Today we are talking about the new Salomon & Atomic Shift MNC 13 binding, a product that already looks to be one of the most truly innovative products we’ve seen in years. And if our long-term tests are as positive as our initial impressions, the Shift represents a real solution to a problem that more and more skiers are having.
Jonathan Ellsworth and I talked to Salomon athletes, Cody Townsend and Chris Rubens (who both started pushing the concept of this binding years ago) as well as Benoit Sublet, the lead designer on the Shift project.
It’s a great conversation, and we hope you enjoy hearing more about this binding, what makes it unique, and why this was such a challenging and ambitious design process.
And below, I offer more information on the binding, plus my initial on-snow impressions.
TOPICS & TIMES
- Introductions — Cody Townsend, Chris Rubens, Sam Shaheen, and Ben Sublet (1:58)
- What does this binding do, and what makes it different? (5:45)
- Which boots work with this binding? (11:15)
- “No compromise” safety (14:23)
- How & when did the idea originate, and why was it controversial? (15:10)
- How long has the current version of the binding been tested? (23:33)
- The big breakthrough: carbon-infused plastic (27:09)
- Downhill Performance: Salomon STH2 vs. S/LAB SHIFT (29:20)
- What was the most difficult element of this binding to design? (34:23)
- How the toe works (37:10)
- How often and in what scenarios will Cody & Chris use this binding? (39:40)
- Uphill performance (and why “touring steep is stupid”) (47:48)
- Icing Issues? (52:08)
- Durability & the question of consumers as Beta testers (55:30)
Salomon S/Lab Shift — Specs, Notes, and On-Snow Performance
Yesterday, Salomon & Atomic unveiled a new binding called the SHIFT MNC 13, a touring binding that will be available September 1st, 2018. It is a binding that allows you to skin uphill like a tech/pin binding, then turns into a full alpine binding when it’s time to ski down.
In downhill mode, it behaves like a traditional alpine binding by interfacing with the toe and heel lugs of the boot. This allows stability, elastic travel, and full alpine TUV safety certification. In uphill mode, the tech inserts of the boots are used for an efficient stride.
Check out this video with Salomon’s Chris Rubens to see how it works:
Elasticity and Safety
Probably the most exciting and important thing about the Shift is that it is TUV certified to alpine binding standards. That means that it is the first and only non-frame touring binding on the market that matches the safety standards of a standard alpine binding.
On top of this improved safety, the binding also has elastic travel in both the toe and heel, just like an alpine binding. Salomon is claiming 47 mm of elastic travel in the toe, which is seriously impressive considering that the Salomon STH2 has 52 mm of elastic travel in the toe — and traditional tech toe pieces have almost no toe elasticity.
The Shift has a very similar heel to the STH2, with 9 mm of elasticity at the heel, same as the STH2 (and sometime soon, BTW, we’re going to be jumping down the elastic travel rabbit hole).
This elasticity should produce a more consistent release, a smoother ride, and a safer tech binding overall.
Here are the specs on the Shift binding:
DIN Range: 6-13
Blister Measured Weight (with all screws and 110 mm brakes): 886 g
Blister Measured Weight (with all screws and 90 mm brakes): 885 g
Elastic Travel, Toe: 47 mm
Elastic Travel, Heel: 9 mm
Climbing Riser Angles: 2° and 10°
Ramp: with MTN Lab boots, 4 mm (same as Salomon Warden)
Touring Range of Motion: 90°+
Available Brake Widths: 90, 100, 110, 120 mm
Stack Height: 21-25 mm, depending on your BSL
Our measured weight of the S/Lab Shift binding with all screws and 110 mm brakes, was 886 grams, and 885 grams with a 90 mm brake.
So the Shift comes in about 100 g heavier than the Marker Kingpin 13 (775 g with 75-100 mm brakes) but the Kingpin is by no means a full alpine binding, and the S/Lab Shift is significantly lighter than alpine bindings.
