New To Ski

The Truth About Demo Bindings: Are They Worth It? (Good & Bad)

by William Stupp | Published: December 22nd, 2022
Alps’05

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When you’re renting skis or demoing as you look to buy a pair for yourself, you may notice that the bindings they’ll give you at the ski shop are different from those on the skis your friends’ own. For various reasons, rental shops use demo bindings to equip their customers but a large majority of skiers prefer fixed bindings

Does that mean demo bindings are bad? If they’re so bad, why are they even used in the context of demos and rentals? We’ll untangle this loaded question and examine why demo bindings are used by ski shops and why most owners don’t use them in this article.

What Are Demo Bindings?

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First things first, it’s important to understand what demo bindings are. As you can probably guess, they’re a unique kind of binding setup commonly used by ski shops.

Key Takeaway: The difference between demo and normal bindings is that the former exhibit great adjustability compared to the latter. 

Unlike regular bindings which are mounted and fixed in individual holes drilled into the ski, demo bindings sit on a plate and both ends can be expanded or contracted across a relatively long set of tracks cut into the skis. 

They have added components that allow the binding to be easily changed to accommodate different boot sizes within a given range (usually several standard sizes). These extra parts add weight, increase complexity, and are usually seen to reduce performance. 

We’ll get into just why that is and what the consequences are after taking a closer look at the purpose of demo bindings and why they dominate the rental market.

Demo Bindings are super practical for ski shops

If you’ve ever rented skis, you know that during the peak season, a ski shop can be a very busy place both before the mountain opens and after it closes. People flow in and out and often have to wait around to get their rental equipment fitted.

Tip: The ability to quickly put together a setup where a ski’s bindings fit with a demo-er or renter’s boot saves time and labor. Needless to say, this makes things more streamlined and ultimately lowers costs for everyone.

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Normal bindings can only be adjusted in limited ways and to small degrees. 

A ski shop that uses demo bindings doesn’t need to have as many skis on hand. When you can fit a given ski size and model to various boot sizes, you don’t need to carry as many skis.

Safety and Legal Considerations

Fitting a binding to a boot correctly is critically important. If done incorrectly, your risk of serious injury skyrockets (and that’s on top of your risk of simply having a ski slide away from you). When fitting customers’ boots to rental skis, shop employees have to take extra care to make sure they do it right.

By using demo bindings, ski shops can perform the adjustments needed to make a good fit in less time. Whereas a worker might feel rushed and get sloppy while performing the necessary operations on a normal binding, the ease of doing so with demo bindings should give you some peace of mind.

Important: Always bring your boots when you’re getting set up with a new ski. Bindings cannot be safely set otherwise

How Are ‘Normal’ Bindings Different?

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So when you’re renting or demoing skis from a shop, odds are close to 100% that you’ll be using demo bindings. But when choosing to buy, most skiers opt to put standard bindings on their new skis. 

Now let’s look at how regular bindings are different before getting into why most skiers prefer them. (Hint: it’s not because demo bindings are simply ‘bad’!)

The Adjustability Gap

Standard bindings offer a much narrower range of adjustment options. Once they are mounted onto a pair of skis with glue and screws, there are only so many changes you can make without totally removing and resetting the binding.

If you get new boots that are several millimeters longer or shorter than your old pair, you may need to totally remove the bindings to make a new fit. This might not sound like an issue, but, though my feet did not grow, when I got new boots I did once have to remount my bindings.

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Additionally, some seasoned skiers may be keen to play around with how far backward on their skis they set their bindings. With a standard set of bindings, this will require drilling new sets of screws and much else besides; with demo bindings all you’ll need is a screwdriver.

To be clear, standard ski bindings are still adjustable. You can (and should, with the help of someone who knows what they’re doing) adjust the DIN settings according to your size, weight, ability, and style. 

Key Takeaway: The difference is that standard bindings really only allow for fine-tuning whereas demo bindings can be adjusted to fit any kind of boot size, from a 7 to 12 and beyond.

