2016-2017 Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12
Release value: 5 – 12
Available Brake Widths: 95 mm; 108 mm; 120 mm
Climbing Aids: Flat, 9° and 13°
Stated Weight: 545 g with brakes
Blister’s Measured Weight:
- Toe pieces: 274 & 276 g (with screws)
- Heel pieces: 244 & 244 g (with screws)
- 95 mm Brakes: 71 g each
- Total Weight per Binding: 589 & 591 grams
- MSRP: $649
Skis Used: Line Sick Day Tourist 102, 186 cm
Boots Used: Tecnica Cochise 120, Atomic Backland Carbon
Test Locations: Crystal Mountain & Washington backcountry; Arapahoe Basin, Vail, Colorado backcountry.
Days Tested: ~30 (plus 20+ days in the previous iteration of the Vipec)
In the world of tech bindings, there’s a lot of talk out there about the downhill performance of the Marker Kingpin 13, the rotating toe piece of the Dynafit Radical 2.0, the ease of use of the G3 Ion 12, or the burliness of the Dynafit Beast 16. There seems to be less talk about the Vipec 12, making it in all likelihood the most underrated binding on the market — there are some things about the Vipec 12 that will make it a better choice for some skiers than any of the tech bindings on the market — even some much lighter tech bindings.
We’ve talked about the Vipec 12 quite a bit in our Alpine Touring Binding Shootout, and you’ll want to check it out — we put the Vipec head-to-head against the Marker Kingpin 13, Dynafit Radical 2.0, Dynafit Beast 14, and the G3 ION 12, and presented our in-depth comparisons there. But in what follows here, we discuss more of the specific features of the Vipec.
Quick History of the Vipec
The Vipec was designed from the ground up to have something that no other tech binding on the market has: lateral release at the toe. We’ll say a lot more about this below, but this is a big deal.
And after several iterations, the current Vipec definitely is a lot more polished and quite impressive. Those of you who have been frustrated with the Vipec in the past (particularly with step-in and icing issues) will be pleased by the current “Black” model. I’ve spent the majority of last season on the Vipec (~50 days), with about equal number of days split between both the “Black” 15/16 and the “White” 14/15 model, and can safely say that both models are identical in terms of downhill performance, despite their significant changes.
(For more on the history of the Vipec, see the section, “Detailed History” toward the end of this review.)
The Vipec has several advantages over other tech bindings on the market, and one of them is ease of transitions. Not only is it ridiculously easy to switch between walk mode and ski mode (via a ski pole), it’s also the only tech binding that allows you to easily transition from ski mode to tour mode without removing your boot from the ski — this transition is helpful when, on the descent, you encounter a flat or slightly uphill section of terrain, especially in powder — simply switch to tour mode and start striding. While the Kingpin can technically do this, the lever is awkwardly placed under your boot and is difficult to manipulate. You may have heard about snow and ice packing into the heel piece of the Vipec, causing problems with transitions, but the latest Vipec has solved this issue by adding a plastic cover plate underneath.
While moving uphill, the Vipec has the potential to be a bit safer. Its lateral release mechanism is designed to work in tour mode, so you do not lock out the toe on the way up. The benefit here is that If you’re caught in an avalanche, your ski will pop off instead of possibly injuring you or pulling you even deeper into the moving snow.
Another uphill advantage of the Vipec is that with some other tech bindings, when climbing in walk mode, it’s possible for the heel unit to auto-rotate and lock you into ski mode. I’ve experienced this numerous times and it’s extremely annoying — you have to remove your boot from the binding, rotate the heel unit back to tour mode, and step back into the binding, which can be quite dangerous on steep, firm slopes. Since the Vipec releases laterally at the toe rather than the heel, it’s impossible for it to suffer from this problem.
The Vipec offers two heel lifter heights in addition to a flat tour mode. The height of these heel lifters is quite similar to other tech bindings on the market, and they are very easy to manipulate with your ski pole.
(Note: when activating the low riser, I often found it quicker to flip both risers first, then flip the high riser back to access the low riser, as opposed to flipping the low riser on it’s own.)
Like all tech bindings, touring in the Vipec is approximately 1.6 zillion times nicer than touring in frame-style bindings like the Salomon Guardian, Marker Duke or Atomic Tracker. The pivot point of the Vipec is right at your boot toe, and you’re not lifting a heavy heel piece with each step. Throw in the ease of transitions, two heel lifters and a flat mode, and you have a touring binding that performs very well on the way up.
In addition to its uphill advantages, the Vipec also improves on the downhill performance of traditional tech bindings. Carving turns on firm snow feels very good, and its lateral rigidity is comparable to an alpine binding (something that can’t be said of the Dynafit Radical 2.0 or Beast 14). While the Vipec 12 doesn’t have the power transfer of the Marker Kingpin (or dedicated alpine bindings), we did feel a more solid lateral connection to the tail of the ski compared to the other tech bindings we’ve been on.