Here is the weight of the Shift compared to several competing bindings, plus a Look Pivot 14 WTR:
Salomon Guardian MNC 13 (with 115 mm brakes): 1478 g
Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC — 886 g
Marker Kingpin 13 — 775 g
Fritschi Tecton 12 — 682 g
Dynafit Radical FT 2.0 — 653 g
G3 ION 12 — 638 g
Look Pivot 14 WTR — 1,157 g
Initial On-Snow Impressions — Downhill Performance
Yesterday at Alta, I skied the S/Lab Shift in a variety of conditions on the 188 cm Salomon QST 106. In the morning, we toured up to the top of Supreme and got some fresh turns in unopened terrain with the Alta ski patrol. Then in the afternoon we hammered laps in soft, variable, heavily-skied snow on Wildcat on the lower mountain.
Coming into the day, I was very skeptical of the Shift. But after skiing a full day on it, I came away very impressed by its downhill performance. The binding feels solid, responsive, powerful and plush — very similar to an alpine binding.
The biggest compliment that I can give the Shift is that, after a few laps on Wildcat, I simply stopped thinking about the binding. It turned into just another day skiing. The power transfer seems excellent, and the construction felt solid. I started to trust it after a few laps, which is not something I’ve ever done when skiing a tech binding inbounds.
Initial On-Snow Impressions — Transitions
The Shift doesn’t look or function like any binding currently on the market and because of that, there is definitely a learning curve to switching from downhill to uphill mode, and vice versa.
The biggest thing to realize about the Shift during transitions is that, while a Dynafit-style binding focuses on the heel for transitions, the Shift primarily utilizes the toe.
A small “block” between the wings on the toe is pushed backward (toward the heel) to spread the wings and expose the touring pins. By pressing a lever on the toe with your pole tip, the wings spread wide enough to fit into your boot inserts. Then (similar to a standard tech toe) that lever is pulled up to lock the toe out for the uphill.
The heel piece doesn’t have to move for uphill travel because the location of the pins means that the heel of the boot will always clear the heel piece on the binding.
The brakes then must be locked up by flipping a lever back and stepping down with your boot.
To transition back to ski mode, you push the toe block forward (which folds the wings so the pins are out of the way) and you flip the brake lever down — then you step in like a traditional alpine binding.
Transitions on day one were definitely a bit tricky. I suspect they will become easier the more and more I use the Shift, but, just like the first few times I used tech bindings, there is certainly a learning curve.
The block that switches the toe from ski to walk could be a source of frustration, since there isn’t much clearance for your fingers to activate it, especially when going from walk to ski mode. This will definitely be something we watch out for.
The design also seems like it could be prone to icing. But the Salomon designers and athletes all swear that the Shift clears snow and ice better than both the Guardian and the MTN Binding, so we’ll be sure to monitor icing issues closely.
Initial On-Snow Impressions — Uphill Performance
Once you’re in tour mode and ready to go, the Shift tours just like a pin binding. There is plenty of range of motion for kick turns, and the heel risers operated just fine.
The “flat” tour mode is at 2°, and yesterday at least, that was difficult to discern from 0°. On our tour yesterday, this never felt like an issue. Again, this is something we’ll be sure to keep an eye on.
Occasionally yesterday, I would knock the brake-locking lever forward with the brake arm of the opposite ski while skinning, causing the brake to release. This is partly due to sloppy skinning, but it is also an issue that we’ll keep tabs on.
There is certainly a bit of added weight in comparison to bindings like the ION 12 or the Radical 2.0. It is noticeable on the skin track.
But when it comes to touring bindings, everything comes with a compromise. Traditional tech bindings are light, but they give up skiing performance and safety. The Shift is a bit heavier but is far safer and skis better than a traditional pin binding.
One of the most interesting things about the Shift is that, because its pins are not used in downhill mode, it is compatible with a traditional alpine boot that doesn’t have tech inserts (though you can’t tour in the Shift with such a boot).
