We´re sitting on sofas made out of pallets in a wooden ex-warehouse building in Oberaching, a small town with 13 inhabitants, some 15 km south of Munich, the capital of Bavaria. On my left is a workbench, but instead of a state-of-the-art espresso machine, standing behind is a row of skis with two banners, one with the initials B.A.M. and another with just one word: Pindung.
The initials stand for Bavarian Alpine Manifest, a young and innovative ski binding company on the verge of an international breakthrough. To the company founder Markus “Bam Bam” Steinke sitting next to me, getting the Pindung from the concept to the market has been a four-year uphill battle.
The birth of the Pindung and BAM
It was a Sunday afternoon in 2014 when he got the idea: “The wings will come in from the front and we´re going to move the toe piece, so that the pins can come out, and we´ll use the DIN setting spring to lock the pins”. Steinke then called an old friend, mechanical engineer and skier Michael Kreuzinger, and explained him the concept.
The need for the idea had occurred much earlier though, when Steinke equipped test skis with lightweight pin bindings: “I realized that, although you could tour with them (pin bindings), doing proper carving turns on the slope was impossible, because the binding was fucking your skiing up!” While Steinke agreed, that the pin system was the best solution to go uphill, he somehow wanted to integrate it into a normal binding.
Concurrently, another slightly bigger alpine ski binding company was tinkering over similar issues. According to Amer Sports, its daughter companies Salomon and Atomic started a project called Safe and Light in 2012, which aimed to create a light TÜV-certified binding. Instead of the regular 3-year binding development process, it took Salomon seven years to finally release the Shift in 2018.
Meanwhile Steinke found B.A.M., together with Kreuzinger, in November 2014. Thanks to 3-D-printing, he was able to ski on the first prototypes in New Zealand already during September 2015. The trip was also used to film a promotional video, which was used in the crowdfunding pledge for the Pindung a month later.
The three-month crowdfunding proved successful as the company not only received the targeted 50 000 euros, but also another 70 000 from newly acquired silent partners. It looked like the self-titled “enduro binding” had hit a sweet spot on the market and the company was on a roll.
Still, when the company published their plans for the Pindung´s market release at Munich´s ISPO fair in February 2016, some people began to wonder whether Steinke got carried away with the schedule. In the end, a 3-D-printed version of the Pindung was introduced at the ISPO, but without a functioning heel piece, the market entry had to be postponed.
At the factory
Sandwiched between a railway track y-junction and the local soccer fields, the slightly run-down-looking warehouse buildings with fading yellow stone facades are now home to B.A.M. headquarters. Inside, squatted next to a table is Michael Kreuzinger, the friend and mechanical engineer, whom Steinke called in 2014 after his Heureka moment.
Behind Kreuzinger is a graph with an evenly rising curve and marked figures on a white carboard. I watch as he releases a sledgehammer hanging on a string from the table. It swings past the graph and hits a part of the toe piece fixed on the floor. The part connects the binding to the ski and Kreuzinger and Steinke refer to it as the mothership.
Just before the planned new market entry at the 2019 ISPO, Steinke managed to break the mothership of the binding while skiing moguls. After some hesitation, Steinke and Kreuzinger decided to cancel the market entry. It wasn´t an easy decision, but they couldn´t risk jeopardizing their key selling point: “we talk about a solid product, so it has to be solid”, Steinke stays.
I watch Kreuzinger carry out a test on the new material, where a ski with the toe piece mothership mounted on it, is fixed into a simple-looking machine. A nylon webbing strap, tied between the top section of the machine and the mothership, starts pulling the part upwards. The monitor in the middle shows how the force used increases at a constant pace. First the ski starts to bend and after several seconds part of the toe piece snaps off, whirling across the room. Kreuzinger, who now looks like a mad scientist with the protective glasses on, is smiling. Thanks to the special additives inside the new material, PA6, it is proving to be three times stronger than POM.
There is one subject you just cannot leave out when talking about the Pindung, and that is the close resemblance of the toe piece to that of the Salomon Shift. Steinke registered the first patent for the Pindung, with money received from a friend, in August 2014. While Salomon did file for their first patent on the Shift already in 2013, according to Steinke, the design wasn´t what the finished product looks like today: “they developed both the patent and the product over the course of time”, he explains.
Steinke thinks, that Salomon probably wasn´t “too happy” about the Pindung crowdfunding campaign in the middle of their R&D process. He says that Salomon never contacted him though: “They always stop by at ISPO, but never really say much, with all the other companies, like Fritschi and Dynafit, we have a really good relationship.”
Since the first patent Steinke has registered two additional ones, with the overall cost of the three equating to 150 000 euros – not a small sum for a company, which is yet to sell a single unit. After the 2016 ISPO The Pindung received an innovation funding from the Bavarian state, but to be able to cash it, Steinke needed to have an equal amount on his bank account, which led to a successful “friends and family” crowdfunding. Using this model, Steinke has been able to raise altogether 300 000 euros.
After the market entry failure at the 2019 ISPO, B.A.M. ran out of money. The company had already ordered the parts for 1000 bindings before the sudden need for material changes: “we could keep around 60% of those parts, the other 40 we had to throw away – it almost killed us”, Steinke admits.
It was a dire situation, but a last-minute investment by a local plastic material supplier saved the company. “They (suppliers) have all supported us, giving us more time to pay the bills, encouraging us to get the company running”, Steinke describes gratefully the support received by his Bavarian suppliers. The abundance of cost-efficient suppliers means that 90% of the parts used to manufacture the Pindung will be made in Germany.
Finally ready for the market
With the new market entry now set for October 2019, Steinke and Kreuzinger will have their hands full of work for the summer, carrying out tests on the new material and Grip Walk-compatible toe plate, preparing the assembly, logistics, marketing and sales. If it all comes together, they will have to start selling the bindings fast to pay the bills and the shares of silent partners and fulfill the pre-orders of the crowdfunding campaign.
This time around Steinke trusts in the organic growth of the sales: “I sold promises for two or three years, it was really tough, even with my contacts”, he explains. Steinke says their main marketing tactics will be sponsored riders and social media: “we have to give away a hundred pairs – it´s the cheapest way of marketing”. He also hopes to receive good feedback from magazine and online test coverage.
Could the Pindung be the iphone killer?
If Shift is the iphone of the ski industry, could the Pindung be the iphone killer? Despite the similarities between the toe pieces, there is one major difference in the designs and that is the use of a Look Pivot-style heel piece in the Pindung, which according to Steinke could play to their advantage, as it is highly-regarded among the freeskiing community.
But the turntable heel piece also adds to the weight. Instead of the sub-1000 grams Steinke was talking about at the 2016 ISPO, the final product will weigh around 1300 g per unit – is it too much? While Steinke thinks weight matters, according to him, its importance has been over-emphasized. Steinke sees a similarity between touring with a pin binding and pulling a suitcase on wheels: as you´re no longer lifting the weight, it doesn´t really matter whether the system is a little heavier.
Instead of touring binding, Steinke prefers to call the Pindung “enduro binding”, referring to mountain biking, where over the years the focus on bike designs has shifted from weight-obsessed to downhill performance. With modern materials and designs even heavier bikes can be capable climbers, and are of course a blast on the way down. The coming winter will show us if the ski industry is ready for a similar change.
You can check out the Bavarian Alpine Manifest´s home page in English here.
If you live in Europe you can buy the binding here.