As noted above, the Kingpin relies on a lever arm that slides the entire heel assembly back and forth along a track that is mounted to the ski, similar to that of the Marker Duke and Marker Tour F12.
I’ve used the binding in a variety of conditions in New Zealand and Alaska (and Jonathan Ellsworth has over 30 days in these bindings touring in New Zealand and northern New Mexico), and we have not had any issues with them icing up or otherwise being impeded by snow or ice. But the potential is there, although it appears that the sliding interfaces are mostly plastic to plastic, which should be good for preventing icing.
We have heard reports of others having issues with ice build up—something that is certainly not uncommon for tech bindings. If you are having issues, we have heard of people spraying some Pam cooking spray on the bindings to help prevent that build up.
I typically take my skins off without removing my skis, for several reasons: (1) I’m less likely to posthole and fall, (2) less likely to lose a ski sliding down the mountain, (3) less likely to get my tech fittings iced up, and, (4) in almost every situation, I find it to be much faster and easier.
This can be accomplished with the Kingpin with a little practice, even for someone like me who is not particularly flexible. It’s just a matter of reaching under the boot and sliding the lever into position. I have not yet managed to do it with my ski pole (to avoid bending down) but I think it’s possible. One tip is to pull up both heel pieces into the descend position before clicking into either heel piece with your boot.
Note: Heel Pieces Up
One thing that is a little counterintuitive at first is that the heel pieces are designed to be popped upright (into the same position as descending) when touring. So when you are transitioning, the heel piece then needs to be reset into the “open” position by pushing it down with a ski pole—just as you would when trying step out of the bindings while in ski mode.
Once the heels are “open,” you can step down with your heel for a very reassuring “clunk” into ski mode. I’m not sure if this is an okay thing to do per Marker but a few times I simply stomped into the heel when it was still in the “up” position and the large elastic travel of the binding allowed the heel to slide back and click the boot into place (similar to a Dynafit Beast).
On the ease of transitioning spectrum, I would rate the Kingpin as “pretty easy.” Sliding and resetting the heel piece is a little slower than simply rotating the heel of the Dynafit Radical or G3 Ion, and it’s certainly not as easy as the old Dynafit Verticals (and many pre-Vertical Dynafits) that merely required a twist of the heel piece with my ski pole tip. But the Kingpin is fast and intuitive.
In marked contrast to the relative ease of transitioning the Kingpin is the Dynafit Beast 14. Every time I try to pop the heel from touring mode to descend mode, I have a small wrestling match with the binding. I’m not sure if my pair is particularly stubborn, but I’ve very rarely been able to do it without taking off my ski. And even when using two hands, it’s still quite difficult and often frustrating.
Uphill travel with the Kingpins is essentially the same as any other good tech binding. The toe is nearly frictionless, and provides excellent torsional stiffness for sidehilling on hard snow. The heel lifters are intuitive, stable, click easily into place, and seem like they will hold up to a lot of skinning. After using the Beast 14 (which lacks a flat touring mode) for part of last season, it’s been a pleasure to be able to quickly and easily flip the heel lifters between the three different climbing heights, including the flat one on the ski.
The only downside to the Kingpin for uphill travel is the weight, but they are still lighter than the Beast 14 (840 g) and much lighter than the Beast 16 (957 g).
On my first day in New Zealand this year, I clicked into a Kingpin 13 mounted to a Blizzard Zero G 108 while wearing the Salomon MTN Lab boots. I skied straight to a relatively steep, narrow chute that had a combination of wind-hardened and bumpy, chalky snow.
By my third turn, I was chuckling to myself at just how good this whole setup skied. I’ve written a lot about the Zero G 108 and the MTN Lab, and if you’ve read those reviews, you know that I feel like both of those products are remarkably close to full-on, inbounds boots and skis. After many more days of skiing the Kingpins, I feel confident in saying that the Kingpin is just as impressive.
By the end of my second run on the Kingpin, I had already chattered sideways through refrozen chunder at relatively high speeds with the toes unlocked, and was feeling a level of confidence in tech bindings that I have not experienced in over a decade of using various types of Dynafits (mostly with the toes locked into “uphill mode”).
Since then, I have skied the Kingpins hard in a variety of conditions (again, toes unlocked) and on several different skis, and have not had a single pre-release.
I think that much of the ability of the Kingpin to be skied hard without releasing is due to the highly elastic travel of the heel piece—especially for a tech binding. This same elastic travel also lends the binding a more suspension-like feel that I’ve only experienced in alpine bindings and the Beast 14.
For more on this concept of elastic travel and other great information about tech bindings, check out Marshal Olson’s “Update: Dynafit Beast AT Binding”. Much of what Marshal says about the heel piece of the Beast 16 also applies to the Kingpin 13.
To be clear, I have not skied the Kingpins with the same abandon that I do with my Salomon STH2 16’s (my favorite alpine binding), and I doubt I ever will, since I’m a relatively big guy (6’ 190 lbs without gear). I like to get my fat skis into high edge angles that create a lot of torque on bindings, and I’m not willing to risk my life on a relatively inelastic tech toe-piece. That said, the Kingpin is easily my first choice for a tech binding if I’m planning to be on any kind of firm or cut-up snow, and skiing fast with bigger boots.
Downhill Performance of Kingpin 13 vs the Dynafit Beast 14
In comparison to the Dynafit Beast 14 (I have not used the Beast 16 enough to comment on it), the Kingpin feels a little stiffer torsionally to me. This is totally subjective and I do not have a way to quantify this, especially since I’ve never even skied both bindings on the same ski. Both the Kingpin and the Beast provide a damper, more elastic ride ride than any other tech binding I’ve used.
From a retention standpoint, my observations are also quite subjective, but I believe that at least one of the times that I came out of my Beast 14’s would not have happened with the Kingpin. I have no way to validate that and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad, but I’ve been surprised at how well the Kingpins have stayed on, and at least once, was a little surprised at how easily the Beast 14 released. When I have more experiences or observations on this front, I will be sure to update.
NEXT: Who’s It For?, Locking Out the Toes, Etc.