Photo: Amer Sports/Salomon
The S/Lab Shift MNC hybrid binding has been one of the most talked about ski equipment releases of the 2018/19 season. There has been so much interest toward the binding that Salomon pro skier Cody Townsend had to tell people just before the turn of the year to stop sending him questions about it on Twitter and contact Salomon directly instead.
So what´s so interesting about the S/Lab Shift then?
With the rising popularity of free skiing the backcountry-specific equipment has developed tremendously over the past few years. Every year manufacturers release new equipment on the market that come closer and closer to hitting that perfect sweet spot of light enough for touring and sturdy enough for ripping it on the way down.
Not all product categories are created equal, however. While there has been no shortage of great quiver-killing free ski/touring skis and ski boots, the binding manufacturers have so far chosen to specialize on either light-weight for touring or sturdiness for ripping it. The ski binding industry has in recent years seen a shift from frame bindings (such as: Marker Duke, Salomon Guardian) towards low tech -bindings that utilize the Dynafit-patented pin -technology (like G3 ion or Dynafit Radical).
While the low-tech bindings are generally regarded, due to their light weight, as superior when it comes to touring, their problem is the lack of elasticity. Basically, the more elastic the binding is, the more the ski boot can move around in the binding before it releases. The elasticity in the binding hence acts like a suspension when you ski on uneven terrain – the more you have it, the faster and less cautious you can ski.
There are already hybrid bindings, like the Marker Kingpin, on the market, where the toe piece of the boot is attached to low-tech pins on the binding using Dynafit-inserts of the boot, while the heel piece locks down like a regular alpine binding. The S/Lab Shift is however the first binding, which combines a regular TUV-certified (safety standard) alpine binding for the descent and a low-tech pin binding for climbing up the hill.
- Din value: 6-13
- Elastic movement in the toe piece: 47 mm
- Weigth: approximately 892 g per binding
- MNC Multinorm certification – compatible with all boot types
- Brake widths: 90, 100, 110, 120 mm
- Crampon widths: 100, 120 mm
- Climbing angles 2 and 10 degrees
- Adjustment range: 30 mm
The transition between touring and skiing
Moving the binding in the climbing position works by first pushing a knob situated in the center of the toe piece backwards, which releases the pins. You then have to push down a lever in front of the toe piece to spread the pins wide enough so you can fit them into the Dynafit inserts of your boot. When the pins are attached you pull the same lever upwards, which locks the pins.
The heel piece remains in it´s place for the uphill, but the brakes lock to the side of the ski by pulling a lever and then stepping down on it with your boot.
Switching the bindings back to the ski mode works by pushing the knob in the middle of the toe piece forward, which brings out the wings and pushes the pins out of the way. You then have to push the lever in front of the toe piece down on the ski. Finally, the brakes need to be activated by pushing the lever down before clicking in to the bindings.
This video by EVO does a great job in demonstrating the functionality of the S/Lab Shift.
1. Uphill performance
I tested the binding in Laax, Switzerland for a few days in December 2018. During the first day the lifts were conveniently closed due to a storm, so I got a good excuse to slap on some skins and head to the lower mountain that was protected from the wind by trees. When I first took the test skis out and started putting on the skins and preparing the bindings my first reaction was that there are plenty of moving parts and levers to pull to activate the climbing position of the Salomon S/Lab Shift binding.
I had just arrived at the ski area and only tested the functionality of the binding a couple of times at home. There is a small learning curve before you have the functionality dialed and every step is crystal clear without giving it a second thought. That being said, the usability seems good and it´s not that complicated once you have done it a few times.
Once pinned-in going up seemed as effortless as on a regular pin binding – the Shifts weigh around 890 g per binding, which is only about 250 grams heavier than the Dynafit Radical 2.0 (653 g) and roughly 100 g heavier than Marker Kingpin (775 g).
The flat section of the route was perfectly suited for the 2 degree touring mode.
I started my ascend on a ski slope, before switching to a ski track that was circling the lower slopes still covered by half a meter of powder. I was on a pair of 186 cm Salomon QST 106 skis that together with the Shifts proved to be a capable combination – both on the way up and down. Skinning up on the flatter sections using ready-made ski tracks felt fast and effortless. There range of motion of the Shifts felt more than adequate and the touring mode without the riser, which according to Salomon is 2 degrees instead of 0, worked like they should in the flats. (It would be hard to tell a difference between 0 and the 2 degrees).
