CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit

2018-2019 CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit

Release Value Range: 8-18

Climbing Aids: Flat, 8˚, and 12.5˚

Toe Stand Height: 20 mm

Boot Sole Compatibility: WTR; ISO 5355

Available Brake Widths: depends on the Pivot brakes you use

Stated Weight: 1000 grams (touring weight)

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • Alpine Toe pieces: 530 & 532 grams
  • Touring Toe pieces: 125 & 127 grams
  • Alpine Heel, climbing bail, & toe platform w/ 110 mm brakes (with screws): 870 & 872 grams
  • Total Weight per Binding (All Parts Included): 1525 & 1531 grams
  • Total Weight per Binding (On Ski While Touring): 995 & 999 grams

MSRP: $375 USD (plus the cost of Look Pivot 18, which is ~$400)

Skis Used: Moment Deathwish

Boots Used: Full Tilt Ascendant 10

Test Locations: Grand Teton National Park, Grand Targhee Resort, Teton Pass, & Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY

Days skied: 10

Intro

In the spring of 2017, CAST announced their new Freetour system, which they said would finally give backcountry skiers the efficiency of a pin binding to skin up, and the security of a dedicated alpine binding (the Look Pivot 18) for the down.

That’s the holy grail for a lot of skiers, and before we get into the nitty gritty of this review, it’s worth noting a couple of things:

(1) In our First Look at the CAST Freetour system, I called Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers “the mad scientists at CAST.” That was an understatement, both on the “mad” and the “scientists” part. These guys have a unique combination of drive, experience, and technical skills that’s rare in the ski industry — starting an indie ski brand is a huge and terrifying undertaking, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to start an indie binding brand.

(2) Somehow, two brothers operating out of the business park behind a gas station / burger joint in the tiny town of Driggs, Idaho managed to beat Salomon and Atomic to the punch on the whole “tours like a pin binding, skis like an alpine binding” thing, and various iterations of the CAST binding system have been on the market for several years now. (We reviewed the original CAST Si&I system back in 2013.)

(3) Last season, CAST’s manufacturing ran into several delays, with many people not receiving the bindings until months after they ordered. CAST has since been focusing on dialing in their manufacturing process and expediting construction and shipping. They’re accepting pre-orders for the next production run on September 1st, and say the kits will start shipping on December 1st.

(4) The Freetour system requires modifying a standard Look Pivot 18. You can either do this yourself (which we’ll discuss below), or have CAST perform the upgrade for you.

Now let’s get to it:

How It Works

The Freetour is not a traditional ski binding system, it’s more of a conversion kit that turns a Look Pivot 18 into a touring-friendly tech binding. The system features a toe plate with shoulder screws that mounts to the ski, and then you can swap out a tech toe for skinning up, and use the Look Pivot toe piece when you’re ready to ski down.

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

CAST Freetour System

Last year CAST offered Pivot 18’s at a discount to add on to your kit, or you could convert your own bindings. The conversion is relatively quick and easy — you just need a #3 Pozidrive screwdriver, and CAST provides step by step instructions here. CAST is not currently selling Pivots to go with the Freetour kit, but they say they are working on sourcing them for this coming season.

And again, if you’d prefer to have CAST handle the conversion, they will do the upgrade for you if you send in your pair of Pivot 18’s.

A couple more things to note:

  • The CAST conversion does not work with the 12- or 14-DIN versions of the Pivot. You need to use the metal-toed 18-DIN version.
  • The folks who make Pivot bindings don’t want you to take them apart. Adding the CAST system voids the warranty. CAST warranties their own hardware against manufacturing defects for two years, but they also say they will consider warranty issues past the standard two-year term.

Mounting and Swapping the Toe Pieces

Once you’ve converted the toe, you simply drill your skis for Pivots at your BSL like you normally would, with the addition of two more holes to hold the Freetour’s heel riser kit (CAST supplies a handy template for this). You then mount the heel and heel riser, and then mount the toe shim with the shoulder screws. Overall, this process is not much more involved than your typical Pivot mount job.

Once you’ve mounted the binding, you can swap the toes by pushing a small lever and sliding them off, as demonstrated in the video below.

For the way up, you slide on the touring toe, flip up the brake lock that’s attached to the heel risers, and skin up. When you get to the top, slide off the touring toe, throw on the alpine toe, release your brakes, and go send.

Transitioning

Let’s get this out of the way: if your priority is super fast transitions, then this is not the binding for you. To transition, you have to take your foot out of the toe piece, then swap out the toe pieces. That takes a lot more time than just unlocking the toe and switching the binding heel piece as you would on many other tech bindings.

