Four years ago, Michi Buechers, an IFMGA-certified guide with a background in biomechanics, began working at Marker International. As binding product coordinator, he managed the team of three engineers who developed Marker’s first-ever tech binding, the Kingpin, which they debuted last week in Nevados de Chillan, Chile.
While tech bindings have traditionally offered safety release at the toe and/or heel, the Kingpin is the first to meet DIN ISO 13992:2007. That means it’s the first tech binding acknowledged by the TUV—the international certification body that validates product safety—to offer a certified DIN safety release. The Kingpin has a traditional tech-style toe and an alpine-like heel that offers lateral and vertical release. It will be available in December.
After three days of testing in corn, on ice and hardpack, I sat down with Michi to talk about developing the Kingpin, the challenges of building a binding from scratch and the future of tech bindings.Backcountry: Three and a half years ago, when Marker decided to go in on this project, what was the plan?
Michi Buechers: When I started with Marker, we had the F10 and F12, but we felt we really hadn’t reached the touring market. We saw this pintech market growing, and I knew from my experience that it’s really a difference to tour with. It was obvious that, if we wanted to reach the touring market, it made sense to do it with a pintech binding. But we knew we didn’t want to make a “me too” product….we wanted to create something new.
BCM: Did you see a big demand that you needed to fill?
MB: Yeah, of course. That was part of it. We also heard of problems with existing bindings, and we saw some potentials. Not a lot of products are perfect, and we saw lots of potential in the pintech.BCM: All of the sudden there are so many tech bindings available, many trying to achieve a better release. It’s almost like you had a crystal ball when you started with this project.
MB: When we started [three years ago], that was a time when a lot of companies opened their eyes. There was the certain point when it was obvious that this part of the skiing market was growing. All of the sudden, that market got very interesting for several companies.
BCM: Do you see most of the growth among people wanting tech bindings in Europe or the U.S.?
MB: Both. In Europe it depends a little bit on the country. There are some countries where there are already 80 percent using pintech bindings, but there are some more conservative countries using mostly frame bindings. I think there was a turning point maybe two or three years ago where you saw more and more people using that pintech binding; people getting more aware of that system.BCM: What was the biggest challenge with building the binding? Was there a single technical part that took a lot of time and energy?
MB: Of course there were many small details that we had to improve during the process, but in the end I think the hardest part was to find the right concept, the big picture. We had targets we wanted to reach in the end: we wanted DIN certification; we wanted a stronger heel; we wanted the handling [to be] as least as good as existing bindings; we wanted it lightweight. To pack all these points into a concept without creating a new boot standard was a big challenge and took us a long time.
BCM: Do you think there’s been a race of sorts to become the first binding that is DIN ISO certified?
MB: Yeah. It looks like there are some other brands in the starting position. I think [getting our certification first] shows the knowledge of binding development in this company and what a strong team we have.BCM: What are some of the challenges you see with getting this binding out there?
MB: It looks heavier than it actually is, and I think we need to get people’s hands on it and show them that it’s not a big difference. For sure, it’s going to be a challenge to explain to people. It only weighs one chocolate bar more than some other pintech bindings.
BCM: Until now, tech bindings have been made by niche-specific, backcountry-focused brands. What does it mean for the sport that Marker, the big binding company, is making a tech binding?
MB: It shows that sport has really grown in the last years. But the other question could be what does it mean for Marker? At the beginning we didn’t know if we could compete with all the specialized brands. But when I look at our whole team, I think it’s all been pretty authentic. I think that the crew that is behind this is very much committed to this sport.BCM: Beyond the Kingpin, what do you think backcountry bindings are going to look like over the next few years? What does the future hold?
MB: I think the sport is getting more and more nuanced. It’s all skiing, but touring is one thing, and even within touring there is racing, doing big traverses, free touring. So it’s getting more and more nuanced, and I think, for the whole binding and ski market, there will be products for every niche. Some products will have the potential to cover more of these niches and some will be more specialized.
For more on the Kingpin and a detailed review, stay tuned to backcountrymagazine.com. Visit marker.net/kingpin for more technical details.
[Update – September 10, 2014: According to Dynafit, the world’s first TUV-certified frameless tech binding was the original TLT4, which received certification for ISO13992 in 1994. Since then, the testing procedures have evolved to include more combined loading tests, and the Marker Kingpin and Dynafit Beast 16 are now TUV certified under the updated standard, ISO 13992:2007.]