User Review: Fritschi Vipec 2015-2016 Alpine Touring Binding
The 2015-2016 Vipec is Fritschis’s latest (third) iteration of its tech binding. The DIN 12 Vipec is designed primarily for backcountry touring. As are all tech bindings, the Vipec uses a mechanism where the binder holds the boot only at the toe in walk mode, only engaging the heel when in ski mode.
The previous year 2014-2015 Vipec was already reviewed in Doglotion so this article will be repetitive but notes multiple improvements. All versions of the Vipec are distinguished from other tech bindings in only they have intentional release at the toe. Of the multiple improvements and changes the most noteworthy is that the Vipec is now a true step-in. Simply put the older versions required use of a ski pole to engage the toe lever pincers so that you could step in to the binding. This version does not. Other incremental improvements are further described in the review.
The 2016 – 2017 Vipec is functionally unchanged so this review of the past-season model is still relevant. You can see the Black Diamond workbook for the Vipec here relating that the Vipec comes with different brake sizes (95, 108, 120mm width). The Vipec is available from retailers for a price of $559.95 Ski crampons are an extra $99.95.
About the tester
At just 160 pounds I am not a big guy but do spend 100+ days a season skiing, with most of those days in backcountry. I’ve had 35+ days on the Vipecs with almost all of the days spent in backcountry of Whistler, the Duffey and the B.C. Interior. My skiing is usually in high moisture-content snow. Accordingly, my preference is for bigger skis and relatively stiff boots.
I had the Vipecs mounted on Blizzard ZeroG 108 skis and skied them either with a Dynafit Vulcan or an early prototype Tecnica ZeroG Guide boot.. I’ve had extensive experiences on tech bindings including earlier Vipecs and various other tech offerings. If you have questions about one versus the other, please ask in the comments.
Specifications and Features – improvements
Certain things about the Vipec remain unchanged. As mentioned, its unique distinguishing feature includes laterally adjustable release at the toe piece. . Vipecs use a vertically-releasing heelpiece that glides back & forth on a platform. The heel piece has almost no gap between boot heel and binding heel-piece but does not have true forward pressure in that the heelpiece held against the boot by a spring.
The 2015-2016 Vipecs are also commonly referred to as the Black versions and weigh 618g with the supplied 110mm brakes. Heel pieces are still the same weight compared to the previous years 2015-2016 version. Toepieces gained 20g of weight due to more metal being added to the toepiece, and a longer spring being incorporated. Other binding weights can be found here.
1. Ease of getting into toe piece
A glaring issue with the previous generation of Vipecs was the need to depress the toe lever (and keep it continually depressed) to open the toejaws open. This is a major pain in the ass especially when trying to put skis on a slope. Not only are the toe jaws functionally improved so they stay open without need for continual intervention once the toe lever is depressed they are now also held open wider so it’s quite a bit easier to step in.
Here are some measurements. Dynafit toe inserts are spaced (measured on a Dynafit Vulcan) at 65mm. The binding opening on the Black Vipec (stays open without needing pole to hold the toe lever down) is 70 mm; lots of space. The binding opening of the white Vipec of previous years was 63mm (with the toe lever flipped up) and 68mm (with the toe lever held open with a pole). Numbers don’t lie and explain the frustration some may have had with older Vipecs . For the record, the binding opening of a Dynafit Comfort is 68mm.
The wire bail of older Vipecs is replaced by a lever ostensibly so there’s more of a target for a boot to hit when getting into the toepiece. Personally I didn’t find this feature to either add or subtract from ease of getting into the toe piece.
2. Walk mode spring is stronger
The Black Vipecs walk mode spring has been beefed up so it is stronger. The walk mode indeed does close with a satisfying ka-chunk. Practically speaking what this means is that you don’t have to lift the toe lever up to “lock” the toe when in tour mode; something that you did have to do with the older iterations of the Vipec.
This should mean that you will have some release capability at the toe while in touring mode so your ski will be more likely to release in the event of an avalanche. I haven’t tested that feature (and don’t intend to do so) so have no impressions about added safety. Having said that, this seems like quite a worthwhile safety feature
3. Spring controlling lateral toe release is stronger
The separate spring controlling toe release is also longer and stronger. Theoretically this should mean that the lateral toe release is more consistent. I didn’t have issues with consistent toe release in earlier Vipec versions so mention this only as part of the marketing literature which mentions “more elasticity and better retention”
4. Wider support in heelpiece climbing aid
In some cases it was possible to actually lever the climbing aid of older Vipec heelpiece free of their supports if one torqued too hard especially if using both climbing risers. The Black Vipecs heelpiece has wider supports supposedly to help prevent that from happening.
Speaking as to my own impressions it’s been possible to actually force both the older and newest Vipec heelpiece riser to twist hard enough so that the highest heelpiece becomes disengaged from the middle riser. This has only happened on firm steep skintracks. While it’s an easy fix (warm room, some big levers and some prying will get the risers to fit together again) it does happen. It’s worthwhile pointing out that some armchair quarterbacks have commented that the Vipec “looks” fragile because it uses so much plastic. My experience of the Vipec is that it has been a bombproof binding with the exception of this minimal heelpiece riser issue – an issue that probably occurs because it’s possible to twist plastic hard enough so that one riser becomes disengaged from the other.
The Bottom Line
Stepping in to and using the Vipec – video courtesy of Fritschi along with other videos
With the 2015-2016 Black Vipec, Fritschi took a touring binding that skied pretty much flawlessly on the down and was quirky for touring and made it much much better. The Black Vipec is a wonderful performer on the down. Release is consistent. One feels secure even on hardpack with a connected feeling. To plagiarize my own past review “”I speculate here, but the secure connection of the heel-boot interface results in a very solid feel when skiing downhill, particularly on hardpack. Gone is the vagueness of Dynafits (no doubt attributable in large part to the heel binding gap) and the constant feeling that one is going to explode off the skis. Anecdotally, I had gone full speed from a soft-snow run into icy moguls again at full speed (didn’t see them; I should have been paying attention!). My skis stayed on my feet and the binding connection felt solid. On Dynafits, I would have either rattled out my fillings or double-ejected. On another run inbounds, I subjected the Vipecs to a mogulled flatlight run trying to land on the backside of other moguls. While totally mistiming everything, I compressed into a mogul frontside and then proceeded to fold my legs and fall onto my back and slide downhill a few meters. Again, no pre-release!”
More importantly the Vipec is now true step-in. The fiddle factor is radically decreased with the improvements mentioned in this article. There are still hangups of course. The toepiece is prone to being jammed with snow and ice (but this is true of all tech bindings. When new the brakes don’t always deploy; something I attribute to the tolerances of the binding being a tad too tight. To take care of this issue I filed some of the plastic edges that caught the metal of the brake arms preventing them from deploying. I’m sure the interfaces would have worn in over time but I prefered to have brakes that deploy.