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Child’s Play: Kid’s AT gear is here, but will Daddy kick down?

Illustration by Alex Nabaum

Illustration by Alex Nabaum

“Skier Tester.” It was a column I wrote for Backcountry’s 2005 Gear Guide shortly after my first daughter, Hazel, was born. A long ski tour, I wrote, was like bringing a child into the world—labor, elation and all. That metaphor runs on in the girl’s skiing education: hot cocoa to pizza-pie turns, French fries, bumps, gates and powder-snow bliss. And now, non-avalanche-terrain backcountry.

Parents have been cobbling together kid’s touring rigs for years. A quick and incomplete modern history of kid’s backcountry gear would certainly start with three-pin bindings, cross-country boots and double-camber skis. For the non-telemark ’rents, the Ramer binding was pretty easy to cut down to fit a youth alpine boot. Ditto for BCA’s Alpine Trekkers, still available today and still heavy as hell, especially for children. The carbon rails on the Silvretta Pure AT binding could also be cut down to accommodate shorter sole lengths. Retired skins could, and do, round out any kit.

But any of these options faced some pretty serious safety limitations, and others had limited utility for longer tours. See, the release value on any converted AT bindings is far too high for a kid under 100 pounds. And, even if a kid’s foot is big enough to fit into a small AT boot or binding, getting a reliable release is unlikely. What to do?

Starting with limited availability this winter, two touring options are changing child’s play in the mountains. Hagan, a small, Austrian ski-mountaineering company, has recently begun exporting to the U.S. a kid’s AT binding, the Z02 Junior Alpine Touring Binding ($390, haganskimountaineering.com). Anyone familiar with the Fritschi Diamir will immediately recognize this binding’s functionality. It has a shorter bar for fitting junior boots, typically mondo size 21 minimum. (Note that toe- and heel-lug sizing varies between junior and kids’ boots. Visit Hagan’s website to ensure compatibility.) More important is the TÜV-approved DIN rating of 2 to 7. Hagan also sells a lightweight, paulownia-cored mid-fat ski, the Sky Force ($260). The 145cm length measures 114-82-109. Plus, there’s a precut skin to match ($130). All in, that’s a whopping $780.

There’s a more economical option newly available, too—Camp USA’s Contour Startup Ski Touring Adaptor ($150, camp-usa.com). Similar to an Alpine Trekker that installs into a regular alpine binding, the Contour is made of lightweight plastic, is highly adjustable on the fly and fits junior boots from sole lengths of 245mm to 305mm. Like the Trekker, it also features a climbing bar.

My number one Skier Tester has been using the Z02 for a month and loves it. (She’s yet to demo the Contour.) But when the test unit goes back to Hagan, will Daddy kick down the nearly $400 bucks for the binding? Or will I consider the $150 Contour? I’m hoping that’s a decision I can put off until next fall. And, chances are, I’ll be digging in the basement for my old Trekkers and a hack saw. I love Hazel and I want her to experience the backcountry on gear that makes her smile, but her smile needs work, too, I’m told. And, come May, I’ve got a big bill at the orthodontist.

To get the February issue, visit the Backcountry Magazine store.

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