In April 2017 my dogs and I were hauling supplies up Møysal glacier for a backcountry ski expedition camp that I was supposed to guard while they’d be out on day trips. The day before the tour started I was busy bringing up supplies and while I was on my way up the moraine, taking each of the 2 sleds separately towards the glacier, my team and I bummed into 2 ski expedition lads, from Australia, as they told me. While we did some chatting I noticed their ski bindings and their hats. Since I heard a few weeks prior about a company from Australia with a ski binding system like theirs, I asked if they get sponsored by “Ice-Trek”? The response made me laugh as Eric responded with a smile: “I am the one who designs them!”. I told him I´d contact him within the next days, because I was highly interested in using them. About a week later I was skiing next to my team on the Flexi “Plateau“ binding, since he had them still in stock up here. A year later I went over to the “Vintro”. Interesting how things work out sometimes and that’s what I like on Svalbard and arctic traveling. It´s a small world!
The Flexi binding system comes in 4 versions, but with the same concept. Being able to use any cold-weather boot system with a reliable binding to ski in any cold weather conditions. The base plate, as well as most additional binding parts are made out of high grade Polyethylene (my sled runners are made of similar plastic, made by a different company, and have the signature “HD-PE-1000”). Nice touch – one of the snow- and weight-cut holes is cut like an arrow pointing outwards to indicate the left or right ski. Although the plates set your foot slightly outwards, it sure helps the longer you are out and more tired you get, to have some additional help.
Mounting the binding centered on the ski is rather easy and even gets explained via a video description and an additional paper version, which also explains the “Ultima Multi-Shim” system. Which, in short, enables you to move the boot plate and heel plate left or right on the ski to eliminate ankle role. The aluminum cage fits well and includes a heel locator on the bottom, to eliminate torsion. While the whole binding comes in Regular and Wide sizing, you can adapt the fit with spacer, additionally. The Regular size works perfect for the Steger Mukluks around size 12DW. The aluminum logo-plate tops the system up with 4 solid screws, sitting closer together to enable a wide range of Multi-Shim-adjustments (unfortunately that can also cause the aluminum plate edges to bend a little bit on hard impact which happened with one of my guests´ skis – not a big problem, but worth mentioning – see below).
Starting with the binding width attached to the ski, you really have to go for a broad waist ski (advertised is a 45mm minimum waist width and I think that is, even in really soft snow conditions, too narrow, unless you have a plane surface with nothing you can get hooked in with the overlapping binding base). My choice is the Fischer S-bound 112 with a waist width of 79. After using the binding on my Åsnes Combat (62 waist width) and numerous close falls, because i got stuck with the base plate edges in ice rails made by snow scooters, I decided I will use a ski that compliments the binding width and not create any overlap on which i can get stuck on. That said, going cross country skiing with a Backcountry ski comes with disadvantages. It requires getting used to and weighs heavier on your feet. Additionally, you may notice that a Backcountry ski has more sidecut, than an Expedition/Mountain ski such as the Åsnes Amundsen, for example. The Amundsen is known for being most peoples´ choice for polar expeditions and is very stable in his track, or straight. Some people can´t cope well even with a slight sidecut and that will lead them to slight out with the tip, including me and my guests. Especially in conditions other than deeper snow. However, you will notice a more stable standing on a broader ski.
The interesting part on the binding system is the diversity – if you ignore the fact that it is the most durable and diverse binding system, allowing a wide range of boots to be used with. One base plate, but 3 options to adapt it to your needs and preferences.
I don’t count the “Plateau” in, since it is based on a slightly different base plate with a different strapping method and clearly has more advantages for hunting ski purposes, with a slightly more narrow standing it is more suited for regular cold weather boots or hunting boots and would make for a silent travel through Scandinavian forest for Lynx or Ptarmigan hunting. The color coded ropes on the bindings are a nice touch for left and right identification! Eric has used them with his tour guests in tough conditions hauling sleds, too. So they can do a lot.
While the “Vintro” comes with a webbing based strapping system, which is obviously great for cold temperature use. The other 2 systems come with a ratchet buckle system. I tested the “Paramark”, with the ankle cuff. The promised benefits were more ankle support. It did exactly it. I felt comfortable with them, but unfortunately, in combination with my Steger Mukluks, which is a very soft boot, not only me, but also my guests, developed blisters in the ankle area right away. The ratchet buckle system is a question of preference. I found you can tighten the boot much better – on soft boots even over tighten the fit. It is a bit more flimsy to open, or close, and given that I work with dogs and sometimes I have to get out of the bindings fast, I felt it a disadvantage. Therefore I didn´t look at the “Sinchi” system, which is a ratchet buckle version only. I can see the use with stiffer boots though, as you definitely get a tighter fit – webbing always has some flex in it. But for extreme cold temperatures the go-to should always be the “Vintro” system, even though an inside rubbing between the ski bindings can cause the webbing to wear out quicker. The strap to close the binding has a nice length and is easy to use and adjust with big mittens on. The no-hands-required-just-a-ski-pole opening setting with an additional rope on the strap buckles is really great. The rope could have a little tighter loop attachment to the buckle though, since it didn´t center sometimes and made it hard to open the buckle – easy fix with a slip knot instead of a metal clamp, IMO. Luxury problem! Icing up is nor problem as long as you open and close the strap buckles a few times while the water is freezing around your boot and binding.
“Flexi Vintro is engineered to withstand the most brutal ski expedition on Earth, a North Pole full-length expedition. It’ll do that, over and over and over.”
I couldn’t agree more. I´d add that those bindings withstand a brutal beating by me and my guests going out on trips with my dogs. There is a difference between going on a ski expedition and drag your own sled in your own pace, or skiing next to a dog sled. Next to a team your job is to keep a matching speed, look at the team, look ahead for the route and adjust it via voice command and make sure you stay upright, since you are additionally attached to the sled via rope… The skis and the bindings get a nasty beating as well as the ski poles. Getting smashed on the Sled, skis getting trapped under the sled runners, speeds about 8-11km/h with fast response movements. Tripping, falling which all includes heavy beating on a binding like that. It takes it all and I would go out with nothing else, since I am confident they will do all that and more. In combination with Steger Mukluks I am more than happy on Svalbard. In wet conditions some Neos and I will be fine.