Salomon Guardian 16 backcountry binding review
Ever since backcountry skiing has exploded in popularity, ski companies have struggled with finding the most efficient way to build a binding that switches between tour and ski mode in a simple, effective way without compromising downhill performance. Salomon and Atomic have partnered to create the Guardian 16 and Tracker 16 backcountry bindings that will be released for the 2012/13 ski season, and promises to be the end-all of the tour/ski mode problem. Well, I got to take the Salomon Guardian 16 bindings out for a tour in the Alta backcountry to find out, and came back seriously impressed.
I picked up the Salomon Guardian 16 backcountry bindings at Alta, where at first look, they are very similar to the Marker line that includes the Duke, Baron and Tour bindings. The Guardian 16 have a burly, confidence-inspiring toe piece with a DIN up to 16 and an alpine-style heel piece. The binding also appears to have a low profile chassis for a lower stand height and a large footprint that seems to be built for wider skis, which would allow for quick responsiveness edge to edge. In fact, the Salomon Guardian 16 looks so similar to the Marker brand, I had to wonder what the big difference actually is… I discovered that innovation on my tour.
After getting the rundown on how the Salomon Guardian 16 works, I took them just outside Alta’s boundary and skinned up to Catherine Pass. While in tour mode, the binding is smooth and has a seemingly efficient stride. Although heavy, I didn’t feel like they were any worse than the Marker Barons I have mounted on one of my older touring setups. In some aspects, I preferred way the Guardian 16 felt in the skin track, as if my stride was more natural thanks to a pivot point that is located further back.
When things got steep as we neared the pass, I flipped the climbing bar to the high position. It was difficult to make the switch using my ski pole, but once it was up, I was pleased with the height and also how quiet it was. A soft, plastic cover dampens the sound of heel strikes on every step, unlike the annoying “clack, clack, clack” noise my Marker Barons make.
Once the pass was gained, we headed to Rocky Point to make some turns, and that’s when I got really impressed. After making the switch from tour to ski mode, I think I heard angels sing. Hallelujah, Salomon has solved an age old problem! To go from tour to ski, all one must do is flip back the climbing bar to skiing position using a pole, and step down with the heel until the binding locks in place. That means there’s no longer any need to take skis off while making the transition from up to down.
The whole transition takes less than a second and it is smoooooooth. In fact, it’s all so easy that I accidentally stepped into ski mode a few times when I forgot to leave the climbing bar at its lowest setting under the heel (which prevents ski mode from engaging when stepped on) Switching from ski to tour mode was also easy. I simply pushed down on a switch using a ski pole tip, and the heel disengaged.
Despite all the advances in ski touring technology, one thing remains the same… we’re there to ski. So how does the Salomon Guardian 16 perform on the down? I decided to test that out by foregoing the powder on the north side of Rocky Point, and instead descended the hard-packed, choppy crud that covered Catherine’s Area at Alta, then onto some groomers in-bounds for carving at speed. Turn for turn, I never felt any slop with these bindings. From hopping through icy bumps, carving in crusty gullies, and making precise turns in the trees, the Guardian 16 bindings performed just like a sturdy alpine setup.
I think the Salomon Guardian 16 and Atomic Tracker 16 bindings will be a game changer in the backcountry. The alpine look and feel, with a ski/tour switch that is by far the most efficient on the market, equals a do-everything binding from back and side country tours and in-bounds ripping. While the weight and style of this binding won’t appeal to the light-and-fast touring crowd, anyone who is looking for a one-binding quiver will find it in the Salomon Guardian 16.
Fall 2012 is when you can expect to see the Salomon Guardian 16 and Atomic Tracker 16 appear in stores.