Step-In Bindings
Still tweaking the specs...

Step-in snowboard binding manufacturers are hoping the third time's the charm as the technology heads into season No.3 on the slopes.

Switch Manufacturing, K2's Clicker and Device - the three pioneers in step-ins - have taken stock of complaints heard in previous seasons and released an updated product line for the coming season. The manufacturers addressed the snow-contamination problem, the soft-boot issue and have refined designs to offer more convenience. As snowboarding continues to grow, skier cross-overs and other newcomers will likely feel right at home on the new systems, which actually enhance the learning process and on-hill enjoyment level of many boarders through the ease of getting in and out of the equipment.

Advanced riders are giving the systems another look as well. All three manufacturers are sponsoring pro-level riders this season. The systems are coming in all shapes and sizes, differentiated by the board-boot "interface" or connection point. Knowing the differences between the side-to-side system and toe-to-heel connections is key in decision making; and, trying the systems is the only way to get a feel for the technology. Device's binding and the K2 Clicker binding are toe-heel connections, while Switch's binding is side-to-side.

For 1997-98, the San Francisco, Calif., based Switch offers an upgraded boot and binding system and more boots to choose from. The Switch Autolock binding will go to market this season with licensee partners in Vans, Raichle, Nice, Nidecker, Heelside, Exo and Gordo boots. Switch's Pat Brennan said the manufacturer has signed with Northwave and Fila since the spring shows, rounding out the licensee family to nine. Aside from the fact that Switch has the most choice when it comes to choosing a boot, the company has poured a lot of time and resources into the redesign of its own Flexible boot. The Flexible is one step-in compatible boot that will offer the high quality of Italian craftsmanship, which will no doubt provide the boarder with a high mark of warmth and comfort in a lasting product. Technological improvements are showcased in the Cadillac of the Switch Autolock binding line - the Autolock 750; the connection point is redesigned to allow a rider to step directly into the binding, instead of from the side as in previous years' models. The new design also brought the system's bale closer to the boot, reducing the width of the interface system. Past Switch customers can upgrade to the Autolock 750 as Switch made the new compatible with the old. The manufacturer also has a 550 and 250 in the Autolock line, both of which are technologically advanced for the price.

Device's system is revamped for the coming season and will be sold under the mantra "Listen to your feet not your friends."

"The first area we looked at was the front attachment," said Device's Bret Conrad. "Our commitment was to eliminate any chance of snow clogging, as well as solidly lock the boot to the binding, and eliminate lateral slip. Our new SBS toe slot achieved these two goals," Conrad said. Device's interface system has a toe slot that has a 4-degree slope out on the sides, and a 60-degree slope on the medial snow pathways, a design which greatly reduces the possibility of snow clog. The heel slot also provides for a perfect fit to the toe hook on the binding, which eliminated lateral slip, and makes the board respond instantly. Conrad said heelside response was also improved with the addition of dual forward lean adjusters, which stiffen the highback, and give 22 degrees of forward lean in stock form and, with modifications, can go to 30 degrees.

K2's latest Clicker binding
Device and K2 Clicker will also bring step-in compatible snowshoes to the market this season. The K2/Shimano Clicker has emerged for the coming season with some technological improvements as well. The cleat, designed in conjunction with cycling giant Shimano, is recessed in the sole of the boot for ease in walking and hiking. The design is similar to that of Shimano's clipless pedal, found in cycling footwear. The sole of the boot has also been beefed up for 1997-98; the traction's better and the lug sole thicker. This season, the cleat is two pieces giving the rider a wider "sweet spot" to step onto. This feature will help riders step in, no matter what the snow conditions are. The K2 Clicker XLT binding weighs in at 1.2 pounds and has rider-tuneable suspension in the form of replaceable rubber gaskets. The gaskets act as shock absorbers and dampen chatter. K2 and Shimano's Clicker step-in system is compatible with K2, Shimano, Raichle and Nitro boots.

This season will likely be the one in which an "industry standard" is firmed up in the step-in arena. All three manufacturers' designs are loaded with subtle nuances that will suit different rider preferences. Trying a system on is the best way to weigh decision for step-ins, and with the companies sponsoring demo tours and stocking rental programs, the product should be readily available.

The Mountain Zone carried an excellent introduction to step-in bindings last season. Check it out.

— Kristen Carpenter, Mountain Zone Contributor

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