty than most tech bindings and is safer. Anyone with similar intentions (probably people who are looking at the Kingpin aswell) should give be giving it a look! There’s a good review on TGR from leelau (he skied last years version though).

  3. Thanks Jonathan,
    and yep, I hear you. I may just have to get a CAST setup for club field service. It is a very good feeling hearing that STH “clunk”, and it would be a shame to dial it back at CV.

  4. cant wait for vipec black edition review, cant decide between the two :)

    i have one quiver setup with fritchi freeride pro and salomon sentinell, anyway 5.5kilo on every foot uphill :D:D looking for something lighter and see u like w-verks- katana a lot :)

    and about katanas using only marker binding… even some dynafit sells as markers (radical with changed name on some markets)

  5. Thanks for the update on this review. After some years on traditional tech bindings, I’m definitely keen on getting hold of a set of Kingpins or the Beast 14. In terms of price and weight they seem quite similar.

    I’m mostly interested in how they ski down in comparison – the toe elasticity in the Beast seems to be an advantage, whilst the heel piece of the Kingpin seems to offer considerable power transfer. Having skied both, do you guys have any preference either way in terms of downhill performance in BC/variable conditions?

  6. Interesting that you’ve had no pre-releases, the bane of tech bindings since inception. I once attended to a poor chap who had both Dynafits pop off his feet at a no fall zone, and over the cliff he went. Spent a week in the hospital. The Swiss heli-evac team was incredible. I suffered with pre-releasing Dynafits with 3 different boots over 5 years and finally threw in the towel. I bought a pair of Kingpins and some Salomon Quest Max 130 boots recently for a month long trip to the Alps, hoping that I would find nirvana. Well guess again. They popped off pretty easily on Din 8, so upped the Din to 10 [I weigh 170 pounds, and I’m too old to be anything but a finesse skier]. Side stepping down some steep exposed rock, both popped off as if the Din were set to 2 [ski mode]. Over the cliff I went for a fun slide down the hill. So if you’re putting yourself over some exposure, be forewarned, these are a light touring binding, as all tech bindings are. If you plan on taking risks with your skiing [you know…skiing], I would advise looking elsewhere. Oh, I have a good deal on some boots and bindings if anyone is interested.

  7. On my third pair this year, the pins are still backing out! Easy to tell when it starts happening, the toes get more an more difficult to release, when the pin gets far enough out you can see where the pin begins to narrow again. My third pair are already moving, a few more days and I can tell I will be on my fourth set this year! Too bad, otherwise this binding is the Panacea we have all been waiting for, cliffs, ice, switch, fast, never prereleasing, no failures except this one ridiculous issue that still haven’t figured out! If the pin simply widened on the outside as well (which I’m sure they will figure out) then it will be all-time. I never lock the toes out, and aside from the mentioned added jarringness (and that i will soon be on my fourth pair), they are perfectly capable at the resort.

    • I should have mentioned… I ski my Dukes at 10, but the Kingpins have to be at 13, or the heel releases on big deep snow landings. Kind of funny but it’s actually heel elasticity that I miss the most.

  8. Skied these for 4 months. Toe pin sheared off while in tour mode. Marker customer service is not responding. Skis well enough but suffers from  shoddy manufacturing, also has a problem with snow compacting in the heel piece. A nuisance, which is perhaps worth dealing with, until the toe pin sheers and you need another pair of $600 bindings because Marker won’t honor their warranty. Will be looking for other options next.

  9. Hey guys….I’m going to be mounting a set of Kingpin’s (13) to a 108 Zero G this season. Can I bend the 100 brake “to fit” or do I need the 125 brake? I’ve always bent Look Pivots on my in-bounds skis but have been hearing from different sources I should not do this with this tech binding. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks!!

  10. I have a pair of Kingpins mounted on V-works Katana’s, and I was skiing them a few times last year in bounds just to see if I really like the Katana’s (which I do), and I had a pre- release skiing on some boiler plate. I was skiing pretty fast on a steep smooth groomed face, hit a little chatter, and the next thing I know I was sliding face first straight down the hill with neither ski on my feet, going about 25 mph, all the way to the bottom of the slope! I finally stopped, and a nice young woman skied down the hill with my skis in her hand, then two ski patrollers came down to check on me, thinking I surely must be injured after sliding such a long way :-).
    I think the saying goes something like; “friends don’t let friends ski on Markers”
    I may be looking for some different bindings this year.

  11. I have a pair (13’s) that I’ve been skiing the last two seasons on a 112, then a 108 width ski. In that time, the bindings have pre-released 4~5 times, almost always on icy groomers, the last time resulting in quite a nasty back injury. I cannot re-iterate the points in this article strongly enough: these are great touring / light freeride binding but take care on groomers. I think it’s the way pressure goes through the heel on hard-pack that causes the lateral release to go. It seems odd that on DIN 9, I can twist my boot out of the binding standing in the lift queue. I now crank up the lateral release a bit higher and take it easy on hard snow.

