Chris Hall is the Fischer USA Nordic Race Director and a former USST Head Wax Tech
The mounting position of the binding on the ski is an interesting and underdeveloped topic that deserves some attention, given the many changes to ski camber profiles over the years. To beat everyone to the most obvious and humorous answer, yes the point where the boot connects to the binding should be closest to the tip and the point where the heel of the boot touches the binding should be closest to the tail. With my attempt at comic relief now out of the way there are other factors that determine and control a proper position of the binding on the ski. These are listed in order from greatest importance to least importance,
1. Snow conditions
2. Ski camber profile
Snow conditions play an overwhelming role in how the ski performs. As we have all experienced, there are days when the snow conditions are perfect and skiing is virtually effortless, but there are days when the snow conditions are not perfect and skiing does take more effort. Looking closely at differing snow conditions, hard and compact snow can often provide for fast and effortless skiing. Ideally, the skier will want a binding position that places him or her on top of the ski, meaning that the skiers weight is placed over the camber profile of the ski. This will allow the ski to be properly pressured in the tip or shovel of the ski, providing a stable platform. At the extreme other end of the spectrum, soft and loose snow conditions require a different position on the ski. In these conditions, the pressure from the tip needs to be released, allowing it to float freely over the snow. An ideal placement in this circumstance would be for the skier to be slightly behind the point where he or she would be on a ski for hard and compact snow conditions.
There are a couple ways to achieve this. One is to have different skis that have different binding positions for different conditions. A ski for hard and compact snow conditions will be mounted on the balance point of the ski. Likewise, a ski for soft snow conditions with the correct pressure distribution can be mounted up to 1cm behind the balance point. Of course, there are always some exceptions to the rule. When I was with the USST, I can recall a few instances where some athletes had skis mounted up to 2cm behind the balance point of the ski for certain specialized snow conditions. However, the norm is to keep the binding placement on to slightly behind the balance point.
For most skiers and racers, multiple pairs of skis with different binding positions are not an option. Utilizing a ski equipped with the NIS binding system is one simple and easy way to give your single ski “quiver” more versatility in different snow conditions. Another option is to “split the difference”, mounting the ski around .5cm behind the balance point. This will allow for some release of tip pressure in softer snows, while still providing enough pressure for harder snow conditions.
The camber profile of a ski will also play an important role as to where the binding placement will fall on the ski. Fortunately, the ski engineers who design and build the skis have already done the majority of this work. Every ski is built with a camber profile, which can be referred to as the curve of the ski. To see this curve, all one needs to do is to hold a pair of skis on edge and look down the ski from tip to tail. The shape of a curve will be easy to see. This curve is engineered so that the optimum placement of the binding will fall on or slightly behind the balance point on this curve. To place the binding outside of this area will adversely affect the pressures exerted upon the ski during use and will most likely result in poor ski performance.
For those of you who will be attending the West Yellowstone Ski Festival next week, take the opportunity to demo some new equipment. Given the vast amount of demo product that will be on hand to try, it is a great opportunity to determine for yourself which factors truly makes big differences in ski performance and which do not.