* High quality, durable binding system that can stand up to far more than the standard touring set up
* Fidelity: there is no better system in which to ski down
* Convenience: Many skiers can ditch their two-ski setup or their more brittle two-way bindings
* Requires the purchase of the Look 18 or 15 binding, which are expensive
* They're heavy
* Brake holder can be finicky
Price: With Look Pivot 18s - $685; Just Cast Upgrade Kit: $330
Where to buy: Cast Touring
For ski trips, I have long transported two pairs of skis. When I fly to Jackson Hole, I often bring skis that I prefer for inside the ski resort—Volkl Katanas or a pair of custom Wagners—plus I bring another pair of skis for touring up on Teton Pass. Taking two pairs of skis in one bag is eminently possible, but it's a pain and I am unable to pack anything else into the ski bag to keep things under the airline limit of 50 lb. Up until recently, I was also dragging two pairs of boots around. Nordica's Strider 130s changed that.
To get down to one pair of skis for such outings, I have considered bindings such as the Marker Baron or the Salomon Shift, but I never pulled the trigger. The Shift, although it has the technical pin attachments that I prefer, always seemed not quite burly enough for big days in the resort. The Duke is a beefier version of the Diamir Fritchis, which I rode for years, so it lacks those technical Dynafit-style touring pins that are nicer for touring up.
Eighteen months ago, I ran across the Cast Touring system, which solves a lot of these problems and allows skiers to ski on the Look Pivot 15 or 18 binding, which I have skied for years and are my go-to alpine binding. The Cast Freetour has proved quite popular, however, so much so that the company, which assembles the bindings in Victor, Idaho, across Teton Pass from Jackson, has been continually sold out.
Cast offers a tight system to give skiers a go-to quiver killer.
I finally received the pair I purchased this fall, in October, and installed them on my Wagners with Pivot 18s. I have about ten tours on them at this point and have skied 12 resort days on them. I'm quite happy with the entire package. Skiing on the Pivots is always awesome, and the Cast pieces have proven worthy touring devices, with a couple of caveats, which are explained below.
Skiing downhill, the bindings are simply Pivot 15s or 18s. To tour, the front binding piece is removed using an ingenious clip system that is easy to operate, but it does take some extra elbow grease to remove when it's really cold and the binding is stuffed with snow and ice. In place of the normal toe piece goes the front of a tech binding, compatible with any boot that has the Dynafit-style pins. The back of the Pivot binding is kept down and disengaged when touring. Cast supplies a plate on which the rear of the binding is installed that gives skiers a mechanism to hold down the brake and provides three levels of canting that can be used on different levels of slope for the approach. This rear touring apparatus stays in place and is innocuous during normal downhill skiing.
Full set of Cast Upgrade components.
The Quality and Toughness of The Parts: Look Pivot 18s have always been the go-to binding for big time freeskiers (which I am not, to be clear - but I still like a great binding underfoot!). The Pivot design offers extra resiliency and release points for skiers, and the bindings are almost wholly metal rather than plastic, which leads to fewer malfunctions on the mountain and a tool that simply holds up better to hard skiing. As for the Cast parts, they, too, are almost 100% metal and are made of heavy gauge aluminum and steel. Even the spring in the touring binding toe piece seems burly and not prone to failure (I can't say the same for all binding springs). The spring-fitted latches on the interchangeable toe pieces—the mechanisms that allow the pieces to be swapped—are the parts I worry most about, but they're about as tough as they can be given their required functionality. They stood up to some cold tours in early hours of the morning at 12,000 feet where I had to give the bindings a jarring nudge with my boot to separate them from the ski. If nothing else, Casts pieces were made with durability in mind.
High Fidelity of the Bindings: Look Pivot 18s are already tops in the category here. The trick for Cast was creating a platform system to hold that removable toe piece with as much fidelity as the Looks themselves offer–and they did it. Once the alpine toe piece is clicked onto the ski and a boot is engaged, it's almost impossible for it to fail and separate from the base plate. The same holds true for tech touring toe piece, generally, but the stakes are lower there. A skier could fail to fully engage the clip-in system to the baseplate before they stepped into the binding, but it would become clear after one or two strides up the mountain that something was off.
Convenience: This is a true solution for skiers who have searched for a bomber in-bounds binding that can also double for a great deal of their touring trips. It has solved a major nit for me.
Weight - Yes, it's heavy: No way around it, the Look Pivot 18 is a heavy binding. It's full of metal, which is why it's so awesome, but it's also why it weighs so much. Skiers heading up the mountain will have to carry the Look toe pieces with them to head down, and they're not exactly light. But having them in the backpack is certainly preferable to carrying them on the skis as you tour up. The Cast system isn't the best pick for a huge hut trip or for somebody trying to put in 10,000 vertical per day, but they're great for the rest of us who want to get in a quick skin before the day starts or on our lunch break, or even longer weekend tours in search of the perfect powder line.
Brake can let loose on the uphill: In my experience—and my experience only—the plastic-metal tab meant to hold down the brake when skiers are touring up can fail sometimes, letting the brake deploy. This requires that the skier step out of the binding and fix the brake back to its up position and then get on touring. It became annoying enough for me that I stared lashing the brake up with a short piece of velcro, which is easy to do and adds negligible weight. I don't know if others have had the same issue, but it's a small one for me.
This is a great product. It's not the solution for those who are looking to go ultra-light, but for those who are most concerned about stability and reliability on the way down, it's the best choice.
Christopher Steiner is the founder of ZRankings.com and a New York Times bestselling author of two books