After an hour or so I decided to try skinning up a steeper slope, which had not yet been groomed after the snowfall. I pulled up the 10 degree climbing riser and headed uphill. While some other bindings have two different positions for the climbing risers (on top of the flat mode) the Shift basically has only one, since the 2 degree “riser” is the default flat mode. Is it enough? For the steep uphill the 10 degree riser felt adequate. I guess the question is, would you need a 5 degree position for the middle ground? Salomon obviously thinks not.
Skinning up a steep slope with half a meter of powder was pretty hard and I ended up having to navigate through some trees to find my way on to a slope, which in the map looked like a good descend. At one point I had a small break by quaint alpine farm house and took off the skis to access my backpack and sit down. It was when I decided to continue that I noticed that clicking in the Shifts on the touring mode when there is fresh powder up to your knees is not the easiest thing.
Granted, it is not easy sometimes even on regular alpine bindings, but with the Shifts I had to make several attempts with both boots – opening the pins wide enough and locking them in the Dynafit inserts just didn´t feel that easy. I was of course a bit tired at this point after having pushed through a steep section with deep snow and it was the first time using the bindings, but still, clicking in on the touring mode in deep snow is not as easy as “click and go”.
2. Downhill performance
When the lifts finally opened I was able to test the ski performance of the Salomon Shift bindings in dream conditions: the mountain had received 80 cm of fresh powder. The slopes were in great conditions and the trees situated lower in the mountain had plenty of snow, while the upper sections still suffered a bit from a lack of a proper base, which meant that you had to keep your speed down.
I skied with the bindings for a few days and there isn´t that much to report really, which is a good thing: I could rely on them just like on a regular alpine binding. I did not think at any point that I would have to ski more conservatively either on the slope or on off-piste. The Shifts never pre-released, but when I landed a 360 on off-piste with too much front-weight, both of the skis released – as they should. The DIN´s were set on a moderate value of 9, I did not feel that I would have to crank them up closer to the max value of 13.
The Salomon S/Lab Shift is a very versatile binding, that is not much heavier than many pure low-tech bindings, but offers qualities that have previously been exclusive to alpine bindings: 47 mm of elasticity (same as the STH2 according to Salomon) and a TUV-certification for safety. The Shifts are also Multi-Norm Compatible, which means that they can be used with WTR or Grip Walk boots.
The S/Lab Shifts performed very well both uphill and downhill and they are definitely a worthy option for skiers looking to combine the lightness and ease of touring of a low-tech binding, together with the downhill performance and safety of an alpine binding. Currently there probably isn´t another binding on the market, which combines these two elements as well as the Shifts do.
The only noticeable problem during the test was clicking in the bindings on the touring mode in deep snow – it took some time and effort to attach the pins to the Dynafit inserts of the boots. It has to be noted thought that this was the first day of using the bindings, which could have added to the issue.
The S/Lab Shifts have plenty of moving parts and different materials, including plastic and it will take a longer test to find out their long-term durability and usability in cold weather and different types of snow and ice.
I also did not get a chance to ski super fast on the off-piste on hard snow or do any cliff-drops to really put the Shifts and their performance to the limit. Salomon team skier Cody Townsend is apparently using the Shifts now for most of his skiing, which could hint that the bindings can take some serious abuse.
Update 4.5. 2019
Since the initial test I mounted the Shifts on a new pair of skis and skied with them for two more weeks – one in Pyhä, Lapland and another in Kirovsk, Russia. I mainly used the bindings for resort skiing and lift-assessed side-country, but also did a few small ski tours.
The conditions were similar in both of the arctic resorts with corn being the dominant snow type. In Pyhä the sun would transform the top layer into pretty enjoyable slush during the day, while in Kirovsk the colder temperatures kept the snow firm.
The continued testing confirmed my thoughts about the Shift during the initial test in Switzerland: on the positive side, it skis very close to a regular alpine binding, it is lightweight, considering the downhill performance and tours remarkably well.
On the negative side, clicking in on the touring mode occasionally still felt like an effort to me. Ideally the pins would click evenly in the boot inserts while you push down the lever in front of the toe piece, that spreads the pins, but instead it feels like often you have to tilt the front of your boot in order to accomplish this.
There wasn’t much else that I could find to criticise about the Shifts, except that occasionally while skinning uphill the brake stopper of one of the bindings would go into ski mode when the skis came into contact with each other.
I will continue to follow up on how the Shifts will perform during a long term test next season. I am still interested to see how they will hold up in special conditions like rock hard moguls and jumps and drops with hard landings, and whether the chosen materials will prove to be durable in extreme conditions and temperatures.
This review was first published by the Edge Magazine in Finland.