By Phil Brown
The Whiteface toll road is usually a mellow ski tour, but you still should be prepared for harsh winds, bitter cold, and the unexpected calamity—such as a broken binding.
I skied up Whiteface last month with my sweetheart Carol and two of our friends, Philip and Emily Brittan. About a half-mile from the Lake Placid turn, the cable on Philip’s binding broke.
“My day’s over,” he declared. He figured he’d have to walk back to the car or, at best, try to gingerly schuss down the road with a broken binding. All that uphill climbing for naught.
Fortunately, Philip and I had the same bindings—G3 Targas, designed for telemark boots—and I had a repair kit in my pack. I gave him my spare cable, and he used his Leatherman tool to install it. Problem solved, we continued on our journey.
I was a little puzzled, though. Philip had owned this pair of skis for only a few years. In contrast, I have skied on Targa bindings for years and never had a problem.
Two days later, I headed to Lake Placid to buy a new repair kit. On the way, I stopped for a short ski trip. About a half-mile from the road, guess what—my cable snapped. Since I lacked a spare, I shuffled out with my broken binding.
I then drove to High Peaks Cyclery in Placid. They didn’t have any Targa repair kits in stock, but I found a set of Targas in their consignment shop and bought them. I went on to Cascade Cross-Country-Ski Center, where I picked up the last two repair kits.
The sales agent at Cascade told me that G3 has stopped making Targas, so spare parts are getting hard to find. It seems G3 and some other companies have discontinued their cable bindings in favor of alpine-touring (AT) or new-telemark-norm (NTN) bindings. These are high-tech (and pricey) bindings that lock when you step into them. They’re great for steep terrain, but for most of the touring I do in the Adirondacks, I prefer the humble cable binding.
Consider the trip to Avalanche Lake, perhaps the classic ski tour in the Adirondacks. Yes, there is a somewhat lengthy downhill run from Avalanche Pass, but it’s fairly easy. AT or NTN bindings would be overkill.
Carol and I skied to Avalanche Pass last weekend on skis outfitted with Targa bindings. At the top of the pass, we stopped to adjust our bindings for the descent to the lake. This is done by throwing up a heel lever to tighten the cable. Guess what? One of my heel levers broke. Without it, the cable was useless.
This was a slightly more serious situation. We were 4 1/2 miles from our car at Adirondak Loj, and it was quite cold. Fortunately, I had spare parts, though the repair proved difficult. I won’t go into details, but it took about 30 minutes, working with bare hands. At the end, we were so cold we headed straight back to the Loj.
There are two lessons here. First, be prepared for a binding breakdown, especially if you’re skiing in the backcountry. Second, if you use Targa bindings, be on the lookout for spare parts. The same applies if you use other cable bindings that have been discontinued.