Backcountry ski bindings

Ski bindings for ski touring and backcountry skiing have provision for the heel to lift to allow uphill travel using a walking motion.

The two types of bindings are:

  1. Telemark (free heel) bindings attach at the front of the boot with a cable around the heel with the heel free to lift. The heel cannot be locked down.

  2. Alpine touring bindings fix the boot at the front and rear in downhill mode but can be configured to release the heel of the boot allowing it to pivot at the toe when ascending

Telemark (free heel) bindings

Telemark bindings only attach the front of the boot to the ski so the heel is free to lift up.

They have evolved from lighter cross country skiing and racing bindings.

The free heel greatly simplifies transition from descending to climbing, particularly if waxless skis are used.

Ski boots for free heel bindings have some flex in the forward section of the sole that provides a natural walking motion.

Rottefella NNN BC (New Nordic Norm Backcountry)

  • Commonly used for general ski touring

  • Rottefella’s NNN BC has a bar in the toe of the boot that hooks into a corresponding latch in the binding and is designed for ski touring and backcountry skiing.

  • NNN BC bindings and boots are typically lighter than Nordic Norm equivalents.

  • NNN boots are generally lighter and more flexible than plastic boots used with heavier binding types.

  • The binding has no safety release mechanism.

Rottefella NNN-BC binding
Alpina NNN-BC boot

Rottefella NN (Nordic Norm, 75mm, 3 pin)

  • Early Rottefella NN bindings had three pins that aligned with three holes in the elongated toe of the boot and a bail that was pressed down to secure it.

  • Later versions of this binding eliminate the three pins and use a flanged toe piece to secure the toe of the boot and a cable that clips around the heel of the boot.

  • Some manufacturers include a safety release mechanism with the binding but this adds extra weight.

G3 cable bindings
Scarpa T2 boot

Rottefella NTN (New Telemark Norm)

  • Rottefella introduced the New Telemark Norm binding in 2007 to provide a free heel telemark ski binding with lateral release, increased lateral rigidity and good touring functionality.

  • These bindings are difficult to source in Australia and require a specific matching ski boot.

  • Boots for NTN bindings have a lip underneath the arch of the boot for the binding to attach to. They do not have a 75 mm square toe

  • Heavier versions of NTN bindings are oriented towards lift assisted skiers, while lighter versions are designed for backcountry skiers.

  • Some manufacturers make boots that are compatible with both NTN and Dynafit (alpine touring) bindings

Alpine touring bindings

Alpine touring (AT) bindings have the following features:

  • A toe piece to secure the toe of boot

  • A heel piece to secure the heel of the boot to the ski.

  • A release mechanism to allow the boot heel to pivot to facilitate walking up hill.

  • A safety release mechanism to release the ski if a skier crashes.

  • Some models incorporate ski brakes to prevent a detached ski running away

  • Heel risers that can be deployed to raise the height of the heel off the ski while climbing steep slopes.

  • Provision for fitting ski crampons (that must match the binding and the ski width)

Dynafit AT binding
La Sportiva AT boot

AT binding modes

Alpine touring bindings have downhill and uphill modes.

  • For downhill mode the boot heel is secured to the ski to provide maximum control when skiing downhill.

  • For uphill (climbing) mode the boot heel is released and the boot can pivot from the toe for walking up hill. Heel risers make climbing steep slopes easier.

Note: Some tech AT binding toe units (e.g. Dynafit) require the securing tab to be pulled up to fully secure it for uphill travel. This locks the binding to prevent it releasing. The securing tab needs to be reset to the downhill setting during a transition to downhill mode.

AT binding heel – Downhill mode. Note pins for securing heel and ski brakes deployed
AT binding heel – Walk mode step 1
AT binding heel – Walk mode step 2

Categories of AT bindings

The three main categories of AT bindings are:

  1. Heavy – for resort-based downhill skiing (900+ grams per binding)

  2. Touring – for general touring (700+ grams per binding)

  3. Light – for lightweight touring and ski mountaineering races (300+ grams per binding)

In general, heavier bindings are more durable than lighter ones.

Types of AT bindings

Frame AT bindings:

  • Can be used with either dedicated AT ski touring boots or regular downhill ski boots.

  • Have a frame that incorporates a base plate, toe and heel unit that pivots at the front to free the heel for uphill climbing.

  • Have a multi-pivot multi-directional release similar to downhill bindings

  • Incorporate ski brakes

  • Are relatively heavy so are used mainly for resort-based skiing and occasional ski touring.

Tech AT bindings (also known as pin bindings):

  • Were developed by Dynafit over 30 years ago

  • Have two spring loaded metal pins that secure the toe of an AT boot by clipping into the small metal cups (tech fittings) on each side of an AT boot.

  • Are typically much lighter than frame AT bindings

  • The rigid sole of the AT boot performs the same function as the frame

  • Some models only have a safety release in the heel units, while others also incorporate a safety release in the toe unit.

  • Some models incorporate ski brakes, the lighter ones don’t