Featured Exclusive: Daron Rahlves and the Atomic Shift MNC 13 Binding

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews and Comparisons' started by Philpug, Dec 17, 2017.

  1. Philpug

    Philpug Ziggy's dad. Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    OPTION Daron Rahlves Atomic.jpg
    They say if you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, you are lucky enough. Well, living in Tahoe makes me lucky, but having connections to Daron Rahlves -- U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Famer, Olympian, Hahnenkamm winner, great dad, and all-around good guy -- makes me even luckier. We reached out to Daron earlier this week to see if we could talk about Atomic's new Shift MNC 13 alpine/touring binding. As part of the development team, he was more than happy to spend some time with us. We agreed to meet up at Sugar Bowl so we could play with the binding and get his thoughts on it. What was to be just an interview and short video session turned into an on-snow test. But that's the way Daron rolls. Again, lucky us.​

    First, I don’t have any tech-compatible boots to test with; at some point we will get someone with tech boots to test these, but until then we will talk about the binding's alpine function and performance. Second, is the Shift MNC 13 the be-all, end-all of bindings, a unicorn, the solution to every question since the dawn of both releasable bindings and backcountry touring? Damn. I am not qualified to answer that, but other than running a race course on a plated ski, I'm not sure what it won't do.
    [​IMG]

    For at least the past decade, major binding manufacturers (including Atomic/Salomon) have been reengineering their existing bindings in order to add a hike mode. They have used the toe from one and the heel from another, connected them with a frame, even combined tech toes, but every one has necessitated a compromise in weight, performance, or safety -- sometimes all three. None were were able to accommodate all boot soles -- DIN/alpine, WTR, GripWalk, and tech -- in the manner they were designed, until now (or at least until next September, when the Shift will be released). How did Atomic/Salomon do it? Well, it was willing to do something no one had done before: start with a completely clean sheet of paper, not just go through the parts bin to see what it could use from its other bindings. It was a risky move, but one that looks like it will pay off.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    No, this binding is not for me; I don’t climb, that's what lifts are for. No, it is not the lightest binding for going uphill; others are significantly lighter, but they don't have near the performance and safety that the Shift provides. Daron spends as much time in the backcountry as inbounds now, and after using this binding for over a year, he feels there is no loss in safety or confidence compared with traditional alpine bindings. While there might be a slight compromise in uphill performance, the added safety on the downhill far outweighs it. Dave Dodge has a good video talking about the risks of skiing a tech binding inbounds; when the Shift is skied in alpine mode, it addresses his safety concerns.

    On snow: We had fast and firm conditions at Sugar Bowl, just the ones in which I wouldn't want to push the limits of a typical tech binding. We also added some extra hoops for the binding to jump through: the Shift MNC 13 was mounted on wide skis, 107mm skis that would have preferred to be in the snow rather than on it. Why does this matter? Well, for years we have said that lateral rigidity is what separates a better binding from a lesser one. Putting a 107mm ski up on edge on firm corduroy and hard wind buff should show any weaknesses, but I felt absolutely no lateral flex. I simply did not believe that I was in a compromised binding. All that was left for me to do was to chase one of the fastest men on skis, Daron Rahlves; I can say with confidence that it was not the binding's fault I couldn't keep up with him.

    How it works: Simply, it works as expected. Can you ask for anything more than that? Like I said, the only real shortcoming is that it is not the lightest offering out there, so weight weenies won't be thrilled. The Shift will not take any current Atomic/Salomon binding hole patterns, either. Plus, some people are just naysayers -- you know, the type who back in the day questioned whether bread should come sliced. I will defer to what Daron said about the hiking aspect of the binding and refer you to the video. Alpine mode has an adjustable AFD for all the different sole options. The heel has a micro-forward pressure adjustment that makes a solid metal "click" when you engage it as compared to the plastic-on-plastic of some manufacturers' offerings in this segment.

    I hope to add a pair of these to our long-term test fleet; ideally, a lucky member will be able to use it for an extended period of time. If you are interested, we are accepting applications [cough] and bribes [/cough] (PM me for Paypal information).

