The importance of choosing the correct ski bindings is often overlooked, but they are the only things holding your boots to your skis while skiing. Picking the proper binding is essential to safe skiing. Performance differences between models could mean the difference between a good and great ski setup.
The number one rule of ski bindings is do not attempt to adjust or mount them yourself. Always take bindings to a professional ski shop for service!
Step 1: Determine Type of Ski Bindings
There are different types of ski bindings depending on your use case. For example, many ski bindings are "systems" that are sold and only compatible with a certain ski. If you bought a system ski, great! You can stop reading here. If your ski was sold flat or you are looking to replace bindings on your flat ski, keep reading.
Regular alpine bindings are most likely what you are looking for. They are bindings for normal everyday skiing.
Alpine touring bindings allow skiers to free their heels to hike uphill on skis then secure their heels for a normal skiing decent. This category of bindings features dedicated pin tech bindings (i.e. Marker Kingpin) and hybrid bindings (i.e. Atomic Shift) that require special boots with tech inserts to use. There are also frame bindings available that work with most boots that have a DIN or GripWalk sole.
Race bindings are made to go on narrow race skis. Many of these race skis have predrilled hole patterns that are only compatible with a limited number of bindings. For example, Volkl RaceTigers must use Marker Race bindings while Head race skis must use Head/Tyrolia race bindings.
Step 2: Determine Brake Size
Ski brakes are the little wings that hang off the side of the skis when you are not skiing and retract when your boot is in the binding. They are there to stop the ski from sliding when you get out of the bindings (intentionally or unintentionally). You want to pick a brake that is not more narrow than your skis width but not too much larger than it either (max of 15 mm larger than the skis' width).
Purchasing too narrow of a brake will mean it will not function properly. Too wide of a brake runs the risk of getting caught in the snow while turning.
Step 3: Proper DIN Range
The DIN setting of a binding is determined by a combination of many factors (height, weight, age, aggressiveness level, and ski boot sole length) that sets the spring to the proper release level in the heels and toes. For best functionality, you want your DIN setting to be near the middle of the chosen bindings DIN range. Just because a binding can be set to a 13 for example, does not mean it should be set there. A comparison could be to a speedometer on a car, just because your car can go 160 mph does not mean it is good for the performance of the engine.
As a rule of thumb, most female skiers will want bindings with a max DIN setting no less than 11; for males 13 is generally the baseline. Skiers that are heavier or tend to be more aggressive will want a higher max DIN. Generally, the higher the DIN, the better quality of the overall components in the binding (more on that below).
Your DIN setting will be calculated by the ski shop adjusting your bindings. You can find your approximate DIN using this calculator.
Step 4: Ski Boot Compatibility
To ensure safe skiing, your bindings must be compatible with your boot sole. Almost all bindings (except pin alpine touring) work with DIN or Alpine soles. Bindings that are GripWalk compatible work with DIN and GripWalk soles. The most universal are Multi-Norm Compatible (MNC) bindings. These work with DIN, GripWalk, Walk to Ride, and compliant alpine touring soles.
Most bindings on the market today are at least GripWalk compatible and many of the popular bindings are also MNC.
There is also a difference between bindings intended to work with children's boots and those that work with adult boots.
Step 5: Other Factors to Consider
Quality: Bindings built with more metal parts will generally outlast and outperform their plastic counterparts. Usually bindings with higher max DIN settings will be built with more metal and therefore, more durable.
Elastic Range of Motion: Even the best skiers fall sometimes. During certain types of falls, ski bindings are supposed to release to avoid injury. We like to think of elastic range of motion as the "wiggle room" between when the bindings start to release during an impending fall vs. when they eject the boot from the binding.
The more elastic range of motion, the greater the chance you can "save" yourself from falling and the ski from ejecting. Vertical elasticity refers to the height in the heel the binding will move before ejecting while horizontal elasticity is measured in the toe. Many expert skiers like more elastic range of motion in their bindings.
Ease of Entry: Some bindings are easier to get into than others. Lighter weight skiers or those with knee issues may prefer a binding that is easy to get into.
Special Heel Designs: Companies continue to innovate to make bindings safer. Some heel designs have been created to release from the heel adding an additional release dimension not found on common bindings. Others have a twisting heel changing the point of rotation for a more natural horizontal release.
Weight: Many skiers seek lighter weight bindings to pair with lighter skis not only for on hill performance, but making it easier getting to and from the resort.