The experts at Robson Forensic investigate a variety of winter sports incidents to understand how they occurred. In this article, winter sports expert, Raul Guisado discusses a key component of skier safety – alpine ski bindings.
ALPINE SKI BINDING SAFETY
Advances in binding and boot technology in recent decades have contributed to a marked reduction in tibia fractures associated with binding malfunctions; however, a significant number of skiers continue to experience injuries each year as a result of maladjusted equipment. Although properly adjusted bindings do not guarantee that a skier will not be injured, they can sharply reduce the prevalence of lower leg injuries due to release failure or inadvertent release. In many incidents that I have investigated, injury would have been prevented had proper safety guidelines been followed.
In this article, I discuss alpine ski binding technology, the role of adjustments in reducing injury risk, and the framework for conducting forensic investigations of these incidents.
ALPINE SKI BINDING TECHNOLOGY
Alpine ski bindings are designed to secure the boot to the ski until such time that the skier chooses to detach, or forces typical to a crash cause the bindings to automatically release. Injuries can frequently occur when bindings unintentionally release or fail to release the boot when a skier falls.
Modern alpine ski bindings consist of toe and heel pieces that are attached to the top of the ski. The toe and heel pieces may be screwed directly into the ski or onto a plate which is mounted to the ski. Many rental skis also use rail system bindings, in which the toe and heel pieces slide on a track that is mounted to the ski. This allows ski rental shops to quickly and easily adjust the bindings to different boot sizes.
There is adjustability incorporated into modern bindings, which allows for appropriate adjustment based on each skier’s size, age, and ability level. Early in my career, there was a lack of education, standardization, and testing of bindings, which contributed to the cause of countless injuries, including a few of my own. The standardization of equipment and settings, along with automated machine validation, has done much to improve binding performance and reduce the prevalence of injury.
Most bindings are designed to release the boot sideways at the toe in response to a large twisting force, and upwards at the heel if there is a large forward force on the boot. The heel piece of some bindings can also move sideways as the boot is released. In addition, the heel piece of modern alpine ski bindings is designed to move forward along the heel track when the ski bends to ensure that an adequate amount of forward pressure is always applied to the ski boot to retain it while skiing.
These binding features have significantly reduced skier tibia fractures and ankle injuries. However, no technology can reduce the risk of injury to zero, and even the best technology can be stifled by improper adjustment, or misuse. Despite technological advancements, knee injuries are still very prevalent amongst skiers. Even under ideal conditions, current alpine ski bindings are simply not able to release in response to every potential injury-causing force and analysis of the incident circumstances can determine whether or not a properly functioning binding should have been able to prevent pathological loading.
ADJUSTING ALPINE SKI BINDINGS
Once alpine ski bindings are properly mounted on a pair of skis and adjusted for the skier’s boot sole length, ski technicians adjust the release settings (aka DIN or ASTM settings) for the bindings. There are tension adjustments on the toe and heel pieces of modern alpine ski bindings to determine how easily the ski boot will release from the binding. Visual indicators display the settings on both housings. Many modern alpine ski bindings are designed for a particular type of ski, skier size, and type of skier, and have a corresponding setting range. Qualified ski technicians determine the appropriate release value for a binding by using industry standards and guidelines from each binding manufacturer for the weight, height, type, boot sole length, and age of the skier. The tensions for the toe and heel pieces are adjusted separately and can be set to different values.
SKI BINDING RESPONSIBILITIES FOR ALPINE SKIERS
- Have qualified ski technicians mount, adjust, and test your bindings.
- Look closely at the bindings. Are they in good condition?
- Inspect the ski boots – especially where boots contact the binding. Are they in good condition?
- Use modern bindings that are appropriate for your skis, size, and skier type.
- Have your bindings tested annually to ensure that they are functioning properly.
SKI BINDING RESPONSIBILITIES FOR SKI SHOPS
- Follow manufacturer guidelines and industry standards when adjusting bindings.
- Test each binding three times using a device that meets industry standards for binding testing.
- Ensure that binding testing devices are serviced and calibrated per manufacturer specifications.
- Measure actual boot sole length when adjusting bindings.
- Ensure that boot soles don’t have defects or damage that would impair binding performance.
INVESTIGATING SKI BINDINGS CLAIMS
Determining whether or not a ski binding contributed to the cause of an injury due to improper adjustment or as a result of failure can be a multi-step process. Robson Forensic can assist throughout the entire scope of your technical investigation. From review of equipment settings, rental procedures, and training activities, through the analysis of injuries and pathological loading; Robson Forensic offers a comprehensive solution to the technical aspects of your casework.
WINTER SPORTS INVESTIGATIONS
Our experts are often retained to investigate severe injuries and/or assess risks at winter sports recreation areas. The scope of our investigations will typically include an analysis of how the injury happened and the condition of the equipment and environment in which it occurred.
For more information visit our Winter Sports practice page.
Winter Sports Expert & USSA Alpine-Level 500 Coach
Raul is a winter sports expert – specializing in skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow tubing. He is a former U.S. Ski Team World Cup and Olympic coach and has extensive experience analyzing safety protocol, snow conditions, terrain, participant behavior, fall lines, trail design, human performance, speed control, direction changes, equipment, operational best practices, risk analysis/management, and the standard of care related to alpine snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow tubing). Raul has coached and prepared athletes who competed in the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and has earned the highest possible ski coaching certification level from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (Alpine-Level 500). He is also a member of the National Ski Patrol and the Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard, and has official voting status in the ASTM International Committee on Snow Skiing.