    Full gallery HERE.​
     
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  2. Read Blinn

    Read Blinn lakespapa Skier

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    Bread should not come sliced. (I'm agnostic on bindings, though.)
     
  3. neonorchid

    neonorchid Out on the slopes Skier

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    Of course not! You choose the loaf then have it sliced!

    Bindings, I can't afford to be agnostic. I run from those frame born-again's and low-tech faith healers! I Look to follow strict Howell Orthodoxy laws of physics and engineering - Safety First!
     
  4. ScottB

    ScottB Getting on the lift Skier

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    A ski buddy of mine has gotten into AT skiing recently. He has some "tech" bindings and skins and enjoys the uphill part. He has also broken his leg already in his tech setup. I am mildly interested and this looks like the first binding I would try and enjoy. I have considered the frame AT bindings, but they look really heavy and complex. This new binding looks a bit complex, but its all kind of packaged nicely and its not heavy at all. Its about 70-80% the weight of most downhill bindings. Even if I don't use the climb feature, its a nice light weight downhill binding. I am pretty excited about it.

    I am considering a pair of DPS Wailers 112 in the carbon construction and these would match up nicely.
     
  5. VinceF

    VinceF Booting up Skier

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    I have DPS Wailers with Marker Barons on them. Love the downhill performance but not the weight of the Barons. If these Salomon/Atomic bindings are the real deal then I will be excited to put them on my skis in place of the heavy Markers. Looking forward to seeing them in the wild next year.
     
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  6. Philpug

    Philpug Ziggy's dad. Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    I am hearing Salomon/Atomic know what they have here and there will not be a supply shortage. .
     
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  7. Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    If you are serious about a long-term tester this season, I would definitely like to put my hat into the ring. I'll be in Japan in Jan/Feb and then India in Feb/Mar, so I could definitely put this binding through it's paces.......
     
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  8. Yo Momma

    Yo Momma Out on the slopes Skier

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    Early release possibilities?
     
  9. Philpug

    Philpug Ziggy's dad. Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    I don't think so.
     
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  10. Josh Matta

    Josh Matta Making fresh tracks Instructor

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    Once I can procure a set(mine will be salomon branded though) ill test.

    IMO most tech binding have less lateral flex than most plate style touring binding especially over time. I have been using the Black Sheep oif tech binding G3 Onyx for about 4 year now, and honestly even on hard snow they ski fine. I do not bash them inbounds though.
     
  11. Yo Momma

    Yo Momma Out on the slopes Skier

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    In my experience, there is always a loophole! It's just a matter of finding it... :decisions:

    Let me rephrase that... any early Demo/Test possibilities? :popcorn:
     
  12. Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    Excited to be skiing for Salomon this season and I will be on the Shift bindings. Will be testing them out in Japan and India and have been asked to give a full report which I would be happy to post here as well. Picking them up in Denver on Sunday, can't wait to try them!

    - Matt
     
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  13. Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    Skis are here! A big thanks to Rob McGregor and Salomon skis for providing me with some new Quest 118 (192cm) and Shift bindings for the season! I just got these today and have had a little play around with them inside, but they will be put into proper on-snow use starting in Japan on the 5th January. Can't wait to try them out. Initial thoughts are they are a slick system! Here's a couple of photos and some descriptions (won't go into too much detail given the previous write-up from Phil)......

    DSC06276.JPG
    Salomon Quest 118 mounted with the new Shift bindings. If you look at the toe piece on both bindings, you can see a blue lever right at the front of the binding and a blue tab inside the toe cup. The lever at the front of the binding opens the pins when in touring mode so you can clip in to start touring and the blue tab in the toe cups flicks the toe piece into tour mode or ski mode. This is done by rotating the pin arms up and out for touring or down and inwards for ski mode and the conversion into a regular alpine binding therefore. The ski on the left has the blue tab lifted up and is in downhill or ski mode and the ski on the right has the tab lifted and is ready to clip into for touring. Note that the ski brakes on that ski are not yet locked in place and the blue lever at the front of the toe piece would want to be pulled upwards into one of two positions for touring, to partially lock the toe (still releasable though).


