Monday, February 20, 2012

Voile Switchback Failure and Factory Tour

When you're a guru, people are always asking you stupid questions in hopes they can cheat their way to telemark enlightenment.

"Guru Gered, how do you get your beard so long?"
"Guru Gered, should I make parallel turns after lunch or will people think I am a pussy?"

"Guru, what is the most perfect telemark binding?"

G3 Targa
No comment, no way, and I have no idea. While there are a lot of rumors about my beard, there should be no mystery as to the right telemark binding for you. I've used three different bindings in my life. One of them (G3 Targa) came used on a pair of 10 year old 194 cm Tua Sumos (my first ski love), the second (Voile 3-Pin Cable) I put on the Great White Ski but have never really used. I may be a guru but frankly leather boots scare my silly. The third binding (Voile Switchback) is one I've liked the most but have had the most trouble with since mounting them on the NEBC team ski, my Black Diamond Voodoos. Would I recommend any of these bindings you? The answer is, it depends.

Part of the problem I've had with my Voile Switchback bindings has been of my own making. For years I have struggled to find a binding that has the right amount of lateral rigidity without having to have the cartridges torqued down so much that I could still drop down to carve a turn. Stiff bindings, while feeling secure and downhill-y, can make for very stiff turns, burnt out quads, and very short ski days.
Voile 3-Pin

My G3s were far too floppy, but I think because I was learning on them (used bindings) with stiff as the dick(ens) new Scarpa T2x boots, there ways a fair amount of under-tightening required to make up for the fact that my boots wouldn't flex on their own. A few months of tip toeing around the office in plastic shells cured the toe flex problem. I would never overcome the fact that I wasn't properly attaching the heel clamp to the boot though.

You see, I became a guru via the YouTube ski video path to enlightenment. If no one shows how to fasten your bindings, you'll never know that the heel lever goes into the groove in the heel of your boot, not above it on the lip of the boot, as you would attach a crampon to a steel shanked mountaineering boot. This presents a major problem in tightening your bindings, and explains why I always thought the G3s were beat out all limp dicky from the last owner.

Voile Switchback
I'll skip over the 3-Pins and move straight on to the Switchbacks, as we all know these bindings are for real nutters and no one who loves to pound the powder really uses them. My heel lever fastening problem was hugely exacerbated by the Switchbacks. For a year I couldn't figure out why ever time I traversed in the skis, the uphill ski would slide over the lever on the back of the lower ski boot and open the binding with almost no pressure. The same thing happened over and over again in long mogul fields when I would start to get a little sloppy.

By the time I realized the problem was idiocy and not manufactures error, it was too late for my lovely Switchbacks. Fundamentally, these are a great binding. They are super light and have a great touring feature with full toe release and pivot. They are also hard wired cartridge bindings and are in fact plenty stiff if used correctly. Finally, they won't break the bank like some of the ultralight touring bindings out there. They are not, however, particularly durable. I learned this the hard way in Honeycomb Canyon at Solitude Resort UT last week.

After shattering the toe plate on my left ski binding and getting a hearty 'Wow little dude, you did a number on these things... but we don't touch tele equipment" from the stoned-out resort repair shop guy, I was lucky enough to learn that Voile was in fact in the local Salt Lake City phone book. A quick call down to their 1800 number, and I was warmly invited to stop in later that day for a full repair, on Voile, while NEBC ran a few errands in the big city (aka. beer run).

While I started my experience with Voile thoroughly disappointed with their product, the cheerful ski bum way in which they managed my warranty issue was impressive. I am a huge fan of excellent customer service, and would always choose to invest in a company that stands behind their products. Voile is that sort of company. The multiple Erics' that man the front of their warehouse were quick to admit that the metal used in this particular year's version of the Switchback was far too brittle, pointing out that I had in fact chipped away major portions of the toe plate on my right ski as well. Both front binding assemblies were replaced free of charge in under 30 minutes.

Impressive stuff Voile. And I'm not easy to please. In fact, I'm a man who can get angry enough to get Chrysler, kicking and screaming, to buy back a 2011 Jeep Wrangler. Thanks for standing behind your binding, keeping me happy, and ensuring that, in the future, the most perfect telemark binding for me is going to be Voile.

Since NEBC is all about morality now, I think the moral of the story here is that the more you ski, the more you'll know about the pros and cons of the equipment you're using. And from there you can choose the right stuff each time you pony up cash for new gear.

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