Snowboard Systems Inc. of Portland, Oregon, is making the year 2000 the debut year for their “true” soft boot step-in interface, called the “System Binding Technology”. The “SBT” features a true soft boot, “real” soft boot performance, and the type of step-in convenience the snowboard market has been demanding, but no one has yet delivered.

SEVEN YEARS IN THE MAKING
First engineered in 1993 and in development until this year, Snowboard Systems Inc., along withlicensee, Heelside Snowboards, is introducing this revolutionary binding interface to the market. In development for seven years, the SBT interface has already received two US patents, separating it from the pack of other step-in bindings. Snowboard Systems Inc. also has international patents pending in all major snowboard market countries. The SBT soft boot step-in interface is being made available, through an open, non-exclusive licensing program, to every snowboard boot or binding manufacturer. “I believe that open licensing of the SBT technology will ultimately bring about step-in standardization,” says Charles Arnell president of Snowboard Systems Inc. This makes the distribution plan for the SBT step-in technology as unique to the step-in market, as the interface itself.

THE DESIGN CHALLENGE
The development of the SBT started off with a very strict design criteria, the two major directives for this binding were: 1) make it a “true” step-in, meaning that a rider could easily lock into the binding by stepping in from any angle and 2) make the boot as soft, flexible, andcomfortable as a traditional soft boot. Beyond this criteria was theneed for a binding interface that would not clog with snow or ice and have simple mechanismsand be lightweight. The SBT appears to have met all of these requirements. Initialon-snow demos have garnered raves from other major boot/bindingmanufacturers, riders, and retailers. “As soon as they step inthe SBT, some people seem shocked because it’s so effortless, it is like they are not prepared to get in it that easily” claims Charles Arnell. The SBT interface also incorporates a traditional binding base plate, external high back as well as a ratcheting ankle strapon Heelside’s boots. This facilitates a full array of performance andcomfort adjustments

“We set out to build a high performance soft boot with the optimum flexcharacteristics for the SBT toe and heel interface – and we think we’venailed it!” said Mike Pullen, head of product development at Heelside. Heelside has significantexperience in making both step-in and more traditional soft boots. This,coupled with the fact that Heelside operates their own boot and binding manufacturingfacility, allowed ample experimentation in the SBT development process.

HOW IT WORKS
“We always knew that maintaining the integrity of the soft boot was the most important factor for any step-in system,” states Arnell. The SBT technology accommodates minimal alteration of the traditional soft boots. The SBT compatible boot achieves this byemploying a simple, flexible alignment spar between the front and backboot hooks on the sole. The flexible plastic spar wraps up on both sides of the boot heel, attaching to the ankle strap. This creates heel and ankle stability with proper boot structure, while integrating with the binding interface into the boot sole. The flexibility of the sole has no bearing on the retention of the boot in the binding, the two attachment points retain the boot independently. This allows for a positive, multi-directional entry into the binding with snug heel and toe contact. Moreover, the SBT allows for the familiar and natural side-to-side boot roll, so vital to true soft boot “feel” and control

The SBT interface features a soft boot that achieves full contact of itsflexible sole with the snowboard by using “the correct physics not rigidplastics or metals” claims Arnell. A rider can easily connect to thebinding by engaging the heel first, or the toe first,, or by just steppingstraight down. The SBT also allows a rider to engage the binding fromany angle, side to side. “The rider doesn’t have to position their foot inany particular manner to step in,” explains Jim Ferguson, president ofHeelside. “All that’s required is to put the foot over the binding and thenlower the foot from any angle: toe, heel or side.”

“The concept behind our multiple entry options is to make stepping ineffortless,” says Arnell. “All our testing and now the on-snow demos areproving this.” We also consider the exit motion of the SBT binding interface a major area of innovation an added convenience. The SBT interface exits with the exact same movement as a conventional strap system. To release the boot is simple: pull up on the “T” handlenear the heel and walk out forward away from the high back. “You exit the binding as much as you enter it, so the ease of exit should also be considered when talking about the real convenience of a step-in system”

Both of the SBT binding connection points are spring-loaded which eliminatesall “play” in the toe and heel action. The contact remains positive evenunder extreme pull, torque and roll pressures. But it is the flexible solethat creates the identical feel of a traditional soft boot, while riding orjust walking around. “The SBT step-in interface holds down your toe and heel better than strap bindings, but without the pressure and pain of straps,” Arnell concludes.

GET ON BOARD
Interested retailers and prospective licensees are invited to try the SBTinterface at a demo or trade show this winter or spring. Heelside issponsoring numerous demos around the U.S., Canada and Europe startingFebruary 1, 2000. For more information about the Heelside demos call KirkZack at (888) 353-4890 or at heelside@gorge.net For information regarding theSBT technology and the licensing opportunity, please contact Charles Arnell at(503) 680-1477 or at arnell@spiritone.com