I'm not sure who came up with the idea of binding wedges. The first place I saw them used was with Michael Grosseger, the Fischer service man for the Biathlon World Cup. Those wedges were ony under the front of the foot, and tapered from 4mm to nothing at the back of the front section of the NNN R3 binding. After seeing those wedges that Grossi was using, I started to see them on Atomic skis on the World Cup. I really don't remember whether this was the 2008 or 2009 season, but it's safe to assume that people had been playing with the concept for at least a couple of years prior. By the time I figured out to look for them, it seemed they were everywhere. Especially in Biathlon where innovations tend to become trends quite quickly. The binding wedges are only used on skating skis, and would make kicking difficult on classic skis.
The NIS compatible wedges that showed up recently in a Rossignol Youtube video are quite new, and are not widely available yet. I picked up a pair at the Tour de Ski from Gerhard Urain - head of the Fischer race department. This is the first time that the NNN-affilliated companies have really publicly recognized and publicized the potential of binding wedges.
Well, the wedges produce a lighter feeling on release, particularly when climbing. There's always a trade-off between speed and action with respect to binding position on skis. Mounting forward on the ski puts you higher over the bridge of the ski, and you get a more active an energetic response from the ski. Mounting further back tends to stiffen and deaden the response from the ski, but can produce better speed and release because it lightens the load on the front of the ski. The wedge seems to provide a compromise - good action in a forward position, but with the lighter release of a binding mounted further back.
After seeing the binding wedges with Grossi, I started playing with them on snow. I picked up some plastic shims from Home Depot which had just about the perfect dimensions if I cut a little off the thick end. Because the wedges are so closely involved with binding position and feeling on the skis, and because all of this involved screw-on bindings, the process of testing the wedges as a bit cumbersome and time-intensive. It also resulted in some heavily perforated skis. For me, the results were totally inconclusive. Sometimes the wedges flet pretty good, and other times they felt bad. We played with wedges on some of Kris Freeman's skis prior to the Olympics, and ended up setting the idea aside as a variable that we simply couldn't predict well enough or control easily enough. We don't want to be remounting bindings on race day.
At the same time, a bunch of the Atomic athletes were really liking the wedges. I talked with Billy Demong in the Spring of 2009, and he was running them on all his skis. This winter both Nathan and I have done a bunch of testing of Salomon skis with Tad Elliot, and Ted definitely likes to use the wedges on all his skate skis. Still, I haven't been convinced enough to buy into the concept wholesale. There have been enough days when I definitely didn't like the wedges that I have prefered not to complicate life with them.
The Tour de Ski was the first time I was able to test multiple pairs of race skis, on race day, with and without wedges. This came, courtesy of the NIS wedges pictured here, on the final day of the Tour. I spent the morning testing Kris's skate skis and narrowing the selection. For the first time in my experience, the difference made by the binding wedge was NOT subtle. Put simply, any ski I put on the snow with the wedge was hands-down faster than any ski without the wedge. The wedges didn't change the order of the skis, they just made everything better. And not by a small margin. And it wasn't simply a question of the feeling of freedom on release that I had come to expect from wedges. The skis were just plain faster everywhere.
Kris has never really liked the wedges before, and I didn't want to just hand him skis with wedges. So when he came out to test his skis with Pete Vordenberg and myself I put the NIS wedges on one ski from the two best pairs, and had him just ski the skis with and without wedges. It didn't take long for Kris to make up his mind, although he was initially a little reluctant to like them. He ended up racing with the wedges, and was thrilled with the result. He felt that he had among the best skis in the race (although other factors contributed to that as well).
The Fischer racing guys say that the performance of the wedges is somewhat conditions-dependent. A lot of times they don't like them, but particularly in softer and wetter conditions they seem to make a really big difference. That was a fair description of the conditions on the final day of the Tour, and the wedges definitely made a big difference. One of the Norwegian service guys has been testing the NIS wedges with his athletes all season, and he said more or less the same thing. Sometimes they enhance speed, and other times they don't. Sometimes they help with stability, and other times they make the ski feel skittish. Nobody seems quite willing to stick their neck out and predict exactly WHEN the wedges are a sure bet. Meanwhile the folks on the Salomon platform appear somewhat split on the idea, with an increasing number of them putting wedges on all their skis.
I think we'll be seeing more of these wedges, and with the new NIS wedge on the ground it's safe to assume that we'll see more attention drawn to them by all manufacturers on podium skis, and in races. I don't think anybody needs to fear that they'll miss qualifying for the Birkie Elite wave because they haven't got binding wedges, but it's worth keeping an eye on the situation and looking for an opportunity to test the idea on snow.
We currently stock two types of binding wedge, the Salomon wedge and the new Atomic Wedge 60, which in addition to the shimming effect, also adds a small platform to either side of the binding to provide additional stability and edging power. Both of these work only on screw-on bindings. They can be adapted to NNN R3 bindings, but they holes are set up for Salomon Pilot Skate bindings. click on the links below to be taken to those product pages on our ecommerce site.
Atomic Binding Wedge 60
Salomon Binding Wedge