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Salomon SHIFT Binding Review: 3 Days, 3 Ways

The kings of slack country are dead. Long live the new king. Or put differently, you’d better pawn your frame bindings at a garage sale this spring because nobody’s gonna want them next winter. There’s a new binding on the block.

Doglotion scored one of the first pairs of Salomon’s new SHIFT S/Lab MNC 13 bindings, and we ain’t giving them back. We haven’t fully put it through the ringers yet, but in an effort to get you some hot intel on the new binding, here’s our first look review.

3 Days, 3 Ways

Day 1 – The Park

We first tried the SHIFT while the Salomon crew was in town, and were treated to refrozen snow with a light sprinkle of rain. So the most natural way to test Salomon’s new backcountry binding was to avoid the backcountry entirely. Instead we shralped stuttery hard-pack and chased Stan Rey through the Terrain Park. It would have been the worst day to be caught in traditional tech bindings, so really it was a great day to test Salomon’s new bindings. Pretty sure we’d have all gone home after the first run if we were on traditional tech bindings, but with some new toys on our feet and Stan’s contagious stoke for butter-3’s off road lips, we managed to milk half a day of fun. Indeed the SHIFT shreds like alpine bindings, but touring was left a mystery so far.

Day 2 – The Slack

On the next test day the resort was punchy and firm, while the lift-accessed backcountry was tasty rideable chalk. This is obviously where the SHIFT is gonna shine. The binding charges hard-pack and resort chop in style, then when you’re over it and want to hit your favourite end-of-day backcountry lap you just press some buttons and the SHIFT magically turns into a tech binding. They’re lighter than big-ass frame bindings (Guardian, Duke, etc) and tour waaaaay better. With tech toe pins at your service, the pivot point feels way more natural and you don’t have to lift the heel piece with every step, so they pretty much put frame bindings to shame.

There’s only one rule in Doglotion gear reviews – if it doesn’t include a tip shot at the top of DOA then did it really happen?

Day 3 – The Way Back

Next up we dragged these new weapons into the real backcountry for a day of no-lift pow chasing off the Duffey Lake Road. Mounted on Salomon’s QST 106 (188cm), the ski/binding combo was way heavier than our dedicated touring rigs like carbon skis and lightweight tech bindings, but it sure as hell was fun stepping into alpine bindings at the top of a backcountry summit. This kind of day will divide users… dedicated backcountry shredders will already have lighter set-ups and don’t need to weigh themselves down with the SHIFT,  while aggressive Free-Mo dudes and skiers getting more into backcountry each year will drool over the chance to bag a peak with something lighter than their frame-binding set up.

Fun place to be standing with alpine skis & bindings on yo’ feet.

How It Works

Oh what a time to be alive. A few years ago who’d have thought we’d get to score a binding that skis as an alpine binding then transmogrifies into a tech binding for climbing?

Basically there’s two levers that allow you to switch the SHIFT’s toe piece between walk mode and ski mode. To switch from ski mode to walk mode, you push the blue walk/ski button down which exposed the tech toe pins. You push and hold the most forward blue walk/ski lever down with your pole, stick your boot inserts in line with the binding’s toe pins, then let go of your pole. Lastly you lock that same toe lever by pulling it up, much like you would in other tech bindings. Then remember to flick the ski/walk mechanism at the heel, so that the brakes lock up and away when you take your first step.

To switch from walk back to ski mode, you press the toe lever lock down again to release your toes, sneak your finger under the other blue walk/ski tab and pull it back up, then push the front walk/ski lever back down flat to the ski to lock it into ski mode. And of course flip the heel mechanism back into ski mode so your brakes are active again. Sounds clunky, but in real life it’s easy to get the hang of it.

Salomon explains: “An adjustable pedal toe is what allows the Shift’s compatibility with all norm boots on the market. Based on the boot you’re using (alpine or touring model), you can adapt the binding to suit your boot via an easy-to-use screw. Then the real innovation begins. By creating an alpine toe piece that integrates pins, the company created the first hybrid binding that delivers ultimate versatility. On the uphill, the pin enables the skier to move efficiently and conveniently by placing the rotation point close to the metatarsal area of the foot and offering a 90-degree range of motion. In addition, a variety of simple manipulations can be used to adapt to terrain changes as the skier climbs.”