    DSC06279.JPG
    You can see the blue tab in the different positions more clearly here and the toe pin lugs either up and out for touring or in and down for alpine mode. You can also see know that the ski brakes on the upper ski are now locked and retracted out of the way for touring. This is done by pulling the plastic actuating lever (in front of the ski brake heal pad on the lower ski) upwards and back. Once it is fully retracted (can be done with the ski pole) then you step down onto the pad and the brake and the actuating lever locks the retracted brake in place. That completes the steps necessary for touring mode (unless you want to pull up the climbing aide).


    DSC06280.JPG
    Ski boot in alpine (downhill) mode. Looks and feels just like a regular alpine binding, with regular release in the toe and heal piece. You step in and step out like a regular binding. For me as a guide, this will save time and effort getting the skis off, for example when I need to get out of the skis quickly doing beacon practice (into the pinpoint search phase) then I should be able to kick them off real fast. No longer will I have to remove the heal and then more carefully release the toe pins with my ski pole. That will be a nice change again.


    DSC06281.JPG
    In tour mode and the plastic brake retainer at the back pulled backwards into position ready for the ski brake to be locked in place when you step down onto it.


    DSC06282.JPG
    Climbing aid engaged (10 degrees). If you run without the climbing aid up then the flat position is naturally 2 degrees. I would think that if Salomon wanted to add some extra height to the climbing aid, then that would be a relatively easy extension retrofit. Whether it needs it remains to be seen (in my opinion). Unlike most bindings of this nature (from experience the Kingpin and the Tecton where the heal pieces slide backwards to get into tour mode) then the conversion and increased spacing necessary to get the binding into touring mode comes from the toe piece and the movement of the arm/pins upwards and outwards. That movement is enough to create the room necessary to move the whole boot forward away from the heal piece so the heal piece stays in the downwards position and out of the way. Now this could be my user error, but a few times with the Kingpins (not tried with the Tectons now I have this setup), the heal piece would catch the back of the ski boot and the heal would get stuck (wouldn't be able to lift up to continue touring). I also had some issues with the heal pieces staying down in touring mode and I would accidentally have the heal piece snap upright and catch me on the hand. That would really sting! Again, that could have been user error, but with the movement and spacing coming from the toe piece, then this shouldn't be a worry. No more bruised hands! I like that idea.....

    Now I have to go trim my skins and start packing. Will gather more intel soon when I finally get them on the snow. #holyshift

    - Matt
     
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  14. markojp

    markojp mtn rep for the gear on my feet Industry Insider Instructor

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    Pictures of Iwao laps or it didn't happen. ogsmile
     
  15. Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    I've had a couple of weeks on these bindings in Japan now and for the style of skiing we are doing here, they work really well. We are doing a lot of lift accessible inbounds and sidecountry runs and for that they have been awesome. They ski well on the downhill, they are pretty precise and allow the ski to flex properly. They transition pretty easily and tour well in less technical terrain. They've done everything well that I've needed them to do. It's still early days on them and I would say that I'm still figuring them out, but so far, I'm really happy with them.

    I have had them on some pretty high speed groomer runs in Furano and into some ungroomed stuff at speed at the side of the trail and they stay on. I've had a couple of decent crashes now and they've released when I needed them to! I'm definitely gaining confidence with them and definitely like knowing that I do have a full-releasable binding on for the downhill, should I need it. When practicing beacon searching and needing to quickly remove my skis for the final 3m of searching, the Shift is very easy to remove as it is then just a regular alpine binding. I have really appreciated that. I see other guests on Kingpins (which I have used for the last 2 years) struggling to get their bindings off in deep snow. With the Shifts, it so much faster and easier. I really feel a difference there.

