Twenty holes later...
Beast and ATK mixed marriage
There's more than a few good reasons to mount your own bindings.
1. The ridiculous price that is charged for mounting tech bindings in Australia. Two local stores charge a flat $150 for that privilege. Add binding inserts on top of that, and it's a solid $200 plus. Compare that with places like Japan - I got my Huascarans mounted for about $50 in Hakuba (cheers Nate from Rhythm for going above and beyond).
On a recent visit to one of the aforementioned local shops, I asked if I could pay a lower rate just to drill my Vectors with the jig, but no dice. I get that, but then the dude banged on about how they do a great job if you pay the $150 - this is the same place that fucked my DPS RPCs by mounting them at +2. Of more concern was this:
Insert screw with 3mm thread engagement
They used insert screws that are at least 1mm short of the minimum 4mm of thread engagement for safe use (I only learned about this when I started looking at doing my own mounting). This shop took my money in exchange for an erroneous and unsafe mounting. I've since sold those skis, but will never let anyone I know get their skis mounted there again (Bumps, for anyone interested, was the shop).
2. I like to tinker with my gear. I mean a lot...I've been known to do a practice pack of my gear for fun (form character judgements as you will). I love being able to research and think about the type and position of my bindings, and then be able to make the adjustments myself. I'd also feel like a pest if I came to a shop every month or two with a new request (and there's that cost issue again).
Two snow leopards getting acquainted
3. It coheres with my self-reliant nature, and has helped me become somewhat less useless with tools.
4. You care much more about your skis than the guy mounting them. They don't care if your mounting is a bit out - as long as it's functional and not going to get them a bad rep. Furthermore, there are plenty of people doing ski mounting in shops who know sweet fuck all about tech bindings. This is the last person you should entrust your precious planks to.
For those willing to invest the time and cash, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Here's my process:
1. Establish the ski center line and the mounting line. I use this template (http://www.slidewright.com/Bindings/skicenter.pdf) to mark the middle of the ski along its long axis. This is pretty easy to use if you print it in colour. I also use four per ski to ensure that the line is accurate and consistent. You cannot afford to be off here.
Measure lots, cut once
Finding ski mid-point is usually straight forward. It's typically marked by the manufacturer, but be wary of stickers and graphics that may not be 100% accurately placed. It certainly doesn't hurt to measure this to confirm.
Mounting fore or aft is up to user preference and ski type - most of my skis are mounted at the factory recommended point, and only the Chugach will be mounted at +1. It is also worth considering the effect of a boot quiver if that applies; for example, swapping between boots like the Vulcan and the TLT6 will result in an altered position on the ski, which may or may not make a significant difference to performance.
The other important position is the boot center. On Dynafit boots this is quite clearly marked, and I usually place a mark with a permanent marker to make it even more obvious.
Boot center marked for posterity
2. My next step is to place the relevant paper template on the ski. The biggest issue I've encountered was when I mounted my Beast 14 - the template was off by 2mm in the rear-most holes. I should have detected the fault earlier, but by the end I had a heel piece that would not fit. This was annoying, but at least my hand-drawn template for the Hagan adjustment plate worked just fine!
After some deliberations, I ended up refilling the holes and redrilling. They seem solid in carpet testing, but I will have to see if they cope with on snow abuse before I can endorse this to others.
Anyway, with the correct template things are straightforward. I position the toe first, and will measure the distance from center on each ski to ensure consistency across both skis. Positioning the heel needs some thought - consider possible use with other boots and try to ensure that other binding holes are not affected (according to Binding Freedom, inserts need to be at least 5mm apart) if you intent on adding more inserts later.
I've managed to squeeze on the Beast 14 and ATK toe piece on the front, and the Beast heel, ATK heel and Hagan adjustment plate on the back. Besides being the 90mm plus workhouse of the quiver, the Vectors will be the testbed for comparison between these bindings.
Once the template is secured under copious amounts of tape, it's time to drill.
3. If you don't have a jig (and why the fuck have you read this far if that isn't the case!), use a drill press. Without it, you will drill holes that aren't dead straight. You also won't be able to see as closely what is going on near the bit itself. I like to take my time and align each hole with the drill stationary before turning it on and dropping it in. I have hole-punched my skis at times, and other times just went with the drill first. Either way works, but the prime consideration is to USE A DRILL PRESS.
If installing inserts, I'll drill using a standard bit (3.5 / 4.1) first, check the holes and then drill with the big boy. Again, I will ensure the alignment by stopping the drill and lining up every hole. It takes time, but it's worth it.
4. After removing the tape sarcophagus, the next step is tapping the holes for inserts. First, I use a purpose made deburring tool to make sure the holes are prepared (available at Slide Wright - along with the drill bits and other stuff you'll need). A few twists is enough to establish a starting point for the tap.
Tapping is simple yet easily fucked up by inattention. I've had no dramas so far as long as I have ensured that the tap goes in straight. The other big things are to know when to stop (it's pretty apparent when you do it) and backing it out straight.
Tapping like a boss
Once all the holes are done, blow/shake all the shite out of the holes and do a dry install of the inserts. I often find one or two that don't go in seamlessly, which is always a result of some debris still being caught in the threads - blowing directly into the hole does the trick.
