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.
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
Scott February 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm
I take it from the "16" in the name that that's how high the DIN goes? I wonder, are they going to make a cheaper, lighter version (akin to the Baron) for those of us that actually do want release?
Andy February 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm
Yeah, DIN range is 7-16. Hard to say how this will play out, but I was very impressed with what I saw. This could offer Fritschi-quality touring with Marker-quality release and retention...
Scott February 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm
I'm still confused as to who really needs that 16 DIN aside from pro free-skiers (or DH racers...but why would they have this binding on the course?). I ski 7 or 8 quite happily and I'm not particularly comfortable using a binding at the extreme ranges of its release settings.
Andy February 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm
Yeah, the presumption is you want your DIN setting to match the middle of the binding's range because we assume that's where the spring performs best over time. I ski a DIN 8 these days, which is high for my body weight, so I'd be scraping the edge of the Guardian's range. The evolution of the US backcountry market is pretty clear: Alpine skiers are enticed to try so-called 'Sidecountry' products, they discover they need something lighter so they move to Tour F10/Fritschi class gear, and eventually someone convinces them to try Dynafit... :) If you look at it this way, you see why the Duke's position is so coveted: this is the point of entry for converting the huge Alpine market into a Backcountry rider. There will be war over this, I'm sure.
Kyle February 3, 2012 at 11:11 am
Being a Duke user I would give the advice to buy the Guardians even if they haven't been market tested yet. Taking my skis off and de-icing the binding when switching from up to down is a pain. I love my Dukes, but I think taking a gamble and buying the Guardians when they come out would be worth it.
Scott February 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm
I suppose I'm being a little bit hypocritical here since I spend a good portion of my time on the snow on near-infinite DIN tele bindings...