Ski bindings are very important; after all, they connect ski boots to skis. The best ski bindings maximize your skiing versatility, range of motion, and control so you can master all the conditions on the mountain. Rental packages include them, and you can always use those, but curated bindings give you power, control, and a big confidence boost.
There are several ski binding types, each catering to a different type of skier. Rental bindings are heavy, clunky, and inflexible but easy to adjust, which is perfect for a rental that sees many feet. However, once you branch out and buy your own skis, binding type, compatibility, and design will have a big influence on your decision.
What Are Ski Bindings?
Ski bindings lock your boots to a pair of skis. Without them, there would be nothing holding your boots in place. They usually consist of two pieces (heel & toe) and also come in several varieties. The most common are alpine ski bindings (also called resort bindings), pin bindings (also called tech bindings), and hybrid bindings.
What Are The Different Parts Of A Ski Binding?
Let’s break down what makes a ski binding a ski binding.
This part of the binding is static. Once it's drilled into your skis, it’s not moving. The toe piece is an anchor that holds the front of your boot in place. It looks different on some backcountry skiing setups but its function is the same. However, your heel can still slip out, which is why there’s a heel piece.
This piece is larger than the toe piece and serves several functions. The biggest is that it provides a pad for your heels to step into. With enough force, the spring-loaded pad compresses. When the pad is compressed, the back of the heel piece grabs a plastic lip on your boots and locks it all into place. You’ll hear a click when it's set.
Brakes consist of two metal arms with plastic tips. The brake arms, when deployed, point below your skis, impact the snow, and stop your skis from running downhill when you're not using them. They’re only deployed when you are NOT clipped in. When you clip into your bindings, the metal arms rise up and fold behind the ski, allowing you to ski.
Brakes are required at an overwhelming majority of ski resorts. The brake size needs to be at least 5 mm wider than your ski width underfoot, or they won’t work right.
A DIN range (or retention range) measures how much force can be applied to the binding before it releases your ski boots. If your ski bindings don't have a release setting, your skis and bindings will remain attached to your boots after every fall. Any twist of your leg while wearing all that heavy gear could result in a serious injury.
Every binding has a recommended DIN setting. When mounting your skis, stay within the retention range unless you're skiing at an expert ability level. If none of that makes sense, have a ski tech mount your skis. Below, we’ve included some typical DIN setting range based on your style and ability.
- Beginners: DIN 0.75-4.5. Skiers who are just starting out prefer typically lighter settings because they ski at a gentler pace.
- Intermediate: DIN 3-10. This range is perfect for people who are comfortable on blue or black diamond runs but don’t ski very aggressively.
- Advanced: DIN 3-10. This range is for skiers who tackle most ski resort terrain and ski at a faster pace all over the mountain.
- Expert: DIN 8-18. This range is for aggressive skiers who tackle the toughest slopes on the mountain and dabble in the terrain park. Many professional skiers set their DIN range here.
- Racer or Freestyle: DIN 10-20+. This is the maximum range and reserved for extreme freestyle maneuvers that exert a lot of force on bindings while preventing the release setting from triggering.
Types Of Ski Bindings
There are several major types of ski bindings for downhill skiing: alpine ski bindings, pin/tech bindings, frame bindings, and hybrid bindings.
Generally, alpine ski bindings have two defined pieces (heel and toe). Sometimes, they are separate. Sometimes, the two pieces are connected by a frame. The frame usually appears on rental bindings (also called demo bindings), and the heel piece adjusts along the frame to increase/decrease the size.
Backcountry bindings come in several varieties. The first is a frame binding, which is an older backcountry binding. They look a lot like rental resort bindings, but the heel piece unlocks from the frame and rises for uphill travel. Alpine ski bindings & backcountry bindings with frames are much heavier than those without.
Ski Touring Bindings
For longer tours, skiers use pin/tech bindings, which work with a separate heel and toe piece. The toe piece has two pins that snap into grooves on the boot and tighten down. The minimal connection grants a lot of movement freedom for longer backcountry jaunts. The heel piece works the same and grips the boot on the downhill while releasing it for the uphill.
Recently a hybrid category has emerged. Hybrid bindings include the popular MNC, Gripwalk, and Sole.ID varieties. These types of bindings strive to deliver the maneuverability of tech/pin bindings while providing the sturdy support of frame bindings.
