Steel is Real
Not all backcountry skiers agree with the saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” For many ski tourers, it’s about the latter: the descent. And if they’re going to earn their turns climbing a mountain, they had better be able to shred as aggressively as they wish on the way down — unhindered by their equipment.
Manufacturers of touring bindings were slow to fulfill that niche-market demand. Their solutions were compromises. Frame bindings performed on the descent but were too heavy for efficient ski touring. And worries about pre-releasing from tech pin bindings inhibited skiers who aggressively sought to charge high-consequence terrain.
A small contingent of skiers desired the downhill performance of a high-end, full-metal high-DIN alpine binding with the weight, functionality, and efficiency of a tech binding for touring.
Brothers Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers saw the writing on the wall. They grew up in Montpelier, Vermont, but were raised at Mad River Glen, a small ski hill where their dad ran the ski patrol program (he only recently retired). Their father, also a carpenter, passed along building skills to his sons that soon took the form of childhood bike bridges and jumps.
After graduation, Lars moved out west where he became a local at Alta, Utah, competed on the big-mountain contest circuit, won several domestic events, and eventually became a staple on the Freeride World Tour. Still, his curiosity for engineering and product design resulted in an MFD-style binding prototype. He attended Vermont Technical College for a few semesters and learned essential design work.
The younger brother Silas also experienced competition success. He and Lars shared the podium at the 2011 U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships and in 2013 Silas won a Freeride World Tour event. Silas landed in Driggs, Idaho — in the heart of the Tetons — and the duo eventually set up shop there.
Formally founded in 2012, the idea of Cast Touring began as a “Kickstarter” project but the impetus that drove the brothers forward was the death of their friend Ryan Hawks the year before. Hawks had become a third partner and was helping develop early prototypes. Tragically, Hawks sustained fatal injuries during a Freeskiing World Tour competition. “We named the company “Cast” in honour of him,” says Silas. It’s a lesser-known word that describes a group of hawks.
Determined to reduce the numbers of injuries and deaths they were seeing in their sport, Lars and Silas began working with a machinist in Salt Lake City. They produced 40 pairs of prototypes and just started handing them out to friends and fellow athletes. The revolutionary system allowed skiers to swap out the toe piece — trading a tech-touring toe for the climb, with an alpine binding for the descent. The original design evolved into the world’s first pin-tech touring system that also offered the reliability and performance of a no-compromise alpine binding.
Cast has grown more than 100 percent annually over the past four years. The company made 300 pairs of its Freetour bindings in the first year of production, doubled that the next year and now produces about 5 000 pairs yearly.
“Just recently we’ve been able to ramp up production enough to keep pace with demand, allowing us to go from made-to-order to having inventory on hand, ready to ship.”
Currently, customers can buy the Cast Freetour Pivot 15 or 18 binding – or purchase the Freetour Upgrade Kit to use on existing Look Pivot 15s or 18s. Added bonus: Freetours can be mounted using pre-existing drill holes.
The foundation of the system is a set of screws that the toe pieces click onto. To start skinning, skiers remove the Freetour alpine toe, then, slide the 128-gram, auto-locking tech toe piece into place, and presto — they gain the most efficient stride possible. The heel piece releases entirely so there is none of the extra weight hanging on the boot that comes with frame bindings. When it’s time to ski, just swap out the tech-toe piece for the alpine toe, which again locks into place automatically. Presto — a reliable, safe, and familiar binding system for the descent. Also now available is Cast’s Second Ski Kit which allows skiers to use the Freetour system on multiple sets of skis for only $75 US, enabling skiers to travel with far less equipment.
Once you’ve met Lars and Silas (now 34 and 29 years old), it’s not surprising to learn the full-capacity company does everything in-house, from prototyping to computer numerated control (CNC) milling, materials testing, assembling, marketing, and more. Through every step, the brothers oversee quality control, ensuring Cast bindings are the most dependable touring bindings on the market. “We’re unique because our prototyping and R&D is much quicker than at a big company,” says Silas.
While Salomon, Marker, and others have launched multiple bindings in what has become known as the “hybrid” category, none have developed the loyal following that Cast enjoys. Freeride athletes all over the world trust Cast bindings with their life.
“Cast has always been driven by athletes and, for the most part, by word of mouth and people showing their friends.” This kind of third party endorsement is what ski companies crave — and it’s what’s fueled the steady rise of an innovative concept in just over a decade. From a garage-based beginning to a direct-to-consumer operation, to being offered by more than 70 dealers — including 50 international suppliers — Cast has been one of the most closely-watched developments in the fast-changing market of ski touring technology.