The Shift is compatible with all “normed” boots — essentially any boot with full-sized toe and heel lugs. Boots with short lugs and Dynafit’s “sharknose” boots are not compatible, but any “WTR” (walk to ride), or Grip Walk boots are.
Bottom Line (For Now)
After one long day of skiing on the Shift, I am impressed by its downhill performance. I’m not yet ready to say that it skis equally as well as an alpine binding, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the conclusion I reach as I get more time on it.
There are a number of outstanding questions we still have — What will be the final verdict on ease of transitions? Will durability be an issue? Will we have problems with icing? How similar is it really to an alpine binding in terms of downhill performance?
We will address all of those questions in our full review, and I’ll be skiing again on the Shift today, so I’ll be sure to update this First Look if I learn anything new.
And please leave any questions you may have in the comments section, and we’ll do our best to address them.
I now have 4 days on the Shift — two days of charging variable conditions inbounds at Alta, and two days touring (one in Grizzly Gulch, UT and one on Jones Pass, CO).
So far, my initial impressions of the binding are holding up. The Shift is a very powerful binding with a noticeably-more-plush ride than a traditional tech binding. We haven’t yet directly A/B’d it against an alpine binding, but I can say that in the past four days on snow, I haven’t noticed a difference in the downhill performance between the Shift and the alpine binding I’ve spent the most time in (Marker Jester).
The caveat here is that I’ve spent all four days skiing the Shift in my touring boots (Scarpa Maestrale RS), and I’ll soon look to do several days of inbounds laps in a dedicated alpine boot, but for now, I’m going to keep focusing on the touring capability of the Shift.
Touring & Transitions
The past two days with the Shift, I got it out on some longer tours to get a better sense of transitions and its general touring performance.
The issue of the brake coming unlocked from bumping the skis against each other in walk mode that I noticed on the first tour has not happened again since that first day. Perhaps I’ve just subconsciously been skinning less sloppy, but whatever the reason, this issue hasn’t reemerged on my past two tours.
Transitions with the Shift are becoming more natural. I find that it is easier to use my hands to do the majority of the work rather than fiddle around with ski poles — the exception to this is when stepping into the pins in uphill mode, where the pole is required.
(If you haven’t already, you should check out our video above of Chris Rubens working through these steps, but here’s my description of the process.)
Locking the brakes up for uphill mode is easy to do with you hands. Flipping the lock lever back and pulling the brakes up locks them out.
To transition the toe into uphill mode, I either kick the “Shift” block back with the heel of my boot, or lightly strike it with the palm of my hand. Then, I use my pole tip to press down the lock lever, which opens the wings to step in.
When going into downhill mode, I first flip the brake lock forward. This is important because if you leave the brakes locked up, it will cause issues stepping into the binding, and your brakes won’t come out if you release. This is something that I’ll be keeping an eye on as I get more time on the bindings.
After unlocking the brakes, I squeeze the wings of the toe piece together (this loosens the tension on the Shift block) and pull the Shift block into downhill position. It is possible to do this with one hand and it takes a surprisingly little amount of effort.
Finally, a quick push of the lock lever tucks the lever away near the top of the ski.
The most finicky part of transitions is stepping into the binding in uphill mode. First, you have to press the lock lever down with your pole, which spreads the pins wide enough to get your boot through. Then, the tricky part is getting the pins to interface properly with the inserts in the boots. I find it easiest to slot one of the pins into its respective insert, then slowly close the pins (by letting up on the pole pressure on the lock lever) and try to align the other pin with the other insert. It still takes me a couple tries to step in when I transition, but it is getting easier.
Another point to make is with respect to the lock lever, which has two locking positions. In the first position, the binding isn’t completely locked. Cody Townsend told me this setting is really only for “meadow skipping.” I can confirm this, as I have come out of the toe while side-hilling in this first position. With the toe locked in the second position, I haven’t had any problems.
I’m eager to keep skiing the Shift and hope to get another few days on it later this week in the current low-tide conditions of the Colorado Front Range. And once all of our collective snow dances kick in, I’ll have more to say about the downhill performance of the Shift.