Ski Boot Compatibility
Compatible bindings need to pair with compatible boots, or they won't work. With several varieties of bindings and ski boot standards, it can get a bit confusing. For more information, check out our backcountry ski boots guide.
Standards are set by the ISO (International Standards Organization). There are 5 binding types that the ISO recognizes. There are also some non-compliant tech bindings out there.
- Alpine bindings, a.k.a. resort bindings (ISO 9462): Resort/alpine bindings only work with resort boots (ISO 5355) unless it specifically states that it can work with MNC or Gripwalk.
- Touring bindings (ISO 13992): Bindings set to this standard work well with touring boots (ISO 9523). Tech inserts may need to be purchased separately. This is a backcountry skiing category that includes frame bindings, hybrid bindings, and some tech bindings, but not all.
- MNC (Multi-norm compatible): This is a hybrid category of bindings developed and used by Salomon, Atomic, and Armada. MNC bindings can work with several ski boot types, including resort/alpine boots (ISO 5355), touring boots (ISO 9523), and Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223). They DO NOT work with non-ISO-compliant boots.
- Sole.ID: Developed by manufacturer Marker as a versatile platform, Sole.ID works with resort (ISO 5355), touring (ISO 9523), and Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223). It’s similar to the MNC bindings, but if a boot is MNC compatible, it may not be Sole.ID compatible. They DO NOT work with non-ISO-compliant boots.
- GripWalk Bindings: Will work with any Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223) boots and any resort/alpine boots (ISO 5355). They won’t work well with anything else.
- Pin/Tech Bindings: Some lightweight pin/tech bindings are not ISO compliant. They’re versatile and slay on the uphills but don’t provide the downhill support of other bindings. They can work with any boot that accepts tech inserts. Most alpine boots and some touring boot models don’t, however. In that case, these will NOT work.
What If I Cross-country Or Telemark Ski?
If you’re a cross-country skier, you’ll need different gear. Check out our best cross-country skis guide for more info.
You'll also need cross-country ski bindings. Look for NNN bindings (New Nordic Norm), SNS bindings (Salomon Nordic System), or a three-pin system. Like above, not everything works together. Make sure your skis & bindings are compatible.
Telemark skiing is a type of downhill skiing with specific boots and bindings. You need to look for one of two standards of telemark bindings. The classic telemark binding is called 75 mm Nordic Norm Cable, while the New Telemark Norm (NTN) is better for wider, modern skis.
Which Ski Bindings For The Type of Skiing I do?
As a long-time ski instructor, I see skiing as a long-term journey that usually starts the same way. Most people are going to begin with the bunny hill at a ski resort. So, if you’re starting out and don’t plan on heading into the backcountry, resort/alpine bindings are the way to go.
I'd start with rentals, then work up to buying ski boots and skis. We have several great ski reviews out there to guide that journey (best women’s skis for beginners & best intermediate skis). You can then mount or have bindings mounted to help your downhill skiing performance. Personally, I'd look at light bindings to increase your skiing versatility.
If you want to stay at the resort but explore a different skiing style, telemark & telemark bindings are a great option. If you don't mind straying from the resort but like groomed tracks or easy-to-follow trails, cross-country skiing might be the fit. In that case, SNS, three-pin system, and NNN bindings are worth looking at.
If you choose to explore the backcountry, you’ll need to update your gear. And that starts with bindings. Without a heel rise component, you don’t have the freedom to move uphill. You’ll then have to decide which backcountry boots will fit with your bindings.
When you start buying your own skis, there’s a good chance they’ll come without bindings. You need bindings to ski, so the differences between them begin to matter. Your binding type needs to match your boots and skis and be wide enough for brakes to deploy. There are several binding options based on your style of skiing.
Resort & alpine ski bindings are for resort skiing, pin/tech bindings are for backcountry, and hybrid bindings can live in both worlds. If you telemark or cross-country ski, the kinds of ski bindings you'll use differ as well.
A curated ski & binding combination does several things for you. It allows for sturdier support on the downhill, more freedom of movement on the uphill, and cuts down the weight of your setup. All of this leads to easier ski carries, better downhill control, and a setup that truly works for you.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.