“For the downhill, the binding can be switched in seconds from touring mode to ski mode. A lever in the toe is the key to allowing the toe piece to transform from a touring setup to alpine. By lifting the lever up into ski mode, the wings close into a traditional alpine binding shape. Then the skier steps into the binding the same way he/she would to a traditional alpine binding, and with the same confident feeling. The Shift delivers pure freeride performance with regard to power transmission and safety due to the elasticity in the wings that absorbs shock. In fact, the Shift has the same level of shock absorption as the highly regarded STH2 Binding. On the heel piece, a lever switches from touring mode to ski mode in one movement. Even at just 1.7 kg per pair (3.7 lbs), the Shift’s strong combination of carbon-infused PA, steel and aluminum delivers a reliable construction. This is the first time carbon-infused PA has been used in alpine bindings, which helped achieve the strength-to-weight ratio needed in the Shift for both touring and descending. The DIN setting on the S/LAB Shift ranges from 6-13.”

The Review

The Goods

  • Slackcountry quiver killer: So far the SHIFT really stands in a league of it’s own for slackcountry bindings (aka lift-accessed backcountry). It rides the resort like a legit alpine binding, and tours almost as well as traditional tech bindings.
  • Lighter Than Frame Bindings: At 1700g per pair the SHIFT is close to half the weight of Salomon Guardian’s (2960g per pair), and of course you’re not lifting the whole binding every  time you take a step. That’s a big deal over an entire day of climbing and skiing.
  • Easier Than Frame Bindings: The transitions between walk and ski mode are much easier than with frame bindings. Remember how fun it is getting Dukes into tour mode on a sticky pow day? Ya, thought so. The SHIFT’s heel riser is also pretty easy to lift and lower with your ski pole (at least with G3’s Utility Tab on the pole handle), which definitely beats the Duke and Guardian experience.
  • Bomber Toe: Shredding hard with an alpine style toe piece is definitely more inspiring than the something like the Kingpin tech toe. The Kingpin is probably its closest competitor right now but SHIFT trumps it with alpine style retention and release.

Devil’s Advocate & The Picky Stuff

  • Only one heel riser: Unlike most traditional tech bindings the SHIFT only has 1 heel riser setting. You can tour with it flat (well, 2 degrees) or with the heel riser (10 degrees). For slack country touring the high heel riser was totally fine. Most skin tracks out of the resort are steep anyway, and we wouldn’t even be talking about geeky details like this if the binding hadn’t already put the frame bindings to shame. So we gotta compare it to tech bindings on some levels right? For longer backcountry days it’s kind of annoying only having a 10 degree heel riser when you spend 4 hours on a low-angled skin track best suited for the people in front of you who put the skin track in using a lower heel riser on their tech bindings. If low-angled skin tracks and specifics about heel riser heights are your jam, then you are probably too backcountry-granola for this binding anyways, so stick with your lightweight gear. Everyone else keep reading.
  • Finicky toe pins: After getting spoiled with easy entry tech toes like G3’s ION bindings, it was pretty funky trying to step into the SHIFT’s toe in tour mode. Reminiscent of G3’s  old ONYX binding, the SHIFT’s toe defaults to being closed in touring mode. So to step-in for touring mode you have to press and hold the toe lever down with your pole, nudge your boot toe into the right position, and let it close on you. Again, this is so minor for a binding this rad that skis as hard as it does, but we’re mentioning it for the tech binding nerds out there. It’s one example of something you could care less about in the slackcountry but that might bug you for big backcountry antics. I could also guess there might be some snow jamming in the toe on wet pow days, but like any touring binding you’d just have to be mindful of that and clear it out before stepping in.
  • There’s lots of moving parts: Not to say we’ve broken any, or seen any broken, but lots of parts can mean lots of problems. Or maybe not. Lets hope not cause so for these kick ass.
  • Beefy: This one is good and bad. The other guy on the summit was way jealous of these beefy bindings for the descent, but bear in mind they’re almost 300% heavier than the next binding we’re featuring, so again it’s better for slack-back-country than for way-back-country. Or at least, personal preference will dictate how far you walk with these. If you’ve got strong legs and are ready to shred, then give’er.

Here’s a good look at the heel riser in action on a low-angled skin track.

Conclusion

If you want a ripping resort/slackcountry/backcountry setup that does it all, the SHIFT is your baby. Ditch your other bindings and grab some of these when they’re available. Or, if you’ve already got a lightweight touring rig for backcountry but want a better rig for resort and slack country, SHIFT has yo’ back for sure.

If you’re a dedicated backcountry ski tourer or ski mountaineer for whom weight matters, you’re better served to stick with something lighter and a touch more efficient. There’s plenty out there this year and more to come for next year.

If you’re getting into backcountry and upgrading from an alpine or frame binding set-up, SHIFT is good to go.

And most importantly, if you’re all about “bringing the backcountry into the park” like Stan Rey, then this is the binding for you.

*Disclaimer: Doglotion.com is so in bed with the ski industry that we don’t even pretend these are unbiased gear reviews. But we do like spreading the stoke about kick-ass new gear. More to come this season.

We’ll end things off with their promo video until we finish whipping up our own flick from the test days…

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