The Tie That Binds

So when was the Look Nevada toepiece created?

It surprised me to find out that it was 1950!  The Look Nevada designed by Jean Beyl in Nevers, France, was way ahead of its time.

To give some perspective, the first release binding of any kind was the Saf-Ski invented by Hjalmar Hvam in 1939.  (Hvam had been motivated to design the binding after suffering a broken leg in the same race two years in a row!)  Only eleven years later Beyl introduces a binding with adjustable release tension and anti-shock capability.  Today’s toepieces are only an incremental improvement over that first Look Nevada.

For many years cable bindings were the way to affix your heel to a ski.  They even developed cable bindings with forward release capability.  However demand for more control over a ski particularly by racers in hard-packed conditions led to the development of the separate fixed heelpiece.   These firmly attached your heel to the ski and the only forward release was when the screws pulled out!  (And yes, that did happen.)  Fixed heel pieces became turntables as release toepieces became more prevalent.

Long Thong used with Racing Heel

Long Thong used with Racing Heel (from Dick Barrymore's "The Last of the Ski Bums")

One of the most memorable components associated with turntable bindings was the long thong!  First, if you want some interesting results, enter “long thongs” into your favorite Internet search engine (only if you’re over 18!)  So let’s make certain we’re all talking about the same thing.  The long thong was a leather ski retention strap, a safety strap, that when the toe binding released kept you affixed to the heel unit and the ski.  This could have been accomplished with a strap probably 18 inches long or even less, but why settle for 18 inches when 48 inches was available!  Oh, there was another reason for this since extra wraps of leather around the upper portion of a leather ski boot improved the forward support skier’s desire.  However there were ramifications.

Wrapping a long thong: Take the long end (which should be on the inside edge of your ski) and wrap it around the boot front-to-back; then pass it through the ring on the opposite side of the binding; wrap the remaining strap back around the boot front-to-back; then pass it through the ring on the original inner side of the binding.  How much strap do you have left?  If it’s less than a foot, fasten it with the corresponding buckle on the outside of the binding.  If it’s a foot or more, wrap it around the upper boot until there is less than a foot.  That took care of one ski!  Also it is probably worth noting that this had to be done bare-handed even on the coldest days.

Over time everyone developed their own unique wrapping approach which became a routine.  If you wanted to screw up another  skier, just cut 8 inches off one of their long thongs!

The first wrap of the day was the easiest since the leather straps were usually dry and pliable, but during a day of skiing the straps would become iced in spots so subsequent wraps were more difficult and colder on the hands.

Gondolas were the curse of the long thong user since you had to wrap and unwrap for every run.  More than once I opted to take a T-bar run rather than another gondola run just to avoid the wrapping process.

Another special situation was Spring skiing!  The warm temperatures and melting snow meant that the long thong straps became saturated with water.  And what happens to leather when it gets wet?  That’s right, it stretches!  So now there were 2 more feet of long thong to wrap!

So the next time you click into your step-in bindings with ski brakes just remember all the fun you’re missing.

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4 Responses to The Tie That Binds

  1. David Minton says:

    There was a one-upmanship game between those of us with Look Nevada gear and Marker toes and turntables. The Markers had no forgiveness, but the Nevada toe was kinda spring loaded and would give a bit. Jeeez falling with longthong turntables…get on your damn back and get them legs up! And remember we had leather boots with 0 support… unless your parents were rich enough to buy you Molitors (or Hadderers(?). I know my freakin’ Nordicas were about as stiff as my Merill hiking boots today.

    Worst thing I ever at saw was a crash and burned prep school hot shot in 1960 at the bottom of Catamount with BEAR TRAP toes (no release) and NON swivel thongs. His striped racing pants were…. well, you get the idea… he wasn’t a happy camper.

  2. Jack Hatley says:

    My father was a racer back in the Long Thong days. He and his cohorts used to get free tickets at Sun Valley by sideslipping runs. In those days they did not have the awesome snow cats of course so grooming was done manually.
    Anyway they would assemble in groups of 8-10 wide and stamp down moguls and smooth out the runs.
    Occasionally there would be a caught edge and someone would tip over, knock over others…the manager of the area would yell “LONG THONGS and CAN’T EVEN SIDE SLIP? WHAT THE HELL!!!”

  3. Chuck Davis says:

    French wrap long thongs vs Marker “German” wraps
    ……who cares, those “boards” stayed on ya feet

  4. Neil Lipsey says:

    The long thongs I remember and used for several years did not release, toe or heel. It was the same kind of binding used by the world’s best. Including Buddy Werner, Tony Sailor, and the list goes on. At the time, late 40s well into the 50s, they were the only binding that truly held your feet tight to the skiis. They also caused a lot of broken legs.I do not remotely compare myself to those world class skiers. My friends and I used them because they did. When I say no release, I mean exactly that. Our toes were jammed into the toe binding that did not move in any direction. And under the heel was a steel plate screwed to the ski with rings on each side to which we attached an 8 foot leathers strap that we wound around or boot as tightly as possible. The only way out if that was for the strap to break or the ski to break. Period!!! Sure. Really stupid. But they worked. I am surprised there is not a pair of skiis with these bindings in the Vail ski museum. Most skiers probably did what I did sometime in the 50s. Threw them away.

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