But the Freetour obviously isn’t aimed at the “multiple laps of low-angle, meadow-skipping” crowd, it’s aimed at skiers who want a dedicated alpine binding on the way down, not just one that transitions quickly.

There were a few times while transitioning where the toe piece didn’t slide off the shim plate easily, and required a little muscle to break loose. But a hit of lube on the plate and shoulder screws really helped there.

The brake lock on these bindings is awesome. I wish every binding used something similar. It’s simple, it never released when I didn’t want it to, and it’s easy to activate with a pole.

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

CAST Freetour — Heel Piece, Brake Lock, and Risers

Climbing Bails

Like the brake lock, the Freetour’s climbing bails are awesome. Their 8° and 12.5° options hit my sweet spot for a variety of skintracks, they didn’t fall down while I was climbing, and they were easy to actuate with my pole. Plus, the Freetour also has a truly flat option. Well done.

Touring Toes

CAST did something remarkable with their touring toes. On their old Si&I system they used converted Dynafit toes. For the Freetour, they fabricated their own tech toes. And that fact still blows my mind a little every time I transition on the Freetour.

That said, the finish and tolerances of the Freetour’s tech toes I tested aren’t as tight as you’d expect from a typical touring toe, and I did run into some issues. If the touring toe isn’t settled perfectly on the shoulder screws, it’s impossible to lock your boot into the toe. That’s really, really frustrating when you’re trying to transition on a perfect pow day, your friends are all way ahead of you, and your ski keeps falling off when you try to step into it. CAST suggested doing a little work to the problem areas with a Dremel, and this helped, but even so, these toes caused a lot of hassle.

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

CAST Freetour — Tech Toe Piece

It’s important to note that CAST says they did a small redesign on the tech toes that reportedly fully addresses the tolerances issues I ran into, so we’ll update this review if / when we’re able to test out the redesigned tech toe.

But again, the Freetour isn’t aimed at skiers who prioritize simplicity, low weight, and quick transitions. It’s aimed at people who want to ski on burly, dedicated 18-DIN alpine bindings in the backcountry.

And on that note…

Downhill Performance

Let me put it this way: if you were to drop me on top of a steep, beat-up, cliffed-out, tracked-out, firm-snow Freeride World Tour venue, the Freetour is the only touring binding I would want to be in. It skis just like a Pivot 18.

The Pivot 18 has a cult following for a reason. It’s sturdy, it’s made out of metal, it has a bunch of elastic travel, and it has a comforting “SNAP” when you step into it. Sure, it’s hard to get into when the heel has pivoted too far, it’s a pain to adjust for different BSL’s, and if you’re smaller and lighter its DIN range (8-18) might not work for you. But it is a downhill binding that many skiers count on and refuse to ski anything else.

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

Cy Whitling on the CAST Freetour, Teton Pass, WY.

Again, the CAST Freetour skis just like a Pivot 18, because it’s essentially just a Pivot 18 that’s mounted on a ~2 mm metal plate. If that’s what you want your touring bindings to feel like, the Freetour is your only option.

Compatibility

The Freetour system comes with AFDs (“Anti Friction Devices”) to fit both Alpine and WTR soles. They are easy to swap, and they feel solid.

In addition, CAST can also fit tech toe fittings into your alpine boots so that you can use them with the Freetour system. Note: CAST strongly recommends that you do not use such boots (i.e., boots that have been converted for use with the CAST Freetour) with other tech bindings where you’re skiing downhill on the toe pins (CAST’s inserts are not designed to be skied on, only skinned on). CAST does say that their conversion will work with the Atomic / Salomon Shift binding, since, in that case, you’d only be touring on the inserts, not skiing on them.

Weight

Pivot 18’s are heavy bindings. The Freetour system uses most of a pair of Pivots, so by default, it’s not light. However, that comes with a few caveats:

There are two ways to measure the weight of the Freetour system. You can look at the entire weight of the system, or you can look at how much weight is actually on your skis.

CAST prefers to look at that second number, and I mostly agree.

The weight you’re dragging on each foot is much more important than the weight in your pack. Don’t believe me? Try skinning your favorite lap with a beer taped to each ski, then do a second lap with those two beers in your pack. You’ll have a better time (and less head on your beer) with the beers in your pack.

Cy Whitling reviews the CAST Freetour Upgrade Kit for Blister

Cy Whitling on the CAST Freetour, Teton Pass, WY.

