Mornings on Treasure Hollow at Park City Mountain are chilly. A groomer passes on the right, laying a final trail of corduroy before heading back to the maintenance shack. At the car, my bindings were still in ski mode from my last tour and my early morning brain fog made me fumble a bit to get them into ski mode and my skins on. But after the first ten minutes of walking uphill, the cool air feels good and my head clears. Taking advantage of the resort’s uphill policy is fun but devoid of soft snow as the groomers tame the runs. The fresh corduroy underfoot is tantalizing and begging for a carve. In the past, I’ve skied this run with tech bindings very conservatively. But this season is different as I’m on the Atomic Shift MNC 13 touring binding. Touted for its downhill performance, I thought this would be the binding to let me tour but still rip groomers and soft snow alike with confidence. Is the Shift touring binding the quiver-killing link that finally allows skiers to consolidate their backcountry and alpine setups? Let’s find out.
The Atomic Shift MNC is a frameless touring binding with some trick features to make it TÜV certified. Both the toe and heel pieces are fully releasable, and your shop can set your DIN when they mount the binding. The toe has a remarkable 47 mm of elasticity, putting it nearly on-par with alpine bindings and allowing for an impressive level of performance while descending.
The toe utilizes two wings with pins for a walk mode. A small block on a cam swings up in between these wings to complete a functional, releasable toe piece for alpine skiing. The heel piece is like a conventional alpine heel. However, the brakes have a locking mechanism to keep them up and out of the way while touring.
The binding as a whole is Multi Norm Certified (MNC) and compatible with all adult boot sole types, including WTR (Walk to Ride), GripWalk, ISO 5355 Alpine, and ISO 9523 Touring. Atomic’s intention was to bridge tech touring bindings and alpine bindings to maintain full touring capabilities and offer real downhill performance. It seems that this binding checks both those boxes.
My pair of Shift bindings were shipped to my home in a conventional cardboard box, packed neatly and safely by the good hands at Atomic. Upon opening, I felt they were quite light. At 883 grams, according to my scale at home, they are significantly lighter than, say, the Atomic Warden MNC 13 alpine binding which is 1300+ grams. Compared to the Dynafit ST Rotation, the Shift binding is 200+ grams heavier.
Rennstall was able to mount them up easily enough on my Atomic Vantage 107 Ti. (Are you noticing a pattern here?) My setup weighed in at a respectable 2748 grams per ski. While not the lightest, the Shift binding isn’t intended for superlight setups.
I’ve had only two tours on the Shift binding in backcountry terrain, but I have made ample use of the uphill policy at Park City Mountain, plus a handful of lift lap days at Deer Valley and Solitude. I have also used two boots with the binding, a Salomon MTN Lab with a lugged sole and tech inserts and Salomon X-Max 120 with a GripWalk sole.
After a short learning curve learning to switch the toe and brakes from tour to ski, the process became as routine as using any other tech binding. Most of the transition can be done hands-free. Although, I usually use my hands to flip the toe block and brakes. When in tour mode, engaging the lever to walk-mode does take some substantial effort to ensure it’s engaged properly all the way up. Once I knew how hard I had to push, that also became easier with time. There are also clear markings to indicate if you’re in the proper ski/walk mode at the toe.
Walking feels smooth and easy, comparable to other tech bindings. Because of the way the tech pins are designed into the toe, you don’t have to move or swivel the heel to make room for the heel of your boot. There is only one climbing bar height, which leaves a bit to be desired on a steeper slope, but it’s something I was able to get used to.
So how does it ski? I’ve taken this binding in a bit of pow, variable soft snow and crud, and a whole lot of groomers. The easiest thing for me to say is that I wasn’t even really thinking about the binding when skiing. In ski mode, the binding engages the toe and heel of your boot just as a traditional alpine binding would. That action sets the mentality of your run. The robust design allows you to power through variable snow and arc turns with ease. Even on steeps like in the image above, I was confident in their security and safety. I was worried the Shift would affect the flex of the ski, but the heel has ample elasticity to maintain forward pressure and allow for a seamless flex. I can’t decide yet if the toe, which is quite long, is affecting the flex of the ski. A side-by-side comparison with another Vantage mounted with an alpine binding is needed to be sure. Small and medium size jumps with soft landings were fine and without consequence, but I have not tested a large jump with a hard landing.
Drawbacks and Shortcomings
In short of a long term test, I haven’t found many drawbacks to this binding. I haven’t had ice or packed snow inhibit the various mechanisms. It’s a bit of an involved binding but once you’re comfortable switching between tour and walk modes, the transitions at the top and bottom of the hill are quick. I would recommend practicing at home.
Not all touring boots are compatible with the Shift MNC. Boots like the Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour, Arc’teryx Procline, and others have too short of toe lugs to fill the space all the way to the AFD in the toe. This greatly affects safety. Be sure to check you have a compatible boot if you’re considering this binding.
Ski touring has always been about compromise. A traditional tech binding is great uphill and often very lightweight, but you often sacrifice downhill performance and safety. The Atomic Shift MNC touring binding and its Armada and Salomon branded brethren are feature-packed, combining a tech toe with a traditional alpine toe and alpine heel—all of this is TÜV certified. The Shift balances downhill prowess and uphill performance, albeit with a bit of a weight penalty over lighter setups.
I don’t think I would take this setup through the terrain park, but I honestly have no business landing switch anyways. However, to carve a true turn, link up smaller jumps and natural features, and push through variable snow hard without having to worry about releasing or injury is pretty sweet. And you can make a quick transition and head up for lap two, three, etc. The Shift bindings may be a bit heavy for some backcountry skiers, but for those looking for more performance out of their touring bindings on the descents, the Atomic Shifts are an excellent choice.
Don’t just take my word for it. Our own Erin McNeely, who just published an excellent review of the Fischer Ranger 102 FR and is no rube when it comes to skis, has her own take on the Shift bindings: “I would say that the Atomic Shift MNC 10 (because I don’t need the higher DIN option) on the Fisher Ranger 102 FR is my everyday setup. I’ve skied the Shift on everything from powder to straight ice and never had any issues. At this point, I don’t even think about the fact that I’m not skiing on a normal alpine binding. Transitioning the binding between ski and walk modes did take some getting used to, but after the first couple times it became muscle memory.”
By: Paul Boyle, Production Manager, jans.com