Ski Trab Binding Discussion

 In my opinion, Ski Trab bindings sit head-and-shoulders above most other backcountry ski bindings because of their unique toe piece design. It is unlike anything else on the market. The toe lever must be depressed to step into the binding, which takes slightly more effort than a traditional tech toe on normal step-ins, but it allows much more precision and control when stepping into the binding in consequential terrain. You can hold the ski in your hand, depress the lever with your thumb, and guide the pins into your boot’s tech inserts. With some practice this becomes easy. Check out this video of a paraglider demonstrating this technique mid-flight:

The toe piece also allows each side to spring open independently with incremental clamping strength, a stark contrast to every other tech toe piece that can only open bilaterally. I believe this makes the bindings uniquely safe and reliable compared to everything else on the market. 

Ski Trab makes a leash that can easily be installed and removed from the toe piece, which is an excellent feature if you don’t want to use leashes all the time. This is different from other manufacturers such as ATK where the leash is not easily removed from the binding after it gets installed. 

All of Ski Trab’s touring bindings have used the same toe piece for the past 8 years or so. If you look at Ski Trab’s current touring binding lineup, you will see 2 options: the Gara Titan and the Titan Vario.2. The Gara Titan is a stripped-down skimo race binding weighing 120g, and the Titan Vario.2 adds a larger heelpiece and a small toe shim to compensate for the larger heelpiece, weighing 250g. The ~3mm toe shim is available aftermarket and only weighs around 10g, so you can easily play with the ramp angle of any Trab binding without too much weight penalty. 

The Gara Titan has interchangeable heel springs available that provide different vertical release values, but the lateral release value is fixed. The heelpiece is compatible with a 30g 25mm adjustment plate made by Trab, and a 30g, 30mm adjustment plate made by ATK if you want flexibility to use different boots, or perhaps you might want to increase the ramp angle or maintain resale value on your skis. If you have never used adjustment plates on skimo race bindings, they are lightweight and convenient, but you do need to check every so often to make sure the screws are tight. Additionally, it takes a bit more time to adjust for different boots   compared to a normal, worm-screw style tech binding because you have to carefully re-adjust 4 screws per ski. If you regularly switch between different boots on the same ski, you might want to consider a slightly heavier binding with easier adjustment. 

In the context of general backcountry skiing (as opposed to skimo racing, which the Gara Titan was designed for), the extremely lightweight heelpiece may not be robust enough for everyone. Compared with the Vario series, there is less “elasticity” in the heelpiece, meaning that as the heelpiece rotates sideways, the Vario will return to center from a greater angle than the Gara Titan. I should note that the Gara Titan has more elasticity than most, if not all other skimo race bindings. I believe that this means that the Gara Titan provides less reliable retention than the Vario. Ski Trab themselves say they do not recommend skiers use the Gara Titan unlocked in the backcountry. I have used the Gara Titan in the backcountry, and had one pre-release on a 95mm wide ski where I clipped a rock with one of my tails. Now, hitting a rock with your ski tail is a classic pre-release cause for tech bindings, and I can’t say if any other binding would do better. I did notice that the release felt more sudden than it does on a Vario, and friends who have skied both bindings agree that a Gara Titan release can feel quicker than a Vario release. 

The Titan Vario.2 heelpiece looks very different than the Gara Titan. Unlike the Gara Titan, you cannot adjust the retention by switching the heel spring. The heel-tower has a plastic housing which is stamped with “5-7” “7-9” or “9-11.” They now make a “2-4” model for children. What they mean by that is that the “5-7” model is suitable for skiers who are used to a din between 5 and 7, and so on. You cannot fine-tune the retention like you can on bindings from other manufacturers, and I have been told that the Vario.2’s test on the higher end of the stated range, so the “5-7” will perform more like a 7 din binding than a 5 din binding. Where does all the extra weight come from compared to the Gara Titan? The toe shim adds 10g, the spring-loaded heel adjustment track, which Trab calls the Flex-Plate weighs around 80g, and the heel turret weighs …. As I have discussed above, the heel turret on the Vario.2 provides noticeably better elasticity and retention compared to the Gara Titan. The Vario.2 is designed to be a “gapless” binding, which means the heelpiece sits flush against the heel of the ski boot. Most bindings are designed to have a small gap there to compensate for ski flex underfoot, but the Vario.2 binding doesn’t need a gap because the heel track has a spring that allows the heel turret to move backwards when the ski is flexed underfoot. The G3 Zed, Marker Alpinist, and others function similarly in this regard. Binding designers claim that gapless bindings have better retention and more consistent release. If you are getting big air or skiing very fast, I can understand wanting a gapless binging but I think this feature is overkill for most backcountry skiers. One nice feature of the Flex-Plate is that it is much easier to adjust for different boot sizes than a skimo race heel plate. Because the Vario.2 is designed to be used gapless, you cannot use it without the 80g Flex-Plate. Trab makes some excellent brakes that attach to the Vario.2 heelpiece, although they weigh 69g which is heavier than brakes from other manufacturers, and the widest they make are 94mm. The Vario.2 also has a “high” riser option if you turn the heelpiece backwards, but it is not significantly higher than the standard flap-over-pins riser. 

You might be thinking, I wish Trab made a binding that was designed for rigorous backcountry skiing outside of a skimo race at a weight closer to the Gara Titan. They used to make such a binding! It was called the Ski Trab Vario. It has since been replaced by the Vario.2 and it is no longer available anywhere, and it is rare to see a used pair available for sale. The original Vario had the improved lateral elasticity and retention of the Vario.2 at a lighter weight, without the added weight and bulk of the Flex-Plate. The Vario was available in skimo-race style minimal configuration, with a minimal heel plate, and they sold it with the Flex-Plate under the “Vario Adjustable” title. Just like the Gara Titan, the original Vario is compatible with 30g ATK skimo heelplates. With the ATK heel plates, the original Vario weighs around 200g, around 60g lighter than the Vario.2 while providing sufficient performance for most backcountry skiers to ski confidently unlocked. I have skied over a million vertical feet in the backcountry using the original Vario (across several pairs) and have never had a pre-release, and I have released in a crash when I wanted to on many occasions. I wish Ski Trab would make the original Vario again, because it is the safest binding under 200g and the best binding for most backcountry skiers who do not need a high heel riser. The original Vario is not compatible with the brakes that Trab makes for the Vario.2 and it does not have a higher riser option. If brakes are important to you, the Kreuzspitze Tech brakes are an interesting option that mount directly on the ski and are compatible with any binding. I think brakes are generally useless in the backcountry, but I understand they are required in some ski areas and competitive events so they are worth considering. 


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