While most of my time on the Vipec has been spent in powder, I’ve also encountered long runs in conditions ranging from powder and resort chop, to the worst refrozen snow you can imagine. Like all tech bindings I’ve skied, the Vipec doesn’t handle vibrations on refrozen snow nearly as well as an alpine binding — but it does do a better job than most tech bindings.
Like the G3 Ion, Marker Kingpin, and Dynafit Radical 2.0, the heel piece of the Vipec travels on a spring-loaded track to maintain consistent vertical release while the ski flexes. And when it comes to release performance, I’ve put the Vipec through the ringer. Almost every day I’ve spent on the Vipec has involved multiple pillow or cliff lines of substantial size through trees, tight landing zones, and quick mandatory turns where a release could be bad news. And I’m happy to report that the Vipec has been a solid binding with absolutely zero pre-release issues.
In the past, on some bigger cliffs and deep snow landings, I’ve had issues with tech bindings (and even the frame-style Marker Duke binding) pre-releasing. The Vipec has, however, only released when absolutely necessary, just short of injury, such as sending a cliff and landing on a barely covered rock slab, or snagging a tree branch buried under the snow.
Lateral Release at the Toe
The Vipec is the binding I’d choose for skiing aggressively in deep snow, and I believe that it offers a major safety advantage. No other tech binding on the market has lateral release at the toe, and the heel piece of the Vipec does not rotate to release the boot. Instead, the wings that the toe pins are mounted on can slide side to side on a spring-controlled track and flip down to release the boot toe when they reach the end of their travel.
While describing the physics behind the release differences may be interesting to some, the difference can also be easily illustrated by a simple test performed on a living room carpet. Turn down the lateral release value on both a traditional tech binding and the Vipec. Lock the boot into the binding, and slam the forebody of the ski laterally into the ground near the toe piece. The Vipec will release easily. A traditional tech binding will either not release, or will require a great deal of additional force to release. Here are two videos of the test, one in which the Vipec easily releases, and the other, where the traditional tech toe does not. Tests were performed with the lateral release values set to 6.
Traditional Tech Toe:
Note that it’s possible to do this wrong by rotating your heel inadvertently. The other thing to note is that the toe piece may open, but the pin is still fully engaged in the boot socket and won’t release. This depends on the clamping force (i.e. the G3 Ion clamps with a higher force than the Dynafit Radical), as well as the duration of the force — a long, slow pressure such as snagging a tree limb may not, while impacting a rock at high speeds (or this test) might. This is one way where the often-mentioned tech-toe pre-release comes from, by the way.
The key point here is that there is potential for a failed lateral release with a traditional tech binding — the heel will simply not rotate under certain forces.
So how big of a deal is this? Personally, I experienced a significant ankle sprain due to a tech binding failing to release in this exact manner after a tumbling fall that buried the forebody of the ski deep in the snow. I was off skis for two months due to this injury. While recovering, I spent a great deal of time looking for reasons as to why the tech binding failed to release in a situation where it was quite obvious that an alpine binding would have had no problem releasing. It was then that I came across a theory about dead spots in binding release.
The theory is that the forces required to cause lateral binding release increases exponentially as the location of the applied forces approaches the heel from the ski tail (for bindings that release laterally at the toe) or toe from the ski tip (for bindings that release laterally at the heel). According to the theory, for alpine bindings and the Vipec, the lateral forces near the heel potentially need to be significantly higher for release to occur. And, for all other tech bindings, the lateral forces near the toe potentially need to be significantly higher for release to occur.
The theory and the results of the experiment make a rather compelling case for a binding such as the Vipec. When the tip of the ski augers into the snow, veers off in a separate direction, or snags vegetation under the snow, strong lateral forces near the toe of the boot can occur. If the ski fails to release in this scenario, it’s possible for lower leg or ankle injuries to occur (like my injury).
On the flip side, the theory and results of the experiment also make a case for traditional tech bindings. Strong lateral forces near the heel can often happen when a skier is deep in the backseat. If the ski fails to release in this scenario, it’s possible for ACL injuries to occur (I’ve had one of those, too, in an alpine binding).
While an argument can be made that the experiment does not offer sufficient data, the simple carpet test described earlier does illustrate that there are clear differences in how the two styles of bindings will respond to lateral forces. As a result, I personally would choose a binding with lateral release in the toe. Given my experience, I believe that I am much more likely to encounter significant lateral forces near the toe than significant lateral forces near the heel, especially when skiing aggressively in deeper snow. You may reasonably and rightly assume the opposite to be true for you (and so you are more concerned about a backward, twisting fall), but for me, it’s a no brainer. I’ve since had another incident where my ski snagged a buried branch and wrenched my ski, near the toe piece, quite violently. I was in the Vipecs at the time, and it released. I suspect that if I were in any other tech binding, I would have sustained injury.
NEXT: Some Quirks, Bottom Line