  12. I’ve been skiing on the Kingpin 13 for two years now and have never pre-released. I’m 6′ and 165 lb. Skiing the kingpin 13 on armada magic j’s with the scarpa maestrale rs boot. I ski around 30 times a year with about 15 of those being in the back country. The kingpin 13 is the only tech binding I’ve skied on, so I can’t comment on how it compares to other tech bindings. But I will say that I’ve noticed no difference so far between traditional alpine binding/plate-touring bindings that I skied for over 20 years prior to transitioning to the marker kingpin 13….and I’ve skied like an idiot over chopped snow and moguls on them. The only release I’ve had was after landing to far in my back seat in soft snow off a decent sized cliff, and bucking forward. I highly recommend, and plan on mounting another pair on the JJ zeros.

  13. For those with pre release experience, I noticed that the date of those comments were on Kingpins that may have been on bindings that might have been recalled because of the toe pins loosening or breaking out. Marker did have a recall I think on a bunch.
    I can only hope that problem was resolved in the 2019 and 2020 models.

  14. Hi,

    I know this an old thread, but since Kingpins are still very much around thought I’d chuck in my two-pence – I’m an (ex) instructor-level skier who started doing more touring about 10 years ago. Unfortunately I now work in the big smoke, so probably only get 20 days Alpine (Chamonix area) skiing in per season. I’m 6 foot and 95 kilograms (i.e. big and heavy). I’m also not rich and therefore my 5 ski – 3 binding – 3 boot dream quiver will forever be just a fantasy, albeit one I regularly update when my boss isn’t looking. I tend to push my kit pretty hard, never shy of jumping off things. Spend most of my time in-bounds but also tour a fair bit. So far I’d say over past 3 seasons I’ve had the setup on 50+ days in-bounds and on 10 good length day-tours ranging from easy to quite technical and in everything from windblasted ice to perfect hip-deep powder. In bounds, obvs everything you expect, choppy tracked up semi-powder, corduroy groomers, icy moguls of death etc.

    3 and bit years ago I got a pair of Kingpin 13’s (i.e. when they first came out) mounted on Black Crow Anima (188cm) as my one-ski quiver. Previously used Marker Dukes on various Faction ski’s and trad alpine bindings on K2 Apache’s back in the days where I actually worked in the mountains and my life wasn’t a heinous blur of PowerPoint slides and conference calls. So, as mentioned, I don’t have the cash for multiple setups, therefore I needed something that could be tolerated on the way up but also let me do what I want to do in-bounds and on the way down. Obviously that means living in a world of compromises. Mine is based on the principle of not minding more weight on the up and less grip in icy conditions Vs all-time fun going down when it’s good.

    So … Kingpins:
    1. Pre-release – Had an initial problem where in really tricky steep icy descents the heel could pop out. Tuns out I simply had the heel-piece too far back. You really need to get these things very tight to the heel of the boot. Stupid STUPID mistake I know, but after talking to a techie at a ski shop apparently not the first to make the error. No issues whatsoever since, especially with the toe which feels pretty bomb-proof to me. I’ve had these things on no-fall slopes and tricky ski-crampon transitions and never worried about them coming off. Certainly never contemplated putting the toe into walk mode whilst going downhill. Similarly, chucked them off some big-ish cliffs and frequently into jarring fast icy mogul turns no worries. Would ever dream of skiing a trad Dynafit binding in this way.

    2. Boot wear – I do have a consistent problem where the rounded rollers at each-end off the heel-piece gouge into the top of the heel on my boots. On my old Scarpa Mastrale boots this was really quite bad and contributed to feeling a bit uneasy and lose. Now I’ve sorted the heel-too-far-back issue and got the new Mastrale boots (tougher material used on lower shell) the issue isn’t nearly as bad, but there are still marks appearing.

    3. In-bounds – would I ideally have an alpine setup for being in-bounds? Obviously yes. Is it worth the cost of a completely different ski-binding-boot combo, absolutely not (in my humble opinion). If you really hate money then feel free to spend the cash, but for the thrifty I find it’s cheaper to just rent a pair of piste-skis for the very few days you really need to, especially given I’m guessing most people have some alpine boots lying around somewhere. I’ve charged GS turns at 60+ mph with my kingpins and honestly never even considered them to be an issue – the weak link is definitely the Scarpa’s (unsurprisingly). I went back to an old pair of Marker Duke bindings last week so I could use the same boot and see if I could notice the difference in the binding on-piste. I couldn’t. Going uphill the Kingpins are infinitely nicer to use than the Duke’s.

    In sum, I know people have reported issues, but I’m not one of them. Considering I’m quite heavy and really throw my gear around I would have thought if it was going to happen to someone it would have been me. I really love these things, mainly for the secure feeling they give me, but also because some of the other little features – risers are so easy to flip up and down with a pole, ski crampons are easy to mount without taking ski’s off, brake locking is always secure etc.

    Hope it’s useful. Maybe I just got a ‘good’ batch. As mentioned b another poster, Marker did a recall so hopefully they’ve now got their manufacturing people working at the same level as their design department.

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