5. If everything is looking good, it's time to mix the epoxy. I'm a massive fan of the 72hr stuff that Selleys makes (available at any Bunnings). It allows plenty of time for working with (at least an hour), is pretty well set after 24hrs, and then is completely done in 72. After mixing, I use a match stick and needle to ensure that each hole has enough suitably distributed glue. If in doubt, put in more and wipe away the excess at the end.
I install the inserts with a dab of glue on each insert's threads - just to ensure that every thread is glue-coated. I screw them all the way down, which is easy with the Binding Freedom inserts due to their head (Quiver Killers need a specialist tool).
I wipe away the excess glue, and be careful not to let any get into the insert threads - they'll still work, but be a heap more harder to use with screws later. I don't worry about a thin film of glue on the surrounding topsheet - I don't mind the appearance or the slight protection it offers that portion of the topsheet.
That's pretty much it - just leave the skis to dry (ideally in a warm room - apparently epoxy is stronger if it is cured at about 40 degrees C). Feel free to hit me up for advice or assistance, and I'm happy to mount skis with tech bindings in return for satisfactory compensation (a slab).
Even up to the moment that I dropped the drill into my Vectors, I had reservations about mounting the Beast. It will be the heaviest binding that I've skied by about a full kilogram. I'm thinking that some of my technical skiing issues could be more about boot fit - particularly ankle flexion. If that is the case, having such a beefy binding won't be as necessary, but there's only one way to find out.
The Hagan plates were an easy choice. They will let me mount my two race-like heel units and adjust them for different boot sizes. I'm also really looking forward to thrashing the ATK in Australian conditions - it worked perfectly in Japan, and could be the quiver of one BC binding for the future.
Lately, I've been lightening up my load in pretty much every way - going back to heavy boots (Vulcans) and bindings (Beast 14) feels odd, but I think that I need to see for myself if the downhill performance is worth the weight. Hell, I've even started eyeing off the Salomon Mtn Lab boots at local stores...but I think that if there's a worthwhile place to 'spend' weight in a BC setup, the boots are probably the most influential in determining performance and how much fun you'll have.
Will the beef be worth it? Vulcan and Beast add 1kg in comparison to the TLT6 and ATK
I think that a reasonable goal for the moment is a boot/binding/ski combination of about 6-7kg for skimo use (total, not just one ski/boot/binding). I might add a kilo and a bit for bigger powder planks, or more performance oriented skis and bindings, but 6-7kg seems like a good general figure to shoot for. In the above photo the TLT6 makes this figure at 6.34kg (for both boots/skis/bindings), whilst the Vulcan/Beast combo weighs in at 8.34kg.
In terms of lightweight skimo gear, I'll be on the TLT 6 Performance (the black model) for most of this winter. It's 1.2kg per boot, has a great range of movement for the up, and it also got touring boot of the year from Skialper. I'll be interested to see if I miss the stiffness of the Vulcan - I certainly won't miss the weight penalty. Depending on how that goes might dictate future choices, such as going down the TLT 7 path versus the Salomon Mtn Lab route (which was the 'free tour' boot of the year according to Skialper, and is receiving rave reviews from all and sundry).
As for bindings, I will give the Beast 14 a go, but I'm already feeling less enthused about it due to the total weight (Vector, Beast and Vulcan = 8.3kg). With a lightweight ski and the TLT 7 it might work, but is the increased elasticity worth the kilos? Only time and experience will tell.
I see myself on the ATK Free Raider 14 for most of my skiing this winter - great binding, 700g for the pair and can be used with or without the heel spacer for better power transfer from boot to ski. The adjustable release value of the heel is also appealing. Keep an eye out for the 2.0 model coming out soon - the big plus will be a smaller heel mounting template, making it compatible with my skinnier skis, along with increased elasticity.
Super sexy ATK Free Raider 14
If I want to go super lightweight, the Radical and Expedition/SCTT setup awaits. The SCTT does have a release value around 8-9, whilst the Expedition locks you in for the ride (especially laterally). Definite no-fall shenanigans for that one.
Lastly, I've just picked up a pair of Blizzard Zero G 85s. After the Wildsnow review, I ditched the Voile Objective (lacked solid edges at tip and tail, more for soft snow) and considered other options. I was thinking of the Trab Magico, but was scared off by reports of being a bit finicky. The Movement Vertex X-Series (another Skialper favorite) was discounted due to some reported breakages (albeit with fatter/bigger users).
Already measured up and ready for drilling
Thanks to a recommendation from Jason at Skimo, I picked up the Zero Gs (and they did pretty well on the Skialper testing too!) They sound ideal for ski mountaineering: light, good downhill performance (especially on the steeps) and 171cm long.
Other skis that have piqued my interest and could be worth investigating for other skimo orientated folks include the Salomon Mtn Explorer 95 and the La Sportiva Vapor Svelte. La Sportiva is also bringing out the Float next year - weighing in at under 3kg yet sporting a 117 waist. It is undoubtedly an exciting time for skimo exponents, although it will be interesting to see if most gear is aimed at the 'freetouring' market.
For now, I'm pretty happy with the pile of gear I've accumulated. Bring on the season!