Ski equipment has become increasingly specialised over the years. Gone are the days of ‘one binding fits all’, with so many different types of skiing that each require a specific type of ski binding.
If you’re relatively new to the sport, or looking to switch discipline, it’s important to get the right bindings. Each one has a unique set of attributes that will directly affect your performance and safety on the slopes.
This guide lists the different types of ski bindings and gives you an overview of how they perform on the snow. We have also listed some of the best products under each category to help you get an idea of what to expect.
Alpine Ski Bindings
Alpine is the most common type of ski binding. It is the traditional binding that keeps your foot locked down at all times, using a fixed toe and heel piece.
‘Alpine’ is a broad term in relation to bindings. It includes a wide range of snow conditions, skiing styles and ability levels.
Every type of alpine skiing is best suited to a different alpine binding. They each have different attributes that make them specialised at performing their task.
Intermediate Alpine Ski Bindings
Intermediate alpine bindings prioritise ease of entry. They have a forgiving heel and toe design that will help you clip-in at a wider angle, without requiring much force.
Most of the binding will be constructed from durable plastic, which has an element of flexibility upon entry and exit. It also keeps them lightweight and cost effective.
Safety is also prioritised, with elasticity and retention reduced. This means that it’s easy for the binding to release upon impact, which will mitigate the risk of injury.
You should generally expect a ‘DIN’ range of between 2-10 or 4-12. However, this can vary between products.
- Easy entry
- Light weight
- Cost effective
- Safety first release
- Lack durability
- Only suitable for groomed slopes
Advanced Alpine Ski Bindings
Advanced alpine bindings are strong enough for aggressive skiers. They usually have a beefier design that can withstand heavy impacts at high speed.
Although predominantly made of plastic, some will incorporate varying amounts of metal. This dramatically improves their durability, but it also makes them heavier.
Advanced alpine bindings generally offer greater retention and travel before they release. This makes them less likely to eject unexpectedly when you hit variable terrain or deep powder.
A higher DIN range will be found on advanced bindings. Most offer a maximum release setting between 13 and 16, giving you maximum security.
- Can withstand heavy impact
- Durable materials
- Strong release setting
- Improved retention
- Usually expensive
- Can be heavy
Park Ski Bindings
Park skiers require a binding that’s ready to take the heaviest impacts. They offer supreme strength and durability that can withstand big landings.
Most park ski bindings prioritise retention and elasticity. This helps you to stomp landings at awkward angles and limits pre-release.
The majority of park bindings will use a combination of metal and plastic materials. However, some of the strongest options have a full metal design for safety on the biggest kickers.
They often have some of the highest DIN ranges around to cope with heavy-impact. Some will offer a maximum setting of 18 that can withstand serious pressure.
- Maximum durability
- High level of elasticity
- Brakes accommodate switch skiing
- Secure DIN retention
- Strength means weight
- Too much DIN for most skiers
Race Ski Bindings
Race ski bindings can withstand serious pressure at the highest speeds. They offer increased power transmission by having the most solid design that can keep constant contact with the boot.
The toughest race bindings often have a heavy-duty metal construction that can cope with serious pressure. They have some of the strongest retention around and are designed to meet FIS regulations.
Race bindings always have high DIN settings for security at speed. Some of the stronger options have a DIN that can go up to 20, which can cope with the strongest skiers.
- Strong power transmission
- High level of control
- Great durability
- High retention
- Too much binding for most skiers
Alpine Touring Ski Bindings (AT)
Alpine touring bindings, also known as ‘AT’ bindings, give you the freedom to hike or skin up the mountain. The toe fixed to the ski, while the heel releases to allow a natural walking motion.
Once you have reached the top of your hike, the heel can then be fixed to the ski to descend the slope. This gives you a natural ‘alpine’ feeling when skiing downhill.
Alpine touring bindings can be split into three categories; tech, frame and hybrid.
Tech Touring Bindings
‘Tech’ alpine touring bindings use two sets of pins to hold your toe and heel in place. They require specific alpine touring boots that have matching sockets where the pins can attach.
The toe piece is held in place by a pin when skinning uphill, with the fully detached heel giving walking freedom. When it’s time to ski down, the rear pin can then be engaged to lock the heel in place.
Tech bindings are the lightest type of alpine touring bindings. They often use a minimalist design that will help to conserve energy on backcountry tours.
