Read Part 2 of this review to see a Roofbox Review of the SHIFT and the Atomic Backland and Salomon QST. In this part 1 we'll offer our impressions about the SHIFT.
Atomic's SHIFT MNC and Salomon's S/LAB SHIFT MNC are one and the same. As canvassed in this initial article by Matt Sklar SHIFT was 7 years in development. It's the Jekyll and Hyde of bindings in that with a flip of (several) switches the SHIFT binding is a tech-binding with boot held in by pins when in tour mode whereas in downhill mode the SHIFT works like a normal alpine binding with toes held in by jaws and heel cupped by a standard alpine heel (as opposed to tech-style pins). Previously if you wanted alpine-style performance from your binding you needed a platform style binding. But the platform binding meant that you had the compromise of a heavy weight on your feet while touring - something which people suffered through by necessity.
Now all ski equipment is about compromises. You simply can't have it all. This article is a nit-picky first looks at the SHIFT, a binding which isn't slated for general release until next season. I'll have had less then 5 days on these bindings since publication. Since I don't do vacuous one-run reviews, if you want those fleeting as a gnat's fart pronouncements look elsewhere or be patient and wait till I've had more days. When touring and skiing impressions are good and ready I'll have an update which will be combined with impressions from guest reviewers; a big-mountain charger and a park skier
Read on and ask questions in the comments.
Atomic SHIFT MNC (Multi Norm Certified) = it works with almost every boot (the most boot/binding compatibility) except with boots without significant toe or heel ledges.
Salomon S/LAB SHIFT MNC - S/LAB means it is coming out of the Annecy Design Center as the brain wave of a team led by Benoit Sublet.
SHIFT Main features
Main features are as follows
- TUV certified for alpine norms
- 853g per binding (with screws and 110mm brake measured) .
- Toe has 47mm of elastic travel; heel has 11mm of elastic travel
- RV/DIN of: 6-13
- Flattish touring mode of 2 deg and one climbing riser at 10 deg
- Brakes from 90-120mm
- Low ramp angle; toe/heel delta is 7mm (AT boots with lugged soles); 1mm (alpine boots) (see below for how this is measured)
Quite remarkably the SHIFT's retail price is $649 CAD/$ 549 USD/449 EUR This reverses an ugly trend of having to hawk a kidney to get a premium quality touring binding.
Salomon's SHIFT on a 18/19 QST99 - somewhere in the Coast Mountains
Atomic's SHIFT on a Backland 107
47mm at the toe and 11mm at the heel. That jumps out on one immediately.
Elasticity refers to the concept where a boot can deflect from being held at centre in a binding yet not release. The return-to-centre attribute is well-known in alpine bindings for decades (for more on this read Marshal Olson's article on this in Blister) but has not been emulated in tech-bindings in any significant manner except in recent years and even so, in smaller amounts. Elasticity is measured in mm's and refers to the distance a boot can travel from centre before the boot clears the binding (ie releases). The more the boot can travel the more elasticity a binding has. Within reason a more elastic binding adds greater shock absorption and is a desirable trait for the downhills.
(Lack of) elasticity in traditional tech bindings is why they were known for teeth-rattling descents when encountering firm or variable snow and a large part of the reason why aggressive skiers would lock toes out in you-fall you-die situations. The SHIFT binding toepiece accomplishes elasticity by being constructed with toe wings which have lateral travel resistance-adjusted by a spring. SHIFT's toe-wings are made from a carbon fiber reinforced polymer, 2 pieces of alloy and a steel spring. The SHIFT toepiece should remind you of an alpine toe-piece because it was designed to look that way. Note that the MNC requirement incorporates a sliding AFD and height-adjustable toepiece to accommodate different types and heights of boot soles.
SHIFT toe - note the screw on picture right to height-adjust the toepiece
SHIFT's Sliding AFD - note the ski crampon slot which accommodates ski crampons )
SHIFT's heel looks remarkably like Salomon's STH. That is no accident as the STH has been a mainstay of the line so why mess with success? Forward pressure is adjusted by lining up arrows on the wormscrew with the binding track when the boot is in the binding. Being MNC the heel also accomodates different boot soles. Vertical elasticity is also adjusted by way of a steel spring.
Lots of bling looking carbon infused plastic dresses up the rest of the ensemble. As with the alpine toe, simply step in.
Shift heel carboner
Shift heel adjust adjustment
The SHIFT's concept is simple. Tech pins hold the boot in on the way up. On the way down after hitting a switch the binding transforms into an alpine toe for the way down where the boot is held in by toe jaws.
It's a tad more complicated than that of course and there are quite a few moving parts. From a use standpoint, when in ski mode, depress a button conveniently marked "ski" (my ski boot is perfect for that). The toe mechanism moves forward 20mm so now your boot clears the heel. The toe wings are now deployed in tour mode with pins exposed.
You then have to depress the toe lever further to get the toe jaws to open all the way so your boot can enter the pin mechanism. Once in the pins the toe lever must be pulled up otherwise you will walk out. In tour mode, the first pull gives you a partial toe lock (Salomon guesstimates this as DIN7 but (1) this is just a WAG; and (2) your toe's DIN setting doesn't change release values for this partial toe lock. In tour mode, the second pull gives you a complete lock-out.
SHIFT Toe - partial lockout
SHIFT toe fully locked out
The heel is fixed in place and does not slide on a track when switching modes. But you're now in tour mode and can free heel. Simply flip the bar marked SKI to WALK, step on that bar and your brakes will stow away. On something steeper? There is only one heel lifter. You can flip that lever by hand or with your pole. Once deployed that climbing aid gives you 10 deg of rise.