However, the weight of those apine toes in your pack still counts for something, and the Freetour is still heavier than many touring bindings. At just under 1000 grams on each ski, the Freetour system is ~200 g heavier per foot than the Marker Kingpin 13, and ~120 g heavier than the Shift.

An important thing to again consider, is that the Freetour has a max DIN of 18, while those other options only go to 13. In fact, the Freetour is the only touring binding out there that has a max DIN of 18.

On the skin track, I can’t say I really noticed the weight of the Freetour. Personally, I find that other factors like the weight of your boots, skins, skis — and how much you drank the night before have a bigger cumulative impact on how heavy your setup feels.

For reference, here are some of our measured weights (average per binding) for a few notable bindings:

1530 g CAST Freetour (all parts included)
1478 g Salomon Guardian MNC 13 (115 mm brakes)
997 g CAST Freetour (weight on ski while touring)
886 g Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC (110 mm brakes)
775 g Marker Kingpin 13 (75-100 mm brakes)
682 g Fritschi Tecton 12 (120 mm brakes)
638 g G3 ION 12 (105 mm brakes)
626 g Dynafit ST Rotation 10 (105 mm brakes)

Comparisons

The Freetour replaces CAST’s Si&I system, and improves on it in almost every way. It’s lighter, less fiddly, and you don’t have to rubber-band your brakes.

However, the Freetour system has three other big competitors: frame bindings, tech bindings, and the Shift binding.

Frame Bindings

The Freetour is a huge improvement on frame bindings. The Freetour tours and skis better than any frame binding on the market. The Freetour is much lighter while touring, it has a lower stack height, a better-optimized pivot point, nothing attached to your heel while touring, and is similarly as fiddly to transition. The Freetour loses on price, but the improvement that comes from touring on a real tech toe is absolutely worth it in my opinion.

Tech / Pin Bindings

Compared to all tech bindings on the market right now, the Freetour is heavier, has a higher max DIN, skis much better, and takes a lot longer to transition. The Freetour skis better than any tech-toed binding I’ve been on (including the Kingpin and Fritschi Tecton). The Freetour feels damper, more secure, and has much more elasticity. But it has a much longer and more involved transition process.

So if you’re considering the Freetour, just get very clear on your priorities in the backcountry. For a lot of skiers who aren’t pushing their limits while touring, tech bindings will be the obvious answer.

But if you’re going out to hit a booter, big cliff, steep spine line, etc. — or you simply want much more elasticity than any tech binding offers — I think the Freetour is a much better option than any tech binding available.

Salomon / Atomic Shift Binding

The most equitable comparison to the Freetour is the Salomon / Atomic Shift binding. The Shift promises the same unicorn dream as the Freetour: pins on the up, traditional alpine-binding awesomeness on the way down.

The Shift is lighter, has a lower and smaller DIN range (6-13), uses much more plastic, and is a lot easier to use.

The Freetour system feels marginally damper and more secure on the descent, just as — to some skiers, anyways — a Pivot feels a little better than a Salomon / Atomic STH binding. The Shift’s toe can adapt to more boot norms (including ISO 9523 touring soles), but its heel riser and brake lock haven’t proved to be as secure as the Freetour’s.

This comparison is tougher to call. For most people, I think the Shift wins. It is TUV-certified for release, it’s lighter, it’s easier to use, it’s backed up by a big company, and it takes much less time to transition.

But I still think the Freetour system is a better option for skiers who are really pushing themselves in the backcountry (again, think lots of cliffs, high speeds, etc.). Back to my FWT example: I’d rather drop into a gnarly competition run with the Freetour system than the Shift. The Shift is awesome inbounds, but I think CAST’s Freetour is just a bit more confidence-inspiring, and especially if you are a believer in Pivots.

Who’s It For?

The Freetour is definitely a niche product. Not that many people are looking to go huge in the backcountry. Not everyone needs an 18-DIN binding. And not everyone has the patience to deal with swapping toes. But if you’re filming your movie segment and / or skinning to hit big booters and high-consequence lines, the Freetour makes more sense.

And if you just want to be able to ski Pivots or have an 18-DIN binding in the backcountry, the Freetour system is the only option that you can tour on.

For most other skiers, the Shift or a traditional tech binding will make more sense, but the Freetour definitely has its place.

Bottom Line

For skiers who want the venerable downhill performance of a Pivot 18 and the touring efficiency of a tech toe, the CAST Freetour system is not only the only option, but a well-executed one.

0 Comments

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*