The most honest and in-depth reviews of outdoor sports equipment on the planet.

2016-2017 Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12

Brian Lindalh reviews the Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec for Blister Gear Review.

Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12

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)

Introduction

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.

Brian Lindalh reviews the Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec for Blister Gear Review.

Brian Lindahl on the Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12.

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.)

Uphill Performance

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.

Downhill Performance

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.

Vipec:

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

17 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Dan November 14, 2016 Reply

    Nice review, and nice Kusalas Lindahl.

    I’ve had the original Vipec since it was released, and unlike you I have had a few vertical prereleases from heel when dropping more than 10 ft. This was on TLT6s and Volkl Nunatuqs, heel setting 9-10 for a 150 lbs skier. I’ve also had appropriate lateral releases from the toe multiple times like you described.

    I’ve only had a single touring ski setup in the past. But this year I’m going to go Kusalas with Vipecs for deeper days and likely 4FRNT Ravens for the rest of the days (as an aside, are you guys going to drop your full Raven review soon?).

    You say you’d pick the Vipec for skiing aggressively in deep snow. But if you already had a pow touring setup with Vipecs, would you mount your daily driver/low snow touring ski with Kingpins? Vipecs? Something else?

    Thanks

  2. Author
    Brian Lindahl November 14, 2016 Reply

    Interesting about your pre-releases. I run my heels on 11 and have definitely sent some pretty big cliffs on them (about 40′), and also weigh more than you – about 175lbs in street clothes. You might want to get yours checked at a local shop that can measure release force? If you’re in the Colorado front range, try Bent Gate Mountaineering. The Kingpins are definitely my choice for low snow touring when skiing aggressively – of the tech bindings, it’s the closest to alpine binding performance on the downhill. However, if it’s more mellow touring or ski mountaineering, I’m a big fan of the lighter bindings like the Speed Radical or Plum Guide. I also picked up a pair of Speed Superlight 1.0s to try out this season.

    As for the Raven, we need more days on them in a variety of conditions before a full review can happen. We expect to spend more time on them this season, so it will happen at some point – we need more snow first, of course!

  3. Tim November 14, 2016 Reply

    Any differences between the 15/16 Vipec reviewed and the 16/17 Vipec just released for sale?

  4. Lewis November 14, 2016 Reply

    Would you be able to quickly verify that there have been no changes between the 15/16 and the 16/17 ones apart from the brakes going 115-120mm? I can’t seem to find a consistent answer =(

  5. Blister Member
    Ben Brough November 17, 2016 Reply

    Blister gear review to the rescue in the post-truth era! As you say it’s a binding that tends to fly under the radar and I’ve been searching for a decent review for a while, particularly after I sustained a very similar injury to my ankle at the end of last season. Afterwards I berated myself for skiing Völkl Katanas in heavy end of season slush and assumed I’d had the din setting on my marker dukes ramped up a bit too high. Do you think this injury could have been avoided on the Vipecs? Obviously I’d love to stop dragging this super heavy set-up up mountains but I’ve tried dynafits before and they just don’t cut it for my size and skiing style.

    • Author
      Brian Lindahl November 17, 2016 Reply

      Ben, unfortunately I don’t believe the outcome would have been any different were you using Vipecs instead of Marker Dukes. Both have lateral release at the toe. The binding difference that I discuss is between lateral release at the toe (alpine, frame AT and the Vipec) versus lateral release at the heel (traditional tech).

  6. Andy M. November 18, 2016 Reply

    Regarding using them with large skis, Fritschi makes a replacement brake mount cover that allows you to use them brake-less, with a leash (like Speed Radicals or Ion LT). You basically take the brake unit off and replace it with a lightweight piece of plastic that snaps & screws in. This cover serves to provide a flat, firm surface for your heel when in touring mode. That’s what I got to mount them on my Lotus 120s & 138s.

    • Author
      Brian Lindahl November 18, 2016 Reply

      Are you sure you need the separate part? You can remove the brake assembly, then remove the arms from the pad, and then put the pad back on the heel piece. It’s quite easy to do – it’s how I bent the brake arms in the first place.

      • Andy M. November 18, 2016 Reply

        I’m sure you could get away without it, but it comes with their official leash and is a bit lighter. I needed a leash anyways, so I ordered mine along with the bindings from Telemark Pyrenees (“Fritschi Vipec Safety Leash”).

  7. luddite November 18, 2016 Reply

    “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”
    Er, no. This function was lifted directly from G3’s Onyx.
    That said, I think this binding has the best feature-set on the market. I’m glad they are getting the bugs worked out.
    It would probably be my first choice if I hadn’t been able to get a deal on another model.

  8. Patrick March 24, 2017 Reply

    Two questions on the Vipec. The fact that the toe piece moves side to side, do you ever feel that movement while skiing? Especially with a low DIN such as 6?

    Is there any way to shim the toe piece in order to reduce the delta angle?

    • Author
      Brian Lindahl March 27, 2017 Reply

      Hi Patrick,

      I run my toes at 10, and no, I don’t feel that movement when skiing at all. I haven’t tried it at 6, as that’s just too low for someone of my size. It’s possible there’s no difference between the Vipec and an alpine binding in this regard (both binding styles are similarly designed to control the lateral forces at the toe).

      I know a number of people that have created toe shims for other bindings using a dremel tool and some stock HPDE plastic sheets (similar to a plastic cutting board). I’m sure the same could be done with the Vipec. I’d suggest skiing it in it’s stock form first – the delta angle isn’t as high as Dynafit Radicals and Plum Guide.

  9. Killian April 21, 2017 Reply

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the thorough explanation of the forces involved! I just spent a season on the 14/15 vipecs mounted to Armada JJ 185s. I only had two instances in which I was displeased with the Vipecs, neither of which led to injury:

    Once, I hit a buried rock at what was apparently just the wrong angle, which caused a pre-release at the toe. This was on the inside at the beginning of a turn, so maybe calling it a pre-release is too harsh, since maybe I’d have crashed I had taken all of the force, but as it was I finished the turn, stopped, and stepped back in. More of an annoyance than anything.

    Second, I caught an outside edge in fresh, wind-blown powder coming down the ridge at Loveland and got a face-full. The ski I caught released immediately. (Maybe a heel-release binding wouldn’t have let go), but my inside ski caught itself behind me, and stayed on my boot as I slid upside-down and backwards. Luckily this didn’t snap anything inside that leg, but it did lever into my opposite knee and leave a nice bruise there.

    Other than those two times, I’ve been very pleased with them, up and down.

    I just switched to Kingpins, mostly because they were already mounted on the demo Origin 96s’ I picked up, but also because I’ll be spending more time at resorts next year than I did this year. We’ll see!

  10. Trond August 28, 2017 Reply

    Are all AT boots compatible ie Scarpa F1?

    • Author
      Brian Lindahl August 28, 2017 Reply

      Hi Trond,

      Most boots should be compatible. The main concerns would be toe pin width, and the shape of the boot toe hitting the piece that releases the toe in a forward (upward heel) release.

      The toe pin width is somewhat standardized across boots, so most won’t need to adjust it at all. The adjustment range is also pretty generous if your boots deviate from the somewhat standardized width.

      The shape of the boot toe is accommodated through several different-sized pieces that attach to the top of the toepiece. Given these multiple configurations, I doubt any boot would present a problem, but I can’t say with 100% confidence. So, if you have reason for concern, I’d suggest asking your local shop.

Leave a reply

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

*