A year after SNEWS® first learned G3 was developing an alpine touring (AT) binding, the company is now ready to start taking orders for the Onyx at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2009. As expected, the Onyx works with Tech-compatible AT boots with fittings at the toe and heel. Tech-compatible is the industry terminology now being used to generically refer to the Dynafit binding system.
When the binding was first acknowledged, Oliver Steffen, president of G3, declined to reveal specific details, but hinted at Dynafit compatibility when he told SNEWS: "Take all the best stuff out there, then cherry pick and cobble together your dream binding and you'll probably come out pretty close. You're really going to want to tour on it."
That comment led to speculation that G3's binding would have a Tech-compatible toe, with the heel piece left to the imagination. It was also evident that G3 needed to address Dynafit's shortcomings, such as the ease of latching in and changing from downhill to tour mode without having to exit the binding. Both are possible with Dynafit, but not easily accomplished.
G3's Onyx is a fresh implementation of the Tech concept designed specifically to make it easier to latch in and change modes on the fly. The G3 uses pincer arms that clamp on to the Tech fittings in the toe of the boot like the Dynafit. The toe piece of the Onyx defaults to a closed position and users press a lever with their ski pole in front to open it slightly to slide the boot in and then release the lever to latch the boot in the binding. This feature solves the problem encountered with the Dynafit system that locks open much wider than the Onyx, requiring the user to carefully align the pins and dimples before latching in -- a source of frustration voiced by some users.
The most obvious improvement the Onyx offers is in the heel unit. Switching between ski (locked heel) and touring (free heel) mode can all be done with a ski pole. This is accomplished when users press down on the rear most black lever and the heel unit retracts away from their boot. To add heel lift, two plastic bales are flipped forward with the ski pole for moderate or aggressive skinning angles. Reversing the process of each puts users back in ski mode without ever having to take their skis off. By contrast, to change modes with Dynafit usually means exiting the binding.
The Onyx is about half a pound more per binding when compared to Dynafit's Vertical ST -- its most popular binding. However, compared to much heavier alpine-style bindings, the Onyx is clearly in the "light is right" category and almost 3 pounds lighter than the popular but heavier Marker Duke. The retail price is especially competitive at $400.
Retailers take note: Perhaps the most compelling feature of the Onyx -- besides price and ease of use -- is a mounting plate system that makes swapping bindings between skis simple and easy. More importantly, though, it provides a 33 mm range of adjustment that allows for changing three to four sizes without remounting the bindings -- a handy feature for a rental program which could boost sales of Tech-compatible boots.
SNEWS® View: The Onyx has several other distinctions worth noting and can be checked out at www.g3onyx.com. Keep in mind this report is based on conversations with G3 and perusing their impressive online presentation. We have zero experience with this binding in the field, so the usual cautions about new products must apply. SNEWS will offer a full review of the binding once we get some quality snow time with it.
Although beefy AT bindings account for the majority of sales, Dynafit has steadily grown market share as experienced users awaken to the weight factor -- heavier is not necessarily better. With that awareness, G3's entrance into the AT realm with a Tech-compatible binding should increase that trend toward opting for lighter-weight bindings, and further fuel growth in the backcountry touring category. Naturally, G3 also hopes this leads to a resurgence of interest in G3 products.