Sometimes the glamour of skis and boots can overshadow ski bindings. But bindings are a critical link in your ski set-up and it’s important to find the right ones for you. They have two main purposes: to keep your boots and skis firmly attached when you’re charging downhill, and to release your skis if you bail mid-run, which can help save your knees (or more serious injuries).
The best ski bindings for you depend on a few key considerations:
- Where you’re skiing: Match your bindings to your ski goals, whether that’s ripping groomers or heading into the backcountry.
- What ski boots you have: Make sure your ski bindings and boots are compatible.
- Your ski width: Brakes on your bindings will need to fit over the edges of your skis.
- DIN setting: This number that dictates just how firmly your bindings connect to your skis, and is good to know when you’re buying ski bindings.
- How to adjust ski bindings: Once you have new ski bindings, now what?
Ski bindings: downhill vs backcountry
The main type of skiing you plan to do is the first step to choosing your ski bindings. Do your goals involve fun laps of resort runs? Start with downhill-specific ski bindings. Do you want to shift into backcountry skiing? Look into alpine touring bindings or maybe even telemark bindings.
Downhill ski bindings
If all your ski runs start with a chairlift ride, then downhill bindings are for you. Many downhill skis are sold with integrated bindings that work with those specific skis (these are the skis on mec.ca that have bindings included). Standard downhill ski bindings are for resort skiers and have two main purposes. First, they hold your boot in place so you can control your skis, and second, they release you from your skis in the event of a fall.
Downhill ski bindings
- Separate toe and heel pieces
- Include brakes that help stop runaway skis and hold your skis steady as you clip in
- An anti-friction device pad in the toe piece that helps your boot slide out if it needs to release
- DIN setting window on the toe piece
Backcountry ski bindings
The main purpose of backcountry bindings (sometimes called alpine touring or AT bindings) is to help you explore beyond ski resorts. They free up your heels so you can hike up on your skis, and then lock you in for your descent. They’ll have a heel riser to help avoid Achilles tendon strain on the uphills.
For touring, what works for getting up is usually at odds with what works for the descent, so strength, weight, and lightness are things to keep in mind when you’re looking at binding options. Backcountry ski bindings come in different styles:
- Heel and toe pieces are connected by a frame
- Similar to downhill ski bindings, but have a frame that lifts with your ski boot as you skin up
- Usually come with brakes
- Often about 2–3 times heavier than tech bindings
- Quite intuitive and easy to use; switching from ski to tour mode may or may not mean you need to step out of the bindings, depending on the design
- Best for: skiers new to touring or those who aren’t as concerned about gear weight. Also good if you want bindings that can work for resort skiing in addition to some backcountry.
These are sometimes referred to as “Dynafit bindings,” since that was the first brand to use this style. Many other tech binding brands are now available.
- Toe and heel pieces have pins that attach to specific types of ski boots
- Pins hold your ski boot toes in place and your heels release as you skin up
- The lightest form of touring bindings
- May not come with brakes to save additional weight, but you can often add them
- Can be a steep learning curve to use them when you start out, since lining up the pins with your boot insert can take some getting used to (especially in deep snow)
- Best for: strong backcountry skiers that take the uphill as seriously as the descent, and want lightweight gear for ski touring.
- Always has a free heel (some may say this is to free your mind) during the climb up and the descent
- Can be lumped into two categories: 75mm and NTN (New Telemark Norm)
- 75mm: have a toe piece with a springy cable that goes around the back your boot. The downside is they don’t have a lateral release which increases the risk of knee injury in the case of falls.
- NTN (shown in the photo): a spring-less binding system with a plate that secures the forefront of the boot. Binding does have a lateral release.
Like all things in skiing, ski binding technology isn’t static. Some bindings are pushing the boundaries of what’s standard; for example, the new Marker Kingpin ski bindings combine a conventional tech toe piece with an alpine-style heel that has no tech pins.
Ski binding and boot compatibility
For anyone buying ski bindings for the first time: ski bindings are not universal to all boots. Your ski boots and bindings need to have compatible systems, and there’s info about boot/binding compatibility under the tech specs tab for each product on mec.ca.
If you already have a pair of ski boots that you love and want to use, make sure you buy ski bindings that are compatible with your boots. Have questions about specific boot or bindings models? Chat with an MEC staff member for help. Here are some general guidelines to start:
- Downhill ski bindings: Compatible with downhill ski boots (sometimes called alpine ski boots). Some will work with alpine touring boots or AT boots with interchangeable soles, depending on the model.
- Tech bindings: Only boots with tech inserts are compatible with tech bindings, since they need to attach using the pins on the bindings.
- Frame bindings: Compatible with alpine touring boots, though you’ll also find some that can also work with downhill boots.
Ski width and brakes
Many downhill and AT bindings come with brakes. The brake width on ski bindings is the amount of empty space between the brakes. When you’re looking at bindings, make sure the brake width in the tech specs will fit the width of your ski at the waist (the narrowest part). Some bindings allow you to swap out the brakes for a wider compatible one that’s sold separately. If you need to change your brakes, a ski tech at an MEC ski shop can help you out.
What is DIN and why does it matter?
DIN is a number that indicates how easy (or hard) it is for your boots to release from your bindings. It stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung eV, a ski industry standard introduced in Germany, and it’s standard for all downhill bindings.
The higher the DIN setting, the more force it takes for your bindings and boots to disconnect. Generally, a low DIN setting will benefit beginners and novice skiers, since the ski will pop off easily as a safety measure during a fall. A high DIN setting is better suited to more aggressive skiers tackling jumps, drops or higher speeds. Height, weight and skiing ability all come into play for setting DIN. While you can find DIN calculators and DIN settings charts online, you should always consult a ski tech to help you find the right DIN for you. Never try to set your DIN yourself.
It’s good to have an idea of your DIN setting when you’re choosing ski bindings. Each binding has a DIN range, and you’ll want your DIN to be near the middle of that range for your bindings (not at the very bottom or top).
Note: Some bindings are not DIN certified, but most have a form of release mechanism. If you have questions, research the specific binding model you’re looking at or ask a staff member for more information.
How to adjust ski bindings
When it comes to mounting your bindings, adjusting your bindings or setting your DIN, always take your skis and bindings to a certified ski tech. They’ll have the tools and skills to do the work properly. Bindings are the link to your skis as you fly down the slopes (and release your skis in case of a bail), so it’s best to let a professional tackle this job. Remember to bring one of your ski boots for the tech to fit to your bindings.
Heads up: If you buy two or more of the big three ski items (skis, boots or bindings) from MEC, we’ll mount your bindings for free as part of our ski package discount.