I'm here in Denver for the annual SIA Snowshow, wandering the convention floor and browsing the battery of ski gear booths to see if I can find anything interesting. Yesterday I got a little information about Marker's Duke and Tour bindings which may qualify...
The Duke: wider
The big news for the Duke is a wider footprint. Marker says that skis will need to be at least 88mm underfoot to safely mount the revised Duke, which has a modestly wider screw pattern. This for now will be the only Marker binding with the wider footprint. Marker's presumption (right or wrong) is that skiers riding today's wider planks will naturally want to be on a tour-capable binding like the Duke.
The obvious advantage of the expanded screw template width is less stress on the ski at the screws. With ski widths commonly hitting or exceeding 110mm underfoot, you do have to worry about all that leverage on those screw points. Less clear to me is whether or not this necessarily translates into better energy transmission to the boot or feel to the rider.
I asked one of the Marker reps if Marker's engineers had done any studies on energy transmission, which elicited a sort of "It's got 11" moment. I'm not saying I disbelieve that a wider footprint will yield a better ride, but I do think there are plenty of reasons to think that it won't have a big impact, chief among them the fact that boot sole width is mandated by an ISO standard which would seem, for the moment, to be immutable. Don't forget also that we are talking about a modest width gain—not a vast change.
The Tour: 18 improvements
On the Tour front, Marker has made no less than 18 changes to the binding since last year's model. The design of the 2012 Tour remains essentially the same, but there are numerous structural and durability improvements, including materials changes. This year's tour becomes more rigid laterally, especially in free heel mode. The binding's toe has also been revised to better accomodate the varying heights of A/T boots.
Marker has also expended considerable energy to address icing issues with the Tour, which was reportedly causing users grief when they tried to go from free heel back to locked position. Basically all exposed metal has now been covered with low-friction plastics. Presumably this will help a great deal, though the binding probably still remains vulnerable to this problem to some degree, simply because of the way it operates.
As for durability, all those structural improvements suggest two things to me. First, Marker is obviously supporting the product and being very responsive to field input—good. Second, for those of us who own last year's tour, this does enhance my breakage fears—not so good. I knew at the time I got my Tours that it was still a very new product, so I suppose I can't really complain, and hopefully if anything does break, Marker will replace it with the updated hardware.
For those of you who waited, however, now may be a good time to jump in. Marker is obviously happy enough with the fundamental design of the binding to leave it largely unchanged, and they're clearly committed to refining it.