Voile Switchback Delivers Versatility in Backcountry Conditions
- Mimimal Icing Issues
- Under powered for fat skis (waist > 95mm)
- Mode switch disappears under snow
If bindings were cars, the Switchback would be a Subaru for it's all round versatility, reliability, and all conditions driveability. It isn't the most powerful binding on the market, but it easily goes where others can't. It doesn't weigh a lot, and it isn't the most expensive. It tracks superbly, uphill and downhill, and if you know how to drive 'er, you can out maneuver higher-powered vehicles.
Like a Subaru, the Switchback is a no frills ride, but well engineered. The toe plate is a hunk of bombproof stainless steel that wraps around your boot in a unitary design with brass bearings for a frictionless pivot. Tele resistance comes from Voile's classic Hardwire cable assembly using solid cable bars and linear compression springs. The heel lever has been optimized to latch with more a solid snap, whether on the top of the heel step, or in the heel groove.
It has enough power to easily control mid-fat skis (85 – 95mm at the waist) then some. I see plenty of folks using the Switchback on fatter skis, but they're also pairing it with bigger boots. I think as soon as your ski gets wider than 100mm underfoot most skiers are better served with a more powerful binding. On the Hammerhead scale it comes in around HH#2.5ish, largely due to side routed cables that deliver a smooth, slow engagement of tele resistance. In soft snow, the sensation is delightful and there's no need for more. On firm snow, just drop low and there will be power enough to hold an edge.
If earning your turns is a priority and dominates your ski time, fat rigs mean bigger boots and wider skins. Which in turn means more surface area for the snow collect, and you end up hauling around over 10 pounds per foot in the skin track. Ugh. At only three pounds per pair, the Switchback is the perfect antidote for the overweight heavy tele blues.
The mode switch is simple, and reliable. A spring loaded metal loop in the front rotates to the right for turns, left for skinning. Just remember "righty tighty, lefty loosey," just like the convention for bolts. It is spring loaded, so it moves super easily and doesn't require much force, though it does take a smidgen of dexterity.
In tour mode the toe plate rotates over 50 degrees by itself. Stick a duckbill in it though and the range of motion is 50+ degrees max. I say 50+ because you always get a degree or three more due to the bellows flex of a tele boot, but the toe plate itself only delivers 50.
Compared to other telemark bindings, it is the least prone to icing. After 200 tours and more than twice as many mode changes I've only had ice prevent switching back to turn mode three times; always in super sticky snow due to snow glamming on to my ski crampon post first, then growing so large it impeded closing the back of the toe plate. The locking tangs always worked so it is debatable that the binding itself iced up.
It does have a slight icing issue that affects range of motion but it's only noticeable when doing a switchback in deep or steep slopes. Here on the wet coast, a bumper of ice builds up under the duckbill about 25 percent of the time, which reduces the range of motion to about 45+ degrees. This has zero effect when simply striding, but is noticeable when making a jack-knife turn and the tip of your ski doesn't flip up as high as you'd like. It's easy enough to knock the ice off with a ski pole tip, but it's faster to adjust your technique when that happens. It doesn't even rate being a complaint - just an observation of the true nature of the limits to man's ingeniousness.
There is much to like about Voile's heel post. It is easily adjusted for position thanks to a mounting channel and when positioned right, your heel lever snaps under it for carrying over your shoulder without the heel cables flopping in the breeze. What most users like is that it comes with two heights of climbing post - high and higher (45mm & 75mm).
If I skied more at a resort, with bigger boots and bigger skis, Switchback might not be my fave binding. For 80% backcountry with low- to mid-fat skis and boots, it's the best there is.
How We Tested It
Voile's Switchback was tested over the course of two years earning turns in the backcountry, and burning 'em in-bounds at various ski resorts in California, Utah, and Washington. For determining the power quotient the Switchback was compared side-by-side - that is with a Switchback on one foot, and a competitive product on the other – to other tele bindings. Many of the differences in telemark bindings are subtle and this is the only reliable way to conclusively notice those differences. Others, like the propensity to ice up, simply take time and many tours to notice how the binding works in a variety of snow conditions.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.
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