Marker has some excellent freeride bindings that you can tour with in their Royal Family of bindings. Their Kingpin free-tour binding was a game changer. They do not have a dedicated, lightweight touring binding though. Well, this is about to change. For 2018-19 season, the Marker Alpinist binding will be available - and the Ski Club's kit & equipment expert was the only one in the UK invited to the worldwide launch of the Alpinist this week in Courmayeur.

The binding was mounted to the Volkl VTA 98 ski in 170cm (shorter than I would normally use, but performed superbly).

In the interest of openess - I used my Scott Superguide Carbon boots. We were not paid by Marker for attending this test or writing this. The Ski Club paid for the insurance, flights and transfer. Marker provided the skis, bindings and skins (glued skins made by Colltex), food, lift passes and accommodation.

So, onto the binding.

It's a pure pin touring binding, and here's some info on it before we get into how it performs.

  • 245g without brake, 335g with brake
  • Two DIN versions: 4-9 and 6-12
  • Anti-icing pads at toe and heel
  • Lateral heel release, both directions
  • 0°, 5° & 9° heel risers for skinning
  • One pair of springs at front, as opposed to the standard two pairs
  • Composite base plates with 30% carbon reinforcement in toe unit
  • Anodised metal parts made by DMM in Wales
  • 15mm length adjustment
  • 4mm elastic travel to accommodate ski flex
  • 38 mm screw mount width for power transmission
  • Three brake width options: 90mm, 105mm & 115mm
  • Marker PinTech crampons available in four widths: 80mm, 90mm, 105mm &120mm
  • Newly developed Alpinist leash which includes a ski boot fastening ring (optional)
  • RRP of €320 (UK RRP TBC)
  • Available September 2018

Marker has been making bindings for 65 years, and knows a thing or two about binding function and safety.

Back in 1983 they did offer a touring binding (the M-Tour). I guess timing was not on their side with that one. Now, however, more and more of us want to access fresh lines by skinning, or go touring just for the love of moving in the mountains and fitness. 10 years ago they released the Duke freeride binding, which is a frame touring binding. The Duke is about skiing down rather than ease of skinning up - it does skin well but is not the lightest, however it skis like a beefy downhill binding.

Two years later, in 2009, they released their frame touring bindings; Tour F10 & F12. The F-Tour bindings are light for a frame binding, and ski like a downhill binding - a good option for most skiers. 6 years later in 2015 Maker released the PinTech binding called KingPin, which offers skiing performance like a downhill binding and the skinning function of a pin binding. It is not as light as dedicated touring bindings but it was a game changer when it came out.

With the Royal Family bindings, the F-Tour range and the Kingpin bindings, Marker serves the freeride community really well. However, ski alpinists had to look elsewhere if they wanted a dedicated, lightweight pin-touring binding. For 2018-19 season this will change with the release of the Marker AlPINist binding.

Alpinist: DIN 4-9 version

So, what has Marker built with the Alpinist and how does it perform?

As you may expect form a pin binding, it skins with ease, but there are some aspects of the Alpinist that make skinning easy and natural. Weight is the enemy when ascending on skis, and this binding is light for something that is so robust and skis so well. If you are seriously weight conscious then you can ski without the brake, instead using the new Alpinist leash. The leash comes with a tidy little metal wire loop, which you can attach to you boot buckles if your boots do not have a leash loop (and a lot of boots do not). I skied this binding with the brake and with the leash, on different days. I prefer to use the brakes as this way my skis will not try to attack me in a fall, and I can lay my skis on the snow, when stepping in, without them trying to make a run for it.

The toe unit is a composite base with 30% carbon, keeping it nice and stiff whilst light. One unique feature of the toe unit is that it uses one pair of springs, rather than the two pairs on most other touring bindings, or the three pairs on the Kingpin. The springs used are special to this binding and you feel held in just as well as other pin toe units – but obviously one pair of springs is lighter.

A unique spring set-up is not the only thing. This binding is made up of 80 pieces and almost all of these are new parts unique to this binding. This has not just been thrown together or happened by accident though. The Alpinist has been developed over a couple of years, has cost €1.2 million, with 250, 000 vertical metres ascended in testing across seven countries.

The Alpinist brake is very light and works well. There is an integrated wire bar system to lock the brake in tour mode. You have to manually set this for tour mode, but once set the brake stays open until you step onto it, making it safer to click into the toe pins. Once in, then you simply step on the brake and it locks the arms up and in, keeping them out of the way when skinning. To release the brake for skiing, you simply pull the rear cord on the brake bar and it releases them to ski mode.

