Salomon Shift: The Most Innovative Binding on the Market
For skiers seeking a binding that performs both in the resort and out in the backcountry, ski journalist Donny O'Neill explores why the Shift has become one of the most sought-after bindings on the market.
Skiers who split time between skiing inbounds at the resort and earning their turns in the backcountry always had to compromise when it came to their bindings. They sought a binding that was lightweight and had touring capabilities to travel uphill, but could also be trusted to provide safety, adequate power transmission, and response on the way down.
Bindings like the Salomon Guardian, Marker Duke, and Tyrolia Adrenaline utilized a detachable frame that allowed their user to tour uphill, and subsequently lock down the frame to ski back down. However, framed bindings such as these were bulky and heavy, and couldn’t be counted on for longer tours in the backcountry. On the other hand, low-tech “pin” bindings, which were frameless and relied on pins in their toe piece that locked into corresponding notches in specialized boots, were amazing for touring—lightweight, minimalist, etc.—but couldn’t provide the safety or true downhill feel of an alpine binding.
In 2018, Salomon (along with Atomic, which operates under the same parent company) solved that problem with the release of the S/LAB Shift MNC binding. The new binding hit the sweet spot for skiers seeking a do-it-all binding. It’s frameless, utilizes built-in pins for uphill travel, like that of previous low tech bindings, and, when converted into downhill mode, offers full alpine binding capabilities.
While there was certainly demand from core skiers who noticed this product gap in terms of bindings, the concept for the Shift was athlete and brand-driven, and it took a full seven years of research and development before the final product was put up for sale.
“From the athletes’ side, [the Shift] stemmed from the idea that there wasn't a binding solution out there that met the needs of our athletes: the ability to travel uphill with the lightweight construction and pin function of a tech binding, and then, more importantly, with the downhill performance of a true Alpine binding,” says Joe Johnson, alpine and nordic market manager for Salomon North America. “There were options out there. But there wasn't that one option that brought it all together. And so from an athlete perspective, that really drove the creation and the design process of the Shift.”
“There were options out there. But there wasn't that one option that brought it all together."
Salomon athletes, including Cody Townsend, Chris Rubens, and Stan Rey, along with the brand’s designers worked painstakingly for seven years before finally getting the product right. During the process, the Salomon team looked at parts of its preexisting binding collection, including the STH freeride alpine binding, Guardian framed touring binding, and MTN pin-tech touring binding, and analyzed components they knew worked from those products. However, while taking cues from previous designs, the Shift’s intended use was so unique, that its design also had to stand out on its own.
“In the end, because of the way that it's constructed with that one piece, more Alpine-style design, it was an all-new kind of construction,” says Johnson. “You're talking about the unique spring, the housing, and this all-new material that we developed. And so, while we did look at everything else that was on the market, and that was part of the process, the order usually went: dream, design, prototype, test, and then scrap it and start over. That's why it took so damn long.”
"...while we did look at everything else that was on the market, and that was part of the process, the order usually went: dream, design, prototype, test, and then scrap it and start over. That's why it took so damn long."
The new material Johnson references is the Carbon-infused PA, which, combined with aluminum and steel, gives the binding phenomenal weight savings while not sacrificing strength and stability. It’s that aspect of the construction that helped the Shift jump from a binding intended for core skiers who spend frequent time in the resort and the backcountry, to a broader range of consumers. Many skiers were buying the binding without any intention of skiing in the backcountry, but really liked the idea of a really lightweight binding with full alpine capabilities.
Demand for the Shift was astronomical, and Salomon struggled to keep the binding in-stock. Now, in its third year of production, the Shift continues to be one of the most sought-after bindings on the market. Johnson believes that the understanding of the core consumer, skiers who have in-depth product knowledge and understand the niche the Shift was filling, trickled down to the more general skiing population, creating hype for the product that drove its success.
"I think that put the switch in the average consumer’s mind that instead of having two setups, they could rely on one."
“People started to realize as they really dug into the functionality of its construction what it allows them to do. It’s like, ‘Oh, I only need one binding now. I can ski in the resort with a 13 DIN binding, but then I can also go touring,’” describes Johnson. “I think that put the switch in the average consumer’s mind that instead of having two setups, they could rely on one. And that continued to drive that interest in recognition of the product.”
While many members of the general skiing population were using the Shift predominantly to just rip around the resort, it’s a testament to the functionality of the binding that a product created for top-tier professional skiers can be applied to just about anyone who is skiing. Salomon recognized early on that Shift consumers may not all use the full capability set of the binding, but knew that the Shift’s functions would open up the door for consumers to progress their skiing if they should so choose.
"They want an alpine binding, but then we're also allowing them to have that inspiration and that ability to go out and tour and utilize the other functionalities that the binding has if they need."
“We definitely knew that there were going to be people utilizing it who might not necessarily be using it to its full potential. But that's also why we created it that way,” describes Johnson. “At its most base level, it's a 13 DIN alpine binding, right? And there's plenty of those on the market. But, we knew that we were filling a demand that people have. They want an alpine binding, but then we're also allowing them to have that inspiration and that ability to go out and tour and utilize the other functionalities that the binding has if they need.”
While Salomon has had to implement very little tweaking to the design of the Shift (there is a 10 DIN version hitting shelves this fall)—a testament to its quality construction, the binding’s success has allowed it to build a stable of like-minded products that all function well together. A consumer of the Shift will likely pair perfectly with Salomon’s QST line of skis and boots.
"What the Shift allowed us to do was basically take a critical look at our ski line and say, all right, we need to consolidate here; we need to make sure that this works with everything."
“What the Shift allowed us to do was basically take a critical look at our ski line and say, all right, we need to consolidate here; we need to make sure that this works with everything,” describes Johnson. “It allowed us to fine-tune the QST line and create a do-it-all line of skis that truly pairs well with do-it-all bindings. And it’s the same on the boot side, having the Shift allowed us to focus on a four buckle or 50/50 backcountry and resort boot to pair with the Shift binding. Having an iconic product like the Shift definitely does allow us to build other franchises around it.”
In the few years since it’s been released, the Shift has already seen competitors come to market, like Marker’s new Duke binding, which pursues the same goals as the Shift. However, it’s truly remarkable that Salomon was able to take this concept from dream to a fully functional product that’s taken the ski world by storm. You can expect trends in the binding industry to continue to follow the trail first blazed by the Shift.