Words by Marty
Okay, so they might be getting called Step-Ons this time round, but let’s not beat around the bush here ? Burton have just released new step-in binding, and it looks like it could actually be half decent. I?m not going to say ?good?, but perhaps, ?better?. Maybe good enough to avoid ending up on the great scrapheap of snowboarding tech ideas in the sky ? we shall see.
But whether it was Terje winning the Riks Banked Slalom Masters on them that made you take notice, or Alex Andrews jumping clean into his ? things certainly seem to be a little more credible this time round.
But what about the past ? those bygone days? Has enough time passed? Is this a sign that the shred gods have given us to say that it’s okay to look back, to reminisce?
As we all know, the much-maligned step-in snowboard binding isn?t a new innovation. There was a time when all manner of brands had a step-in offering, and they had probably as many fans as they did haters. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration ? they might have had just about as many fans as they did haters, plus a whole bunch more people who just felt they were a bit pants ? but they had some fans? and dare I admit? that I was one of them?!
The year was 2001, and technology was not nearly as advanced as it was in the famous movie of the same name. We weren?t travelling to Jupiter with sentient computer beings, and our snowboard hardware was significantly less pimp than it is today. But nonetheless, visionaries were still having visions, inventors were still inventing, designers were still designing ? all pulling together and pushing society forward to try and solve the big problems of the day.
At that time, no single issue united the world’s big thinkers more than that of a wet arse, acquired while sitting down to fasten a set of archaic, antiquated, traditional ratchet snowboard bindings. The feeling of rejection and shame that was felt deep in the heart of so many as they sat, feverishly ratcheting, while their group of skier pals rolled casually away from the chair lift to commence the sweet shredding of that much-anticipated gnar.
With pressure like that then, it’s unsurprising that somewhere in the 90s the snowboard step-in binding was born. There’s more than one way to attack the issue, so a few different systems launched onto the market ? all unique and incompatible with each other.
Unfortunately, most systems sucked pretty badly for a number of reasons. The boots had to provide a solid base and a lot of the support you normally get from your high back, so they were chunky and stiff ? both in the base and up the back. In order to keep your heel anywhere near the bottom of the boot you usually needed to retain the main ratchet strap across the top of your foot, except in the absence of a binding, that was stuck on the boot too ? further enhancing the goofy look.
And despite all this, you might still quite often find yourself wistfully watching your pals shred off into the distance as you tried to unpick and unpack the loose snow that had got stuck and compressed in your fastening mechanism, preventing you from clipping in at all.
Not the greatest solution to one of life’s great problems then, you might argue. Not worth investing in a set, you might say. But that, my friend, is where you?d be wrong.
I found myself in a supermarket parking lot in the Aosta valley, in Italy. A young country bumpkin, fresh out of school and on the hunt for some fresh lines on my first season. I had been on a couple of day trips to the Highlands, one or two weeks in France as a younger teen. I wasn?t a seasoned pro. I wasn?t a product of ?the scene?. I wasn?t equipped with the internet opinion and inherited world weariness that we all are today. All I had was a desire to shred and an open mind. Not a hater ? an appreciator.
With this blind faith and enthusiasm I purchased a random stranger’s season-old, second-hand K2 board in a car park and went to the nearest shred shop to pick up something to stick on it.
And it was in this store that I first clapped eyes on the Burton Ruler SI boots and Mission SI bindings that would become my own. Sure, there were plenty of traditional boots and bindings on offer, but having genuinely appraised the situation and thought over it in my head, I opted for the step-ins.
The quickness and lack of faff was appealing, and crucially, the Burton system had a high back on the binding ? meaning that by comparison, the boot could be a lot less chunky than some of the fairly special-looking offerings from other brands at the time. The step-in system was pretty neat, low profile and easy to use. And, let’s face it, they were quