Nearly 40 years before ATK’s first race-minded tech binding took the Ski Mountaineering World Cup by storm, Giovanni Indulti’s father helped cast the first aluminum cylinder block for Ferrari. The latter should come as no shock: the small town of Fiorano Modenese — nestled in the heart of the fabled Italian Motor Valley — is renowned for mechanical manufacturing and where motorsports have pushed innovation in speed and lightness for decades. But the average temperature in Fiorano Modenese never dips below freezing, the Pianura Padana is notably flat, and the Italian Alps are hundreds of kilometres away. So, how did a family machining business become one of the world’s most disruptive ski binding manufacturers?
In 2006, amid a looming economic crash, Giovanni and his wife, Guerrina Indulti, ran a machine shop supplying precision components for various industries, from automotive to ceramics. The business was slow when a competitive skimo enthusiast approached him with a unique proposition: could he apply his mechanical knowledge and creativity to a clunky skimo binding — which hadn’t seen a significant change in a decade — to make it more efficient?
The company’s serendipitous debut in the randonnée race market served as a fortuitous gift: skimo racers were among the most willing skiers to take risks with new technology in an effort to save weight. The weight-conscious clientele allowed ATK to approach bindings with radically new ideas that may have encountered opposition in the mainstream market.
“Because the first binding [ATK] took on was a race binding, it allowed us to do some crazy experiments that the athletes would still welcome as something that could improve their performance,” says Filippo Faldon, ATK’s communication director.
Driven by creative curiosity and having much free time, Giovanni began the process of designing what would soon become, seemingly impossibly, both the lightest and strongest bindings on the market. The company’s adopted motto, “Performing through Lightness,” hinges upon a simple premise born from the company’s manufacturing roots: the bindings are the key to unlocking every skier’s performance. It’s like a tool that brings out the very best of each skier.
ATK bindings are machined directly from solid aluminum blocks. The absence of welding and separate components results in a binding without critical weak points, while simultaneously shaving off excess bulk and weight. In addition, ATK completely re-engineered the release mechanism for their bindings, abandoning the traditional “U spring” on the heel piece retention system. Instead, ATK uses its patented ATK system called the CAM Release System, which makes retention and release more precise and predictable.
Back in the “competition focus period,” ATK’s race heel pieces featured the U spring as that’s still the lightest solution. The CAM Release System was one of the first steps taken outside the racing world. A preview of what the future held!
But even though the company was successful in the skimo race field, the Indulti family questioned their will and capacity for distribution and marketing at large. In 2009, they reached a preliminary agreement with Dynafit/Salewa to distribute ATK bindings for three years. At the end of the agreement, the world’s most prominent tech-binding company would have acquired ATK, and the brand would likely have been absorbed by the Dynafit label. At the last moment, the family cancelled the deal and committed to a new vision for pin bindings.
The next decade saw ATK’s movement into the touring scene. The “Race Touring” (RT) line arrived in 2010 to satisfy the need for lightweight touring bindings, but still paid homage to the brand’s race-minded heritage. Then, in 2016, the company made a revolutionary shift. Ski mountaineering had evolved to incorporate a wider variety of needs, and Giovanni’s son, Davide — now CEO of ATK — shifted his focus from skimo racing to a broader view of skiing and accommodating a variety of new desires from skiers wishing to push the descent as much as the climb.
The resulting Raider and subsequent Freeraider bindings closed the gap between what was possible in a pin binding versus an alpine binding. This result was achieved only with Freeraider 15 EVO, released for the season 22-23, including the Freeride Spacer accessory.
“It took us seven years of improvements to evolve from the first Raider to the actual EVO, our most advanced binding, at least for the moment, says Filippo Faldon.”
Early skeptics didn’t believe that ATK’s level of durability could come at a fraction of the weight of their competitors’ offerings. Still, examining the bindings revealed their robustness in nearly solid aluminum.
“It was the coronation of a path developed by listening to the needs of ski mountaineers,” says Faldon. “We listen to you, but do it the ATK way.”
Yet, for the engineers and designers at ATK, there’s never a final investiture nor even a finished product. The process — a continual progression towards perfection — drives the Indulti family and ATK forward.
“Here, a product is never definitive,” says Faldon. He explains that the engineers are constantly tinkering with designs, even just weeks after a new release. “We’re motivated by the mechanical challenge, the mechanical problem-solving, the puzzles, and finding a solution through CNC machining. That motivates us daily: finding the mechanical solution to skiers’ needs.”