When going back from tour to ski mode you have to step out of the binding and reverse the process. There's no magic to that with respect to the heel mechanism. For the toe mechanism it's recommended that you get into the habit of pressing the toe lever down.
SHIFT Ski - Walk mode bar
SHIFT heel riser deployed
Atomic Salomon SHIFT binding from Lee Lau on Vimeo.
SHIFT is MNC. This means Multi-Norm certified. This means that this very useful article from Evo denoting whether Gripwalk, WTR, ISO 9523, ISO 3.14156, Super-duper Boost Plus will work with X, Y, Z, binding? Yeah - this means you can garbage this information as every alpine touring or alpine soled boot will work with SHIFT on the downhill. On the tour mode (obviously) only boots with tech-toe fittings will work.
But wait! There's always the special flower. That special boot that tries to be different. Well this special flower are compact shell designs ie non-norm designed boots. These are either quasi-rando designs such as the Salomon X-Alp, Arcteryx Procline or the inexplicably dumb design of the toe-less heel-less Dynafit Hoji. Currently, the only boots that won't work with SHIFT (or Tecton or Kingpin for that matter) are compact shell design boots and non-norm certified boots.
To further nerd out the MNC designation means that SHIFT is TUV certified across both touring and alpine ISO standards. It's also therefore certified for WTR, GripWalk and lugged soles. If you really want to dive deeper into these certifications and what they mean read this epistle by Wildsnow here.
Work with your friendly neighbourhood shop to setup the SHIFT and learn how to use it. Phil Lake of Salomon in front of Comor Whistler
Atomic Backland and Shift in its natural environment
What binding to buy?
** A discussion of what tech touring setup to pick is out of scope for this article. For that go to the big daddy of backcountry skiing bibles- Lou Dawson's Wildsnow part 1 and part 2)
A quick introduction to this topic is warranted. Traditional Tech 1.0 style bindings (eg the Salomon MTN (reviewed here) or Atomic's Backland) have a small heel gap and binding heel pins interfacing with the boot. This gap allows a ski to compress and not bottom out against the heel without ejecting. Tech 1.0 has simplicity and lighter weight but at the expense of ski quality since the heel gap leads to a vagueness in feeling at the boot-binding interface.
Tech 2.0 bindings have no heel gap. Instead the binding barely touches boot heel and the binding has some rearward travel on a spring-loaded track to compensate for ski flex and for some give. Recall that there always compromises. Tech 2.0 tends to be more complex & slightly heavier but has a more solid-feeling ski-binding connection. Tech 2.0 bindings include those with traditional pin-heels (for example Dynafit's Rotation series & G3's Ion) or those with alpine-style heels (Tecton and Kingpin). Categories are artificial creations but it's interesting fodder to consider whether SHIFT which has both alpine style heel and toe + true forward pressure should be compared to other tech touring bindings.
However, public discussions has already made it clear that comparisons will be inevitable between the SHIFT and two other choices with alpine style heels (but with tech toes) ie the Fritschi Tecton and Marker's Kingpin.
For this comparison between bindings which try to emulate alpine performance, I don't mention platform bindings. Why? Because they suck. They have platforms so they alter ski flex. They're heavy. Touring with them means you are walking up with the equivalent of a gigantic dildo attached to your feet galumphing up the slopes. Go ahead and tell me how you slay your rad 2,000 foot KeyVailAspenHoe bro-tastic lines with your Daymakers, Wardens, Dukes, Guardians. See if I care. The platform binding is dead. You just don't know it yet.
I also don't mention CAST. It's a good system. It's well thought-out. But CAST users love it and know the compromises (complexity, carrying the stuff around in the pack etc) and accept it. CAST doesn't need believers; they already have that.
So who's going to get the Tecton? It's significantly lighter then SHIFT (180g per foot is a lot). Tecton allows for tour to ski mode changes without having to remove the ski. Tecton also allows one to change to walk mode on the fly. There's two elevators. There's less elasticity at toe (but still impressive amounts) and heel.
And who will get the Kingpin? It's slightly lighter then SHIFT (75g); also allows for tour to ski mode changes without ski removal; also has two elevators; has virtually no toe elasticity and less elasticity at heel. One can also go on-the-fly ski to tour on Kingpin with some contortions.
I believe that SHIFT, Kingpin and Tecton are going to kill platform bindings, if they haven't done so already. Skiers who travel to ski and will be skiing one setup will be drawn to these bindings. Skiers who ski at resort and duck out for backcountry laps will want these bindings. Those who have knee issues (or are paranoid about such issues) are going to be drawn to SHIFT. Those who value retention quality and who are prepared to compromise (there's that word again) touring lightness for downhill performance will pick SHIFT. Those who are more touring-oriented but still want some degree of elastic downhill performance will be drawn to the Tecton/Kingpin. Those who are easily annoyed by more complex transitions will pick Tecton or Kingpin, which allow for easier transitions.
And this comes to the beauty of the SHIFT. There's a massive choice of fairly stiff AT boots on the market now. None yet approach the ski quality of the alpine boot and the CAST-cult shows that there's quite a few people who're going to quit using their alpine boots when you pry them out of their cold dead hands. Now with SHIFT, want to use your alpine boots while inbounds and riding lifts? You can do that. Want to use your touring boot when you're touring? You can do that.
Yes - I have way too many skis and bindings.