Heel brake bar and tab

To get into the toe piece you can place the toe of your boot in line with the toe rubbers and stand down on the lever; keeping your heel low helps in this. Alternatively, you can use the roll method, where you locate one pin into your toe and roll across the toe lever to engage the other pin. I found the roll method worked well for my boots in this binding. It’s worth noting there are no boot stops on this toe piece, so you line up with the top of the rubber guides but do not actually have anything to butt up against. Some will prefer a toe stop or toe bumper, while some won't mind not having one.

Toe unit, showing anti-icing pad

The toe piece takes standard pin binding crampons (from Marker and from other brands), which is handy if you already have crampons.

For skinning, there are three heel levels you can use depending on how flat or steep the hill is. There is a true 0° mode, 5° and 9°. These are shallower than most touring bindings and they felt very natural in use. You do not get all three options on the same side of the heel piece though as there is only one climbing aid. If you leave the heel piece in the same orientation as skiing (pins forward), then you have to flip the heel riser forward and this gives you the 5° riser. This is actually a really nice angle and for undulating terrain you can use this all of the time without having to worry about adjusting the heel riser. The one thing to note in this setting is that you cannot just step on the brake to lock it up into tour mode (as you would go back into ski mode); in this orientation (pins forward) when skinning, locking the braks up is easiest done by hand, once clipped into the toe pins. If you rotate the heel piece 180° then you get the 0° and 9° - and this was my preferred option - and the brake can remain open until you step on it when you start skinning. I used the 0° mode for all but the steepest hills. My boots have 60° of movement in the cuff in tour mode so using the binding flat on shallower climbs was not a problem.

Heel in 0 and 9 degree orientation, pins point rearward

Flicking to 9° is as easy as it gets in touring bindings. The climbing aid can be left point straight up and you simply flick it forward with your pole, and this can easily be done as you stride. It is the easiest riser flick I’ve used. To get back to 0° you just flip the riser back up to vertical, and this was easily done with the grip of my pole, like on many others. Some will want all three levels available without having to rotate the heel, but for me the 0° and 9° option was all I needed, even on really steep, straight-up climbs – which is not common practice as you normally z-line your way up the hill.

The binding has anti-icing pads at the toe and heel, which are little rubber cushions, and these worked really well. These are there to make care of icing issues below the tow pin system, and even though a simple solution I found it worked effectively. In 0°, without the brake attached, your heel rests on the heel anti-icing pad, and again I did not suffer from any undue build up below the heel; a nice touch. If you use the brake, then to fit it you dismount the heel unit form the ski, remove this pad and replace it with the brake then remount the heel unit to the ski. The design of this means you maintain the 0° mode even when using the brake.

To go to ski mode from the 0/9° rotation you simply spin the heel piece 180° by hand, step in and off you go. You can use your pole to rotate the heel but it’s really easy by hand and it’s not uncommon to do this by hand in touring bindings.

The skiing performance of this binding is excellent, and especially for such a lightweight unit. The feedback that you get from the ski is excellent, and you are closer to the top of the ski than many. The 38mm screw mount width worked well with the 98mm waist skis we were using, and I could drive through the edge of the ski even on firm, groomed snow. I felt as though the toe unit was nice and stiff and the one pair of pin springs held me well. The heel piece has lateral release, as for Marker safety is a key focus when creating a binding. The heel piece also has stated 4mm of elastic movement in the heel to accommodate ski flex. Looking at how the heel unit is built, and at the spring in the bas,e this figure may be conservative and you may get more elasticity than 4mm which but I was not able to measure this.

I never felt concerned when skiing this binding, even though we were spoilt with nice pillows and rollers to take off from, and compressions to ski through. As the heel has this elastic travel it makes setting the binding to your boot really easy. You simply turn the heel adjustment screw at the rear of the binding until the heel piece just touches your boot. You do not worry about using a spacer to measure a gap in this binding. As there is 15mm of adjustment it makes it really easy to adjust to a different pair of boots if you change or have more than one pair. DIN adjustment is taken care of by a Torx-head bolt on top the heel unit.

Summary

This is a very light dedicated ski touring binding from a major binding manufacturer, and at €320 (£ TBC) it is great value. It skins well and ascends swiftly; it was so efficient I went ski running at 3,400m with ease. Even though it is light it does not suffer when it comes to skiing, offering drive through the edge of the ski and a fantastic snow feel. As it does not have a frame (like all pin bindings) you also get a fantastic ski flex, and you are very low to the ski and as a result control and sensitivity of snow feeling is very strong.

This is an out-and-out touring binding, so one for weight weenies – and if this is your bag then it’s certainly worth checking it out if you are after new kit next season. If you are more about the down than the up, then look at the Kingpin from Marker, and you can already buy that binding.