Subject: Used Equipment
Answer: No matter how recently you bought your last pair of bindings, your entire release system–boot, binding, and ski–should have a complete in-shop inspection before the start of each season and after every 15 to 30 days of use. This practice is recommended by all equipment suppliers. The advice that follows is intended to motivate you to make that visit and prepare you to communicate effectively with the shop’s staff. For help in finding a shop in your area, check out our SHOP LIST. The shops we’ve listed have, in the last year, sent their staff to the most advanced hands-on training program the ski industry has to offer.

If you can’t remember when you bought your current pair, or you were not the first person to own them, your binding may be a prime candidate for replacement. The staff of your local shop will be able to give you many good reasons to consider the merits of the new bindings on their shelves, including ways many of today’s models influence ski performance. However, even if they succeed, and sell you new equipment, there is still one more decision to be made. What do you do with your current set? Typical choices include: use them for your rock skis, pass them on to a friend or relative, donate them to a swap, nail them to the wall over the hearth, or trash them.

In any case, check your equipment against the criteria that follow and then, if you still have questions, have your shop’s technicians put your equipment through a complete inspection. If your bindings fail, they not only don’t belong on your skis, they don’t belong on anyone’s.

Age is not the most important factor in deciding whether or not your bindings have another year or more left in them, but it is not a bad place to start. Here are some conservative guidelines to get you thinking about the inevitable:

  1. Bindings more than twenty years old are most probably obsolete by design, and should be retired, regardless of condition.
  2. Boots more than eighteen years old may not meet current standards for sole shape and slipperiness and are probably worn out by this time anyway. Therefore boot-binding combinations of this era are often found to be incompatible, requiring the replacement of either boot or binding, or both.
  3. Bindings over fifteen years old probably don’t have many of the low-friction materials and friction compensation devices used in bindings today and therefore may require constant lubrication and care, which in most cases is not practical. Bindings of this era are also likely to be worn out.

Some bindings still in use, regardless of their age, are obsolete by design and should be retired. Following are a few guidelines for identifying these design deficiencies:

  1. Contact points with boot toe (or sole in the toe area) are metal and not low friction plastic. Exception – a binding which does not require the boot to slide with respect to the toe piece until after release.
  2. The sole rest (often called the AFD for Anti Friction Device) is not Teflon or a properly functioning mechanical AFD.
  3. Any toe or heel piece which allows less than 5 mm. of movement of the boot relative to the ski prior to release.
  4. Plate bindings of the 1970s, even if not worn out, are incompatible with modern boots and skiing techniques which can cause these systems to inadvertently release in backward lean.
  5. Any system in which the boot or the plate pivots about a point forward of the middle of the foot. Exception – releasable Telemark systems which allow the boot heel to lift freely.

While the issue of age and design may be cut and dried, our research shows that only about 3-5% of the equipment in use at major ski areas falls into these categories. For most skiers the criterion which decides retirement will be condition–not description–and that will take more than a quick read of the paragraphs above. It will require a trip to your local ski shop.

If you’re fortunate, the shop mechanic will classify your equipment into one of the following two categories:

  • SERVICEABLE – with normal maintenance and recalibration, the equipment can continue to provide useful service.
  • REPAIRABLE – with replacement of parts/components, maintenance, and recalibration the equipment can serve adequately.

RESULT – for a modest fee your equipment can remain in service or if you wish, you can pass your bindings along to a friend, relative, or charity.

If you’re not so lucky you’ll get the bad news. The mechanic has found that your equipment falls into one or both of the following categories:

  • INCOMPATIBLE – the boot and binding do not function together adequately. Replacement of one or both is recommended.
  • WORN OUT – the binding is no longer serviceable or repairable and replacement is recommended.

RESULT – your choice–trash bin or mantle piece.

