Today's installment of "what I use and why" I'm reviewing the Marker Baron 13 AT Binding.
In my years long build-up to purchasing my own alpine touring set up, I had the opportunity to demo and read about every binding out there. 5 years ago, their wasn't really a resort worthy, burly AT binding available. The Fritschi Freeride was available as well as some options from now defunt Naxo. But in the last few years, the options for AT skiers have exploded with offerings from Salomom, Atomic, Tyrolia and the company that started it all, Marker.
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When Marker came out with the Duke it really lit a fire under the industry. Suddenly, people who worried about durability in their bindings or who didn't really want a lightweight set up, could free their heels for short tours and skin tracks. While the model has its drawbacks, there really is no compromise in downhill performance and toughness. In fact, the new binding outperformed many traditional alpine bindings. The unique toe piece design has found its way into most of Marker's lineup. The Duke was hefty, functional and expensive. It came with a DIN of 16(!) to make sure the huck masters of the world blew their knees before losing their skies.
The Baron is built very much the same as the Duke but with more plastic and less metal. This lightens the set up by about a 1/4 pound for a weight of 2480 grams for my large binder size. The Baron also has a DIN of 13, which is plenty for me and my weight. I actually have them set on 9 so I have plenty in the binding.
Just as with my Quest 12 boots, uphill is where the compromises come into play with the bindings. While not as heavy as the Duke's, the Barons are still heavy. If you're carrying your skis, its definitely noticeable. The skin up also takes a bit more energy. This may not be the rig for a week long tour, but my goals aren't really week long tours. If I ever do that, I'll go rent some lightweight gear at REI.
The change between downhill and uphill mode can also be a pain. The lever to switch from tour to ski mode is underneath the boot. While this ensures a secure latching of the mechanism, it makes it so you have to remove your skis to get into downhill mode. This is a time consumer more than anything as you touring pals may have other bindings that can be swtiched with the skis still on. The Fritschi, Salomon and Atomic bindings all have that feature, just as lighter tech style binding do as well. With those you can remove your skins without removing your skis. Again, not the biggest deal but if you're racing for lines, this could be an issue. It could also be an issue if your somwhere where removing your skis for the downhill would be dangerous. In my experience though, those kinds of areas would have to be hiked to anyway, with your skis removed already. The lever must also be cleaned of snow and ice before switching to ski mode. While the system does have its drawbacks, the one big thing it has going for it is that there is no chance of the binding switching to tour mode while skiing. That's something I have experienced on the Fritschi and it wasn't fun.
The binding also features a 3 position climbing bar for 0, 7 and 15 degrees of lift. The bar can be moved with your pole ends but not as easily as the Fritschi.
The walking movement of the binding is smooth and natural. The binding actually moves aft a few mm's when in touring mode for a better stride. To me, while heavier, it felt smoother than the Fritschi in the skin track.
So, in short, this binding is awesome for going downhill. You really give up nothing in skiing performance. You do compromise for the uphill but durability is awesome. For most all mountain skiers who like the resorts but still want some BC adventure, this binding rocks. If you're heavier or like to huck your meat, the Duke may be better for you, but the cost goes up about $100. I haven't skied the Sally's, Atomics or Tyrolias. but they claim to have addresses some of the drawbacks of the Markers. You may start finding some deals on those this spring and summer however. If its the uphill your concerned about, the Fritschi Freeride may be your speed but again, good luck finding a deal. Its also good to note that the Dukes and Fritschis require wider skies whereas the Barons require a ski of at least 78mm wide at the waist.
My advice is to demo all you can before you purchase. REI and most college rental programs now have the Markers and Fritschis in their line-ups. You may be able to demo the other brands at your local shop as well. If a touring set up is what you want though, there are plenty of options!