February 2, 2012
SIA Preview: Salomon Guardian 16
Yes, it's a new A/T binding from Salomon: the Sidecountry/Freeride-oriented Guardian 16. The Guardian isn't just a shot across the Marker Duke's bow; it's ramming speed with all guns blazing. No published weight is available yet for the Guardian, but the Salomon people told me it will be within a few ounces (lighter?) of the Duke's five pounds, 12.5 ounces per pair.
Is there anything to be excited about here? You bet. Salomon emphasized repeatedly that downhill performance was their priority, with features such as a wider, 80mm base (overall width, not screw-hole width), and a lower, 26mm chassis to keep your boot closer to the ski. Expect excellent lateral stability—and take a look at how short the binding's plate is, reducing that dreaded flat spot.
On the Touring front, the Duke-killing feature is clearly going to be the ability to shift between free and locked modes without stepping out of the binding. But note also the position of the pivot point at the toe: clearly more efficient than Marker's offerings. The locking mechanism of the Guardian is very clever—better perhaps than Fritschi's. I expect icing will prove far less troublesome.
Overall, the Guardian 16's design looks sharp enough to at least give Marker and Fritschi a bit of indigestion. At this (presumed) weight, there's no challenge to either Marker's Tour or Fritschi's Freeride, but if a lighter version shows up down the road, all bets are off. The big unknown here is of course real-world performance and reliability. This is a new binding, untested by the market, and undoubtedly there will be issues and model refinements to deal with.
So for now, if you're looking for a Duke-category binding, I'd probably stick with the tried-and-true Duke (I'm too old and too crusty to be Beta-testing bindings). That said, step-in aficionados should definitely keep an eye on the Guardian, which debuts this fall. If it lives up to its potential, it will indeed be a mighty challenger.