Descender: How did you end up building ski bindings for a living?
Oliver Steffen: I quit my day job and went to Tahoe for 2 weeks and I got hooked on tele. The downhill scene was dragging so I tried tele because I heard it was challenging. At first I thought things were ok but then I started to tinker with my gear to get a bit better performance. I found it hard to believe no one made a binding that didn't fit your boot better. The gear was behind the times.
D: Are your parents happy with your career choice?
OS: They are very cool. My Mom rips it up on her downhill stuff and my Dad tries to keep up. They are 100% heart. I may get my Mom to try the TARGA this winter. What a hoot that would be.
D: What motivated you to start G3?
OS: Like I said, the gear I was using was lacking in performance and durability. Have you ever heard of someone wearing out their downhill binding? No! People buy new ones because they buy new skis and they want something fresh looking (read: the latest graphics), not because the metal is cracking or the housing is about to fracture. There have been some innovations but the downhill binding has not changed dramatically for a LONG time. It's amazing what tele skiers put up with. Admittedly, tele bindings are not $300, but I know for a fact tele people will pay more if they see they're getting more. Build a better mouse trap and the people...
D:Talk a bit about the G3 binding.
OS: What a ride it has been. My partner in crime, Ted Ayliffe (PhD Eng.) and I stayed up one night two and a half years ago and started writing down all the things we wished a binding would do. Things like a bomber plate, no ice build-up underfoot, one cable size, compression springs, less tip dive in deep snow, to name a few. I'm sure people dream like that all the time; problem was, we kept going and after a while we couldn't go back. Now we have the TARGA. To be clear, the TARGA is a high-performance binding. It is not a disposable $50 intro. binding. This thing is for people who are pushing their equipment. By that I mean they expect it NOT to break, they appreciate a much better boot to binding interface and they like to tweak their gear to suit their style of skiing, be it resort or backcountry. The TARGA comes with a 15mm shim, a heel post that you can easily add two heights of climbing wires, a unique anti-ice plate that also plays a big role in the better boot to binding fit. We think it's pretty trick. To date the response from people that have skied it is WOW!
D: Bindings have been slow to keep up with fat skis and plastic boots. What's
OS: The solution is to build a better binding. Easy to say. Tough to pull off. Manufactures have been scared of putting a better binding on the market because it is very challenging from an engineering point of view. It will also cost more. Look how many companies have tried... Voile, Rottefella, Rainey, Black Diamond and others before them. You've got to hand it to these people for trying and coming up with some descent stuff. But seriously, do downhill types constantly talk about the problems they're having with their bindings? At the end of the day are they ready to throw the things in front of a moving freight trains? Obviously tele bindings have a long way to go if breakage is a still a major concern. Unlike downhill bindings which essentially hold the ends of your boot to the ski, tele bindings work with the boot to act as a spring. Some people are also scared of a higher price point for tele bindings. What's up with that? Boots went through the roof in price and sales volume only a few years ago. Skis are up there with their downhill cousins. Why not bindings? We think a better binding is worth paying a few dollars more for.
D: Where do you see tele gear in 5 years?
OS: I hope it's a lot more realiable than today. It will probably get a bit heavier when a solution to the releasability issue is found. The TRP is a good start but it is not a solution ( ed note: TRP is Rottefella's Tele Release Plate). Various groups in the industry are working on a true step-in releasable binding. The SkyHoy has a ways to go yet. It appears that more and more people are taking it up. Things look very positive.
D: Is heavy good?
OS: Give me a break. Heavy is good in anchors and bulldozers. Have you ever bought a piece of tele gear and wished it was heavier? There are lighter materials available but the cost is prohibitive. I'm amazed people will worry about a few ounces on their bindings and not buy one of the aftermarket boot liners that will save you five times the weight. Besides they're warmer than the stock liners and they dry overnight! I'd buy them even if they didn't weigh less. Boots had to go heavier for better performance. So will bindings.
D: What do you make of the freeskiing scene?
OS: I'm amazed at what people can do. I think with better gear (in other words, it won't explode on impact) people will always push things even higher.
D: Where do freeheels fit in?
OS: Freeheel just means your heels aren't held down. I'd say that makes it that much harder.
D: Is Whistler your home mountain?
OS: I'm skiing there more and more to test the binding. I'm partial to skiing in new places whenever I get a chance. Alta is up there as are any number of places.
D: If we buy you dinner and drinks will you show us your secret powder stash?
OS: Maybe. What are we having for dinner? (ed note: that would be green beans for dinner.)
D: Describe your perfect run.
OS: Long, deep, steep and stable.
Do you know Oscar Tjärnberg?
OS: Not personally - but a guy like that should definitely be on the TARGA! That guy is nuts. (see Descender interview this issue)
D: Do you drink Kokanee?
OS: Take off eh.
D: Do Canadian girls really kick ass?
OS: Some do. I depends what you mean.
D: Is your favorite song "Oliver's Army" by Elvis Costello?
D: What does the future hold for G3?
OS: I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you. We're working on some new stuff as is everyone. Can you keep a secret? Just between you and me, the new stuff is REALLY trick. We've shown some of the new stuff to people and they just stand there, stare for a second and say "holy shit, this is cool".
Thanks Oliver! You can expect us to be knocking on your door late one night after skiing Whistler. So keep the fridge full, eh?
Visit the G3 Web site to get the latest info.