Would you buy into the step-in theory if the fit and flexibility of your soft boots conveniently locked into a dependable system?
What was once an improbable dream of instant gratification between boots and bindings is suddenly available in as many flavors as ice cream. They’re also selling like helado on a hot day, but it wasn’t always so.
When step-in snowboard bindings were introduced, pro athletes shunned them, reasoning that the true freestyle experience could only be had in soft boots and highbacks. Most pros have waited to see if any designs will prove viable over time. Step-ins are still largely shunned by people who get paid to be in their bindings-especially halfpipe riders.
Nothing has seemed to discourage consumers from sending step-in sales through the roof. The SIA Retail Audit reports a 93-percent increase in step-in sales last season over the previous, with the systems more than doubling their percentage of total boot/binding numbers. The biggest hassle for retailers has been keeping certain brands in stock as rental programs feed more purchasers into the already brisk demand.
Five heavy hitters weigh in with new or improved systems this season, and a number of riders have signed on to help. Burton, Salomon, Ride, Airwalk, and Morrow are all releasing individual systems. Standardization is a long way off, but the number of boot makers outfitting step-ins has multiplied. With the concept so widely accepted, which systems perform and will stand the test of time?
That depends (and you knew this was coming), on your technical preferences and style of riding. Any of the systems available can and do work, but for whom? Snowboarding prides itself on being a sport for individuals. While some generalities can be made-how the engagement performs in all types of conditions, lateral flex, response in all types of terrain, durability, and fit-the joy of properly equipped riding is a personal pathway to discovery.
We suggest you find out for yourself instead of hoping we’ll tell you what to ride. With so many companies eager to sell you and your neighborhood shop on their systems, trying before buying should be the least of your worries.
Airwalk Quad-Finally retooled and ready to rumble, the Quad has seen much refinement since its inception years back. An internal highback boot with dual power straps fits two sole tabs into side connections on the binding, now made of metal with a latch release. The connection is self-tightening to account for boot wear.
Salomon Pilot-A company well-known for its innovation, Salomon step-ins feature the most novel design. The premiere model features snug-fitting soft boots with outside pins that lock into a single outside latch. The one connecting point per foot can pressure-pinch, but riders are able to roll their feet and knees inward for an undeniably flexy soft-boot feel.
Burton SI-Most of the market was waiting to see how Burton’s step-in turned out, and it hasn’t strayed far from their proven highback and soft-boot formula. The boot is equipped with a real binding heel strap for extra hold. Inside/outside pins step down into side latches recessed in a conventional baseplate/highback, and pressing on outside latches releases the boot tabs.
Morrow Engage-Hand it to Rob Morrow, who has ingeniously fashioned an all-new step-in system distinct from existing designs. The baseplate screws down on the board, then tabs, recessed in the boot, lock in at three points (one on the outside, two on the inside). The release is a locking cam lever. The boot is bulky, but the Engage is more inventive and refined than products with years on the market.
Ride-The Preston, Washington company acquired Device and integrated Device’s program into two models of Ride step-ins, one with an external boot highback and another that features stepping into an aluminum baseplate with removable highbacks. Boots feature dual power/binding straps and toe-latch/heell-spur connections.
K2 Clicker-K2 has stuck by the design of their toe- and heel-connecting, top-selling Clicker, available in several models. This season, that ante is upped by a Carbon Pro baseplate and disk that the company claims is ultralight, stiffer, and sheds snow easier. Also new (and a design departure) is the HB, which mounts an external highback onto a Clicker binding (instead of incorporating it in the boot) for the joy of highback flex.
Switch-An aluminum dial screws down on your deck, then shanks on the sides of the boots interconnect with those on the dial as you step in. To release, pull up a latch and lift out. A host of boots are available, and different binding models offered for different disciplines complement this simple engagement.
The SIS-Emery, Original Sin, and Rossignol all partnered to develop the So-Insanely-Simple, and it’s an idea that’s gaining ground. Just like a regular highback with a bar locking into the points at the heel strap and a lever release, the soft boot steps right on the board with responsive results.
Intec-Two pins on the sides of the articulating I-Spine-supported Blax boot lock into a simple metal plate and carbon, fiberglass, or synthetic plastic baseplate. The system performs simply, and an entire setup with boots is under 250 dollars.
Marker (formerly known as DNR)-Tabs on this external-highback boot step into what amounts to sideways-ski heel latches on a thick plastic baseplate. To release, flip down the levers.
Arcane-Submitted by surf-company Quiksilver, two alloy rails rotate together like a half turn on a jelly jar. Instead of stepping down, the pieces screw into a locking point that is released with a boot lever. You can engage it with a clockwise or counterclockwise twist.
Berger-A circular mount on the bottom of a plate (that fits on any Switch-compatible boot) engages when stepped down onto the board, then is released by a lever on the plate. The connection seems to be just under the insole, but the plate is easily adjustable, with a wide range of stance options.
T-Bone-One of the first step-in designs, T-Bone has two connecting points on the bottom of the boot that lock into the baseplate with a latch similar to the ones used to secure airplane doors.
“If it don’t have the fit, it don’t mean jack squat,” or so buyers have been telling suppliers since step-in interfaces were introduced. Now that shelves are filled with workable options, it’s time to concentrate on boot fit and how it ultimately makes or breaks the system. To that end, companies have partnered right and left to produce combinations that work well and feel nice. The hardest thing to do, with so many brands, may be finding nearby shops that carry what you seek, so consult company listings in the Buyer’s Guide.
Exo Sport (Switch)
Raichle (Clicker, Switch)
Original Sin (SIS)
Blax (Intec, Salomon)