They also provide the most natural stride pattern. The completely free heel gives you a large range of motion and prioritises uphill performance.
- Light weight
- Large hiking range of motion
- Don’t affect ski flex
- Great for long backcountry tours
- Alpine touring boots required
- Release settings can be unreliable
- Often lack downhill performance
Frame Touring Bindings
‘Frame’ alpine touring bindings have both toe and heel pieces connected to a frame or rails. Their appearance and design closely resembles alpine bindings.
When in ‘walk’ mode, the rear portion of the frame is released from the ski. It gives the heel enough movement to for short uphill hikes in search of fresh powder.
The downhill performance of frame bindings bears close resemblance to traditional alpine bindings. They are also compatible with regular alpine ski boots, making them useful for everyday use.
Frame touring bindings offer the safety of an alpine binding, but with the flexibility to skin uphill. They are easy to mount onto your alpine skis don’t require any additional equipment.
- Solid downhill performance
- Familiar alpine feel
- Compatible with all ski boots
- Reliable release ‘DIN’ settings
- Limited range of motion when hiking
- Can affect ski flex
- Less natural toe pivot point
Hybrid Alpine Touring Bindings
Hybrid touring bindings combine a ‘tech’ style toe with a more traditional alpine heel-piece. They aim to combine the walking motion of a tech binding with the downhill safety of an alpine binding.
The toe-piece mirrors a tech binding by attaching to the boot using a pin. It provides a natural toe pivot when skinning uphill ad reduces weight, but it does require the right touring boots.
The heel-piece closely resembles what you will see on a traditional alpine binding. It uses a regular ‘click-in’ system and has a DIN certified release setting.
Hybrid touring bindings are becoming increasingly popular due to their ‘jack of all trades’ design. They provide a full range of motion when climbing and enough power for most skiers during the descent.
- Natural toe pivot when skinning
- Quick and easy heel attachment
- Reliable DIN release setting
- Good downhill performance
- Can be a bit heavy for long tours
- Alpine touring boots required
- Jack of all trades, master of none
Telemark Ski Bindings
Telemark bindings are a more ‘traditional’ version of AT bindings, but are a mainstay of skiing. They attach to the ski only at the toe or forefoot, with the heel being ‘free’ at all times.
The skills required to use telemark bindings are unlike regular alpine skiing. With your heel detached from the ski during the ascent, you need to use the classic ‘knee drop’ technique to make a turn.
Modern telemark bindings are generally split into three categories; downhill, touring or NTN.
Downhill Telemark Bindings
Most ‘downhill’ telemark bindings use a cable that wraps around your heel. It provides the tension and control required to produce a turn.
The amount of tension in the cable can have a big impact on the power each binding can exert. More tension often allows you to deliver more power to the skis on hardpack, with less tension required for lighter skiers or softer snow.
- Powerful downhill performance
- Reliable higher or lower activity
- Durable and reliable
- Loads of options available (new & used)
- Can lack uphill performance
- Release settings are non-existent or inconvenient
Backcountry Telemark Bindings
Backcountry, also known as ‘touring’, telemark bindings look to improve performance when skinning uphill. They have a similar appearance to a regular telemark binding, using a fixed toe with a cable that retains the heel.
However, the difference lies in the cable tension. They allow you to have a completely free heel while skinning uphill, but you can switch on the cable heel resistance for the descent.
- Great toe pivot
- All-mountain performance
- Usually lightweight
- Generally perform well in powder
- Can lack hardpack power
- Release settings are non-existent or inconvenient
NTN Telemark Bindings
The newest types of bindings for telemark skiers are known as ‘NTN’ bindings. They use a spring system to keep your boot in place, without the need for a cable.
The springs can be adjusted to provide different levels of resistance. They also provide a release setting, which is often missing from traditional telemark bindings.
- Great lateral support
- Improves precision
- Release for safety
- Easy clip-in
- Work well with modern skis
- Often less toe pivot freedom
- Can lack durability
The different types of ski bindings are all specific to an individual skier. Each one is suited to a different discipline, ability, weight or style of skiing.
Choosing the right bindings is pivotal to your performance on the slopes. They provide the platform required to produce your best skiing and enjoy your chosen discipline.
Don’t forget that ski bindings are designed to keep you safe. Always prioritise durable products and choose an option that can handle the type of pressure you will be exerting on the mountain.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.