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Let's talk about ski bindings

Let's talk about ski bindings ? Haven't we done that before? Yes but it's a key element – perhaps THE key element in your skiing safety.

So, you went skiing this season, and you either came back sound or injured. Probably sound, and I certainly hope so. Maybe you didn't fall at all. Maybe you fell but didn't get hurt. Maybe you fell, your skis detached and you didn't get hurt.

Maybe you fell, your skis did not detach and you still didn't get hurt. Excellent piece of luck – because in any of these eventualities and especially the last one, that's all that separated you from being injured: luck. None of them instruct us or tell us anything significant.

Once a fall or an accident starts to happen, as you know it happens fast; too fast for us to do anything about it. We're in the lap of the Gods. It's all over before you know it. That's why the international ski industry has gone to such lengths to standardise the way ski bindings work.

Different makes and models may LOOK different but they do the same job

Ski bindings come in a wide variety of brands, shapes, sizes, and best in all colours (got to get your priorities right!). But they all do the same thing – up to certain levels of incoming load - a certain number of kilograms of pressure from a certain direction - they hold our skis onto our ski boots.

Once the desired load is programmed into them, via their various adjustments, they spring open and detach the ski from the ski boot. They do this because experience has shown that this will be the less dangerous option. If they stay attached at too high a loading the skis will flail about like helicopter blades with you feet attached, and will do unspeakable things to your knee joints and much else.

While the fall you are experiencing may be inherently dangerous, the outcome in these circumstances is likely to be less bad than otherwise. Below those loading/pressure settings it will be probably less dangerous to have your skis stay attached - Probably – falls are probabilistic situations, there are no certainties: we are simply trying to improve the odds.

Same loading, same action

Internationally all ski bindings must perform in the same way, when loaded in the same way. This is why your ski shop technician will demand to know your height, your weight, the length of sole of your ski boots, and crucially an honest answer to the question – how do you intend to ski?

Once again this is probabilistic, it's an attempt to grade the settings in accordance with whether or not you ski very gently on gentle slopes, whether you ski hard and fast on tough ones, or whether you're somewhere about half-way in between.

So it's an approximation, but it is absolutely essential and has been tested many times in law, that you answer this question honestly. The technician's settings of the ski bindings will take your answer into account. If they are too high, and you get injured, and you answered his question inappropriately, you'll have a tough time claiming your injury is their fault.

Why height, weight and boot sole length?

When we fall we become a lever. We're attached to the ski at one point along its length, up until detachment. Until that detachment our fall will cause us to pivot around that point. This might be dead in line with the ski's length if we pitch purely forward or rearward; or there might well be a twisting moment involved.

In any event the amount of force applied to the ski binding and which it has to interpret and respond to, will be affected by how long we are as a lever (height); how much force we help to apply through our weight; and how long a lever we are standing on (our boot sole).

All this of course in addition to how fast we're skiing, how steep the slope, how much lateral force delivered by the arc we are describing, whether or not we hit a small bump or hollow at the same time – and a large array of other variables. (Makes you wonder why we do it, really!)

So – pretty important stuff. Always approximate, always a bit of “fuzzy” engineering, but always intended to minimise any risk of damage or actual damage done.


If you don't know what you're doing, leave it to the expert technician. But make sure he asks you ALL the right questions! If he/she is a bit “pushed” for time, with too many skiers waiting to be served, there is the risk that short cuts will be taken.

A quick look at you, a bit of guess at what you might weigh; another guess at your rough height. Never mind the boots it'll be OK, slap on the usual setting and send you packing with a smile and hope of an enjoyable week. Not good enough! And it does happen. I'm not saying all the time or even frequently, but once might be once too often.

For all these, and a lot of other reasons I cannot stress too strongly that you go to the trouble of establishing what your binding setting ought to be, for your dimensions and the kind of skiing you'll do. The industry has standardised charts, readily available, which you can get access to (on the internet, or better by discussion with your ski shop). They will enable you to give yourself the best chance of avoiding injury.

Go to the trouble, it's worth it. Learn to understand your bindings – your ski bindings are your first line of defence.

Stay safe during these times of uncertainty and stay happy until we can ski again!

Bob Trueman.

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