Like other gadgetry, skis and bindings seem to make great leaps in technology year-over-year. After 12 years on the same Atomic Kailas and Black Diamond bindings for my backcountry setup, I thought I’d explore what’s new. My goal: powder and backcountry setup with higher performance, but not crushing weight.
Despite the surging popularity of telemark skiing in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it’s challenging to find telemark demos at resorts. Telemark skiing seems to have died down. There are fewer resort skiers on tele setups. Maybe they’re all in the backcountry?
I was lucky enough to find the 22 Designs Vice binding mounted on a pair of 160mm Fischer Koa 88’s at the BootDoctor’s shop in Mountain Village, CO (Telluride ski area base). The clerk said the performance of the Vice would knock the Hammerhead out of the water. My resort setup is the 22 Designs Hammerhead with 161mm Rossignol Kali Women’s backcountry ski.
The Rossignol Kali is an awesome ski, with twin tip and descent rocker design for it’s year. It gets me through anything. But, on big powder days, it still takes a lot of maneuvering around and back seat skiing to prevent the tips from getting buried. The Hammerhead is a phenomenal binding, adding so much responsiveness to the ski, that I was hard-pressed to hear there could be much improvement on it.
22 DESIGNS VICE TELEMARK BINDING
It’s not marketing hype, people, it’s true: the Vice binding blew away the Hammerhead. I was shocked to feel how the reverse spring-load completely gripped my boot, providing so much more stability to the rear ski. The conditions on the day I tried the setup were not very powdery, yet the Vice allowed me to cut through any condition that day with ease.
My foot felt like it was bolted directly from the boot onto the ski. I had even more control, power, and responsiveness edge-to-edge than the Hammerhead. I was shocked that this could be possible.
The Vice is the “resort” version of 22 Designs binding line. I feel confident in saying that if given the chance in powder, the Vice binding would have performed just as valiantly. It gave me control and balance in my tele turn like I had never felt before. I felt like I could turn on anything.
After reading other reviews on their backcountry model, Axl, it’s likely this will be the binding I purchase. Although there is a “women’s specific” model called the Bombshell, I’m not sure how useful it is. The bombshell claims to offer a smaller design to fit a women’s boot, with slightly less weight. However, the spring is still in the front of the binding, instead of underneath the toe.
With the new placement of the spring, it seems to me like the better choice is to take advantage of the increased pressure on the front of the boot, allowing for better responsiveness and performance. Why not capitalize on the latest technology?
Whether Vice or Axl, either of the new 22 Designs bindings will blow your mind.
FISCHER KOA 88 MY STYLE SKIS
I was less impressed with the Fischer Koa 88 women’s specific all-mountain ski. I was looking for something that would float better in powder and crud conditions, and the Koa 88 just seemed “average” in performance to me.
To the ski’s credit, the tip/tail was a wider ratio than my Rossignol Kali’s, or Atomic Kailas. It was a nice, light ski, yet with the 22 Designs Vice binding, I had complete control and ample pressure on the ski, eliminating chatter on groomed runs. With alpine turns, the ski performed well, catching the turn easily and making nice carves.
On telemark turns, I didn’t notice anything special compared to the Rossignol Kali’s. In fact, the lightness of the ski bothered me in the resort conditions. I just didn’t feel solid on the skis edges, wondering if I would slip out for no reason.
The shape of the ski is quite similar to the Rossignol Kali, so there were no differences in the crud, from what I could feel. What I was hoping for in the ski, was a little more “float” sensation.
The Fischer Koa 88 is probably a great women’s ski for the beginner to intermediate skier. It will take you to the double blues level, including quick turns in tight spaces on moguls. Beyond this, for tree skiing, steep moguls, or backcountry powder, there seem to be a large amount of skis on the market today that will perform better. More float, more solid edge control, and generally more response are out there in skis with more mm underfoot and a more progressive cut.
For now, my quest continues. Although I’m pretty solid on purchasing the 22 Designs Axl binding, I’m still searching for the proper ski. None of the ski shops in Mountain Village or Telluride offer a large range of telemark demo setups. Instead, I’ll have to demo an alpine setup on skis like the Rossignol Saffron 7, or Atomic Century skis. At least I can get a feel for the wide underfoot cut with the extra width in the tip. This new design seems to marry backcountry, powder “float”, and resort carving all in one. Can’t wait to try them!