Airwalk and Burton recently delayed the introduction of their step-in soft-boot systems and the entire snowboard world is wondering what’s up.
Airwalk exhibited and took orders on a fully-working model of their Quad step-in back in March at the SIA trade show in Las Vegas, and Burton showed several people a working version of one of their prototypes which they said would be shipped “later in the season.” Now all that has changed.
So why did Airwalk pull their bindings. “The idea is that when people get in it, after their first few turns, they should just say, ‘Holy crap!” explained Todd Finney in Airwalk’s boot development department. “We’ve ridden the Quad for a couple years, and for us it’s great, but the responsiveness is different from that of highback bindings. We’d rather wait until we have something better than a conventional binding.”
On the heels of Airwalk’s return to the drawing table, Jake Burton Carpenter sent a industry memo dated August 30 stating that Burton has been working on their system for three years, has tested “countless” prototypes, and that they’re pretty close. Until the step-in performance and comfort matches those of Burton’s ’97 Freestyle Boots and Custom Bindings, though, they’ll keep tweaking.
Burton VP of hard goods Thom McGann said getting the product to market in order to compete with other step-in manufacturers was a secondary concern. “We’re just focusing on what ‘core riders want to ride,” McGann explained, “That’s what we’ve done with all our product to date.”
Burton will continue refining their system until a significant amount of pro riders are fully down with it, according to McGann. (Burton’s production model will be available for dealer testing at this season’s on-snow demos.)
The other step-in manufacturers couldn’t be happier. “It’s an opportunity for us to move further on and get another year ahead of everybody else,” said Switch’s Patrick Brennan. “We see those guys–Burton especially–as a formidable force, because just with a name, and no product, they commanded a big piece of the step-in market at the trade show last year.”
Device co-founder David Alden agreed. “We’ve just been gifted with another season to establish ourselves and our technology without the added complication of huge competition,” he said. “Certainly it’s a big advantage for us, but even bigger is that there must be a reason those companies aren’t coming out with a system this season. We don’t see lack of demand or lack of need as reasons. There are only so many ways to skin a cat. One reason might be that they’re struggling to develop a system that doesn’t infringe on other people’s patents.”
At Shimano, maker of the Clicker binding, snowboard product manager John Telfer sees the big companies as the key to opening the step-in flood gates. “I think a lot of people are expecting Burton and Airwalk to kind of legitimize the whole thing, then they’ll start taking step-in seriously,” he says. “On the whole development scale, they’re three or four years behind us and this delay just gives us another year to keep plowing ahead with our system.”
Then there’s the ski hardgoods giant Salomon, an acknowledged R&D monster with massive resources, who jumped into snowboarding last season by purchasing Bonfire. The company will produce a limited numbers of Salomon boards this winter, and a step-in system is reportedly in the works. “We don’t look at it as a race,” says Salomon’s Tobin Teichgraeber. “If you’ve got something to add to the market, we don’t think it’s ever too late.”
Those are the words Burton, Airwalk, and Salomon are banking on, but who knows what they’ll have to compete with when they finally launch their step-in products. Until then it looks like Switch, Device, Blax, and Clicker have the market to themselves.