Test Ride: K2 Kwicker Splitboard System
We joined K2 and crew at Solitude in Utah to hammer on their new Kwicker splitboard system. It was rad to try out the new gear, but even better to ride alongside the inventors of the modern splitboard--Brett "Cowboy" Kobernik and Mark "Wally" Wariakois (original owner of Voile). These rugged Wasatch dudes have been scouring mountains outside of resort boundaries since most of us were groms. So, who better to test the system with?
K2 worked closely with Voile on developing the interface. The binding pucks are similar to normal Voile ones, but the K2 Ultra Split has a slider track for easier stance adjustments. The actual binding is essentially a Clicker Binding (yeah, remember those?) on a thin aluminum plate. The toe bar easily clips in for touring, and uses standard, two step Voile climbing bars. The binding slides on and latches to the pucks pretty flawlessly with minimal play. Other noteworthy pieces of the setup are the proprietary K2 skins, which are on the lighter side (thanks to minimal glue) and feature tip and tail clips for a solid connection; and the super compact K2 Speed Link poles which fit inside your pack.
As with anything new, there're always ups and downs. Here are our honest thoughts on the new rig:
K2 claims the Stark Boots and Kwicker binding weighs the same as their normal Maysis and Darko boot.
One Stop Shopping
The complete Backside Tools offering (boards, boots, bindings, skins, poles, pack, shovel, probe, crampons) is pretty appealing for those who want a simplified way to get into the backcountry game and all the gear is designed to work well together.
We rallied through some crusty crap and firm groomers and found the complete rig to ride pretty damn well. While we noticed a little play here and there when stopped, it was unnoticeable when riding. The shape of the Ultra Split was pretty fun for numerous styles of riding, too.
The whole system--from bindings to skins--is quick to change over with gloves on or off.
Didn't they go extinct for a reason? While the designers assure the system is secure, the small locking tab on the release lever had a few in the crew nervous of possible release. The binding plates, however, will not release with a boot clicked in, but it's going to take some convincing that the system can handle the force of heavier riding. Another down side as of now is that you're limited to the K2 Stark boot.
A big reason for upgrading to splitboard specific bindings (Spark, Voile, Karakoram) is to lower your boot/bindings height on the board increase boar feel. (You're not out carving GS turns are you?) The thick sole of the boot combined with the binding plate felt quite high off the board.
While we did dive into cold boots fresh out of the box, the rock solid sole of the boot was hard to ignore. Walking and riding felt eerily akin to ski boots. While K2 designers claim that the 360 flex of the Stark boot is an exact match of a standard strap setup. Later in the day we discovered that you could fine tune the feel a bit better with the Boa closure, but it's pretty hard to give up the comfortable feel, flex and adjustments of a standard strap binding and your favorite boot.
The K2 Kwicker system is good fire for the splitboard scene. It's stirring innovation. For first timers it's an easy entry point. And if you already have a split, you can drop in on the boots and bindings to lighten up your kit. The setup works well together, but it's going to be tough to exhume step-ins from the grave.