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Travel - Skiing: What a Bind

BINDINGS HAVE an image problem. With other bits of gear, you know what you're after: an outfit to make you look good, boots to save you from the agony you suffered the last time you hired a pair. But even in a crowded ski shop, there is always an empty space near the rack of bindings. Because skiers find them about as interesting as taking insurance.

That, of course, is what they are: insurance. In normal circumstances, bindings keep your boots attached to your skis. In abnormal circumstances they release your boots from your skis. You only discover how good your insurance is when you have a bad accident: and it's the same with bindings.

When I last had my skis tuned, towards the end of last season, the workshop pointed out that it was time to get new bindings. So I made an appointment with Bernie Haaser, equipment manager at the Ellis Brigham shop in Covent Garden, London.

I was, so Haaser told me, an exceptional customer: it was extremely rare for anyone to buy new bindings for old skis." Most skiers," he said, "are just not bothered about bindings, although it is the only part of their equipment designed to ensure their safety. What matters to them is whether the colour of the binding matches the ski."

Although bindings influence skiing performance, their characteristic difference lies in the ease with which they release the boot. All of them have adjustable DIN settings (Haaser, being Austrian, could spell out what DIN stands for: Deutsche Industrie Norm), and fitters use a complex table to choose a setting which reflects the skier's weight, style of skiing, and boot length. But because the stiffness of the spring differs from binding to binding, so does the range of adjustment. "And since beginners are likely to have forward or backward twisting falls, they need a binding which releases earlier, and quicker," said Haaser. "An aggressive skier applies more pressure, so he needs a stiffer release."

I admitted that I was only quite aggressive, and skied more on-piste than off: and Haaser prescribed a pair of Marker M8.1 EPS bindings.

I was particularly sold on them (at a price of pounds 109.95) because of the "biometric" pad above the toe: it lowers the pressure required to open the top of the binding by 25 per cent in the event of a backward fall - the kind most likely to damage the knees. When I have such a fall, as I probably will this season, I hope to find that it was money well spent.