Disadvantages of Demo Bindings

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So demo bindings are more adjustable and easier to play with. What’s the downside? When making a purchase after demoing, why do most skiers choose to mount regular bindings on their new snow sticks?

For one, demo bindings are more adjustable because there is more to them. Rather than just holes and screws, they have additional parts which contain the framework that allows you to make the adjustments.

These extra parts add weight and complexity. Both of those factors come with disadvantages. These can impact your performance negatively, especially given that your boot will be slightly higher off your ski in demo bindings.

Some skiers are concerned that the added complexity creates greater chances of malfunction. Binding problems can result in either early retirement of your bindings (if wear and tear render them unsafe) or even early retirement for you if a critical failure while skiing results in a serious injury.

That said, while some skiers express a certain caginess about demo bindings breaking more easily because they’re more complex, this doesn’t really seem to be much of an issue, either anecdotally or statistically. 

Compared to safety concerns, performance issues are a more realistic concern when it comes to demo bindings. Having the bindings set provides both a closer toehold and peace of mind for many skiers.

Demos Vs Normal Bindings

Demo BindingsNormal Bindings
Used by ski shops for rentals and demosUsed by most skiers for personal skis
Great adjustability to fit various boot sizesLimited adjustability
Sit on a plate and can be expanded or contracted across a set of tracks in the skiMounted and fixed to individual holes drilled into the ski
Have added components to allow for easy size adjustments, adding weight and complexityNo added components, resulting in a lighter and simpler design
Save time and labor for ski shops and lower costs for customersRequire more time and effort to adjust and fit to new boots
Offer peace of mind for safety and legal considerations in rental settingsMay require more care and attention when fitting to ensure proper safety
Can be less precise and have reduced performance compared to normal bindingsMore precise and generally offer better performance

Additional Practical Considerations

ski instructor at a demonstration

With all that’s been said above, a few additional things should be spelled out about demo bindings.

Just as they’re a must-have for ski shops, demo bindings are great for skis you are likely to loan out to friends and family. You probably don’t have the same shoe size as all your friends so if you keep a set on standby for guests, demo bindings are absolutely the way to go.

For similar reasons, you might have an easier time reselling skis mounted with demo bindings as potential buyers will be saved the trouble of having to remount to fit their own boot size.

Tip: It’s a great idea to keep a set of flexible, beginner-friendly skis in the garage equipped with demo bindings. That way whoever you’re teaching this winter can avoid the rental shop entirely

On the other end of the spectrum, expert skiers can also reap specific benefits from demo bindings. It is, after all, the experts among us who like to fiddle around with every little detail and specification to find out what works best for them in what kind of terrain. 

For example, an expert might want to try setting their boots back further on their skis while hitting powder and then move them up to get extra kicking power while skating through a cross-country stretch.

Changing Technology, Changing Minds

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It seems quite clear to this writer that demo bindings are becoming increasingly popular. This is, in part, surely thanks to developing technologies that have reduced the performance drawbacks that burdened earlier models of demo bindings in decades past.

Demo bindings have become lighter and more reliable. The difference between standard and demo bindings has thus narrowed. Given the benefits of added adjustability and the relatively limited drawbacks, it’s hard to argue that demo bindings are just for ski shops nowadays.

No, Demo Bindings Are Not Bad

If you look out at all the skis on the mountain on a given day, the vast majority will be mounted with standard bindings. It isn’t just renters; hardcore skiers, confident mogul runners, backcountry bombers, and able students that are all included in the demo-using population.

Key Takeaway: Demo bindings are more adjustable and though they can suffer from minor performance issues, they are totally fit for purpose.

At the end of the day, you will find the right bindings for your skis and style. If you’re not fussy about making minor adjustments to your stance and have skis you don’t plan to ever lend to a friend, you really don’t have anything to gain from using demo bindings.

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