    The change from going into ski mode and then hike mode, works really well also. My transitions are a bit slower (as long as I'm faster than the people I am skiing with, then there is no problem) as there are more things I need to do to move into tour mode now, but it's not a major inconvenience. The pins can get a little stuck with ice, but I just move the ski/walk mode tab up and down a few times and that normally clears any ice and I just give a couple of pushes down on the front locking mechanism lever and then the wings are totally free to move again. That was an initial concern but it's not been a problem and has become less of an issue as I have gained more familiarity with the system. Certainly the bindings are a lot easier to free from ice and engage compared to a Duke/Baron and a Guardian. They could be a pain in the butt!

    The locking lever is a little hard to lock out for touring until I figured out how to better position my hand to get better leverage on it. My only gripe is that it can be a little fiddly to line up the toe pins when you have the locking lever pushed down with your pole. For me, the Black Diamond/Fritschi and their improved Tecton toe-piece design is still the leader in terms of ease of front pin engagement (out of the bindings I have tried). It would be great if Salomon looked at making that a little easier and find a similar way of being able to at least have the front toe pin lever lock down when you push on it with your pole so that aligning the pins is easier. Again it is probably down to lack of use on my part and something I could get better at with more time, but the Tecton has a tec toe-piece that is easy to engage straight away out of the box.

    Only a couple of times did the ski brakes not stay engaged when starting to tour and I think that was again down to user error. I might not have cleared out the snow enough from underneath the locking mechanism before I stomped down on it. I have not skinned up anything too technical or steep, the 10 degree riser is adequate here in Hokkaido so far. I did have it collapse on me a couple of times, again, more likely down to user error. There seems to be a little extra play that enables the riser to go slightly back past 90 degrees and when I remember to do that, then the riser stays up consistently. It's getting easier to engage using my pole.

    So, so far, with just over 2.5 weeks on them, I'm really liking them. For the style of skiing we are doing here in Japan, they are absolutely suited to the task. I really like them. Compared to the frame style bindings that I have used before like the Duke, Baron or Guardian, then they are definitely a much better choice. They are much lighter, ski better (don't affect the flex of the ski) and are not as prone to the icing issues that those bindings have when getting in or out of ski mode. Unless I needed to ski with a higher DIN (11 is adequate for me), then the Shift in my opinion, makes those bindings obsolete.

    I was on the Kingpins the last 2 seasons so how do they compare to those? Again, I much prefer the Shifts. The transitions with the Shifts are a little slower than the Kingpins and there is a slight weight penalty, but having the releasable toe and the conversion into a regular alpine binding for the downhill, puts it out in front of the Kingpin. It really is a game-changer in that regard and puts the Shift into a category of it's own. I don't see a situation where I would take the Kingpin over the Shift therefore. I think the Shift has the advantage for the style of skiing I like to do and I believe that this is a very popular target market. Sure, if the focus is more on the uphill than the down, then the Shift is probably not the binding for that, the traditional tec bindings are going to be what you want, but for a downhill binding that can also tour really well, then the Shift is the leader in that category, in my opinion.

    I will be keen to see how these bindings hold up for the long-term, that is often a test we don't hear as much about (I'm pretty hard on equipment and tend to break stuff so we'll see how these bindings cope with a solid season of use) and I'm always a little hesitant to fully embrace new technology in it's first year, but I did gain some confidence in the fact that this binding has been tested in it's final commercial grade form, for the previous 2 years, not just the last year. Higher user numbers this year (I've been quoted as many as 400 pairs are out in the world right now) will give better feedback on the long term reliability of the system and bring out in glitches. Hopefully when the binding is released to the public this Fall, then people should be pretty confident knowing they really will be ready to go.

    I will keep testing them more, I have more than 3 weeks to go on them here in Japan and then 2 weeks of testing in the Himalayas. I think by then, I should have them pretty dialed and my long-term opinion formulated. The "hard work" continues......

    DSC06361.JPG
    They work well for quick laps out the gate in Kokusai.

    DSC06442.JPG
    Would've liked to have hiked further, but after an hour hiking in Daisetsuzan National Park, we got blown off the mountain. They were working really well until then.

    - Matt
     
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