2019 Salomon S/Lab Shift AT Ski Binding Review: Welcome to the Future // Ski Reviews
It's here! The long awaited Salomon S/Lab Shift AT binding has been announced and we've been lucky enough to get our hands on a few pairs for some early testing. If you're unfamiliar with the Shift binding it essentially marks a new option for alpine touring enthusiasts. Cody Townsend, one of Salomon's longest running athletes and a skier known for his powerful big mountain skiing went to the Salomon R&D department and said to them, "If you can make a pin binding that tours like a pin binding, but skis like a normal binding, that's the holy grail. That's the dream." And guess what? They did exactly that.
The S/Lab Shift AT bindings blend the uphill efficiency of a tech fit, pin binding with the downhill performance of an alpine binding. How do they do it? The S/Lab Shift is essentially two bindings in one. Both the toe piece and heel piece essentially transform from a touring binding to an alpine binding, and do so quickly and easily at that. The toe of the binding uses a level that allows you to switch between alpine and touring. When you're in alpine mode the toe piece is essentially further back on the ski. The toe wings are inspired by the STH2 and the S/Lab Shift matches its impressive elastic travel figures in the toe coming in at a whopping 47 mm. As the toe piece is positioned further back it allows you to click in to the alpine style heel piece and you're then fully protected with a safe, DIN certified, multi-norm compatible binding. It's designed to give you the same power transfer as a full on alpine binding.
For touring you simply flip a lever in the toe piece and it moves the toe piece up the ski and exposes pin tech fittings. The whole system works really well. You flip another lever on the heel piece, push another little lever to open the pins, secure yourself in the toe piece, step down onto the heel piece and it fully locks the brake in an upright position. You're then ready to go touring! It's a very impressive design and marks a significant change in the available bindings for AT skiers. The long running demand has been a binding that tours well, but doesn't compromise downhill performance. We are, perhaps, finally there.
We've had quite a few days on the S/Lab Shift binding so far and we've skied it on lift service alpine days as well as some touring excursions. It really does change the way you think about and can ski an AT binding. In fact, even calling it an AT binding doesn't seem fair. It's really an alpine binding with touring capabilities. There's never been anything before quite like it and we think that's the best way to describe it.
Our first day on the S/Lab Shift was spent skiing lift service runs at Stowe Mountain Resort. It's somewhat nerve-wracking skiing a brand new binding, especially one that's so different than anything we've been on before. I think the natural response to Salomon saying it skis like an alpine binding is something like, "yeah, okay, I'll see for myself." Admittedly that most accurately describes our mind set before our first run. We really didn't know what to expect. I was hesitant on it at first, but it only took about 5-10 turns before I realized the hype is true. It really does feel like an alpine binding. It feels solid, doesn't feel like it's going to prerelease, and transfers power from your boot to the ski really efficiently. It's a confidence inspiring binding once you learn to trust it, and you can take it from us that you really can trust it.
As a touring binding it's lighter than a frame binding and feels very efficient uphill. It's not as light as most tech fit pin bindings, but they can't even come close to matching the downhill performance and safety of the S/Lab Shift. It's really easy to switch the binding from alpine mode to touring mode too. It does require the use of your hands, and some people have brought up concerns that it might be challenging or annoying on really cold days, but we did some touring on a -15 degree day in Northern Vermont with strong winds and blowing snow. While we did have to take our mittens off to adjust the binding, it didn't stick, wasn't stiff from the cold, and was quick and easy to perform.
Let's compare it directly to both a tech fit pin system and a frame style AT binding. The big difference between the S/Lab Shift and a traditional tech fit binding is downhill performance and safety, with safety being a big one in our mind. It has consistent release, just like a Salomon alpine binding, which really allows you to ski confidently and aggressively. Marcus, one of our testers on the S/Lab Shift, really thought it changed the way he skied an AT binding. Marcus spends a lot of time on tech fit bindings, including the Marker Kingpin which is an obvious comparison, and he feels the S/Lab Shift drastically outperforms them and gives you a sense of confidence that's just not there on other AT bindings. The Marker Kingpin is close, but even that binding doesn't match the feel of the S/Lab Shift when you're descending. On the Kingpin, although it's safer than most tech fit bindings, you're still connected via pins when you're skiing down. Being able to click into a full DIN certified alpine binding is a pretty amazing accomplishment for a binding this light.
Which brings us to the comparison to a frame touring binding. There are a couple key differences here: weight and flex. The S/Lab Shift is much lighter than comparable frame bindings. The S/Lab Shift comes in at 1,700 g per pair while the Guardian 13 is 2,920 g, the Baron is 2,750 g, and even the lighter F12 Tour is 2,204 g. For ascending that's obviously hugely important. A pin system binding is also just smoother and more efficient going uphill. Essentially you'll get to the top a lot quicker and easier on the S/Lab Shift compared to any frame binding, which gives you more energy for ripping it up on the way back down. The other major difference is flex. A frame binding can hinder the natural flex of a ski, especially right underfoot. A lot of people describe it as a dead spot under foot. It does change the way a ski feels and the S/Lab Shift really lets you get the full performance out of a ski, like a dedicated alpine binding would. The other benefit to the S/Lab Shift compared to a frame binding is stand height. A frame binding really lifts you off the ski, which again changes the overall feel. On the S/Lab Shift you're sitting nice and close to the ski, which translates to a great connection to the snow and a very balanced feel.
So, who's the S/Lab Shift binding intended for? Well, to be honest, we think it's going to be a great option for a lot of different skiers. In fact, it probably hits a wider range of skiers than any AT binding ever has. Perhaps the most obvious group of skiers is those that really demand the performance and safety of a downhill binding on the way down. These skiers have basically been forced to ski frame touring bindings, or (say it ain't so) alpine trekkers. Some found the Kingpin had the performance they were after, but others still really were demanding the feel of a downhill binding. If you're touring in order to hit cliffs, backcountry jumps, fly down open faces at high speeds, or other types of skiing that demand efficient power transfer and safety out of a binding, you likely know what I mean. Those Cody Townsend types. On the other hand, remember that we think this is best described as an alpine binding with touring capabilities. Because of that we think it's a great choice for skiers that don't tour very often. You can literally have one pair of skis that you can ski both at the resort and in the backcountry. As long as you have a binding with tech fittings, you're good to go. The S/Lab Shift is multi-norm compatible, so will even accept different style boot soles.
Even skiers who have been committed to tech fit bindings may decide to make a switch to the S/Lab Shift for that extra downhill performance. Why? Because now they're not sacrificing nearly as much weight as they were before. The S/Lab Shift is less than 200 g heavier than the Kingpin 13, and about 500 g heavier than the Dynafit Rotation 10. That's really not that much, so we wouldn't be surprised if some skiers who swore by full on tech fit setups make a switch to the S/Lab Shift.
Whatever type of skier you are you can benefit from this binding. It really does mark a change in the options for AT bindings. It hits a broad range of skiers, has excellent performance both on the uphills and downhills, and we are genuinely impressed. We're going to keep skiing it throughout the season, so if anything changes in our opinion we will certainly let you know, but so far so good on the new S/Lab Shift and there's already buzz around the office about what skis we want to put them on and how many of us are going to pick up a pair of our own.