In making the above assessment, today’s binding mechanic will employ some or all of following diagnostic procedures:

  • ANTI-SHOCK TEST – Displace the boot five to ten mm. off center and check to see if it returns freely. This test is part of every inspection.
  • COMPATIBILITY TEST – Test the release torque, first clean and then after lubricating the contact points between the boot and the binding, to make sure the difference between these tests are small and that the boot and binding are compatible. This is a particularly important test for bindings which are not boot-tolerant, such as toe pieces which contact the boot at only two points and require the boot to slide with respect to the binding during release. This test is conducted if the condition of the boot is in doubt or the binding is well worn, known to be boot intolerant, or unfamiliar to the mechanic.
  • RELEASE INDICATOR VERIFICATION – Compare the release torque with the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure results are within a specified range and the binding is not worn out or otherwise defective. This test is conducted whenever a chart, applicable to the binding, is available.
  • ACCELERATED LIFE CYCLE TEST – We recommended bindings over six years of age or models with a known history of failure be inspected at the top of their release adjustment scale during their annual pre-season inspection. This procedure may precipitate a component failure in the shop where replacement can be made quickly rather than out on the slope where failure may lead to far greater inconvenience. This test is particularly important for all-plastic models which have been stored in an adverse environment. WARNING – be prepared to sign a form acknowledging the risk of breakage implicit in this test.

There is one other category that you may run into–UNSUPPORTED. If the binding has been “orphaned,” meaning the manufacturer is out of business, or if the supplier no longer provides parts, tools, and technical information for that model, it is classified as Unsupported. This classification can greatly limit the types of service the shop is able to provide. But, a well trained technician will still be able to perform an Anti-shock Test and an Accelerated Life Cycle Test

If your equipment fails, the shop will have no choice but to terminate service, at which point your choice for the binding’s future will be between trash barrel and mantle piece. If your equipment passes, the mechanic should be able to recalibrate your bindings based upon your weight, height, age, and skier type, or you can elect to have the settings returned to their original value. However, without appropriate technical information the shop will not be able to conduct all the tests necessary to determine if the system is worn out or the components incompatible. For this reason even a well-trained mechanic in a properly equipped shop may, at some point in the transaction, find it necessary to suspend service until the limitations of the service the shop can provide are explained. If you decide to authorize further service you will probably be asked to sign an acknowledgment of those limitations before the mechanic proceeds.

Another problem you may encounter, even with relatively new equipment, is a shop that is not qualified to service your bindings because it is not a dealer for that brand and therefore the staff may lack the specific training or technical information or tools or parts to do the job adequately. In such cases the employees of a well managed shop will cheerfully pass you on to a shop in the area that can furnish the service. If that is not practical, the technician may agree to proceed, provided (as discussed above) you acknowledge the limitations of the services the shop can perform.

Ski swaps, garage sales, or a relative’s attic are not a good place to begin the equipment selection process. Other people’s outdated equipment can be even more of a hassle than your own. If you are new to skiing or it has been a while since you last skied, check out equipment at your local shop first, or visit one of the many reputable shops which specialize in used equipment. At least then you’ll be better able to recognize a good buy when you see it.

BAG JOBS (and other ways to waste money)
If you carry your bindings to the shop in a paper bag, don’t be surprised if you get them back in the same bag. Likewise, if you bring in an old set of skis and bindings and a new (or new-to-you) set of boots, don’t be surprised if you get the bindings back with the heel pieces moved to the rear of their sole length adjustment tracks, and find all four release settings at the bottom of their range. If you bring in equipment that is not in skiable condition and you refuse to authorize all services the staff determines are necessary to put the system into proper working order, you aren’t going to get it back in any better shape than when you brought it in and you’ll probably get a bill for the work it took to make that determination. To save money, go over the points covered in this FAQ with the shop technician before contracting for service on any well-used or vintage equipment. But don’t expect the staff of a well-managed shop to compromise. When it comes to issues which involve your safety they’ve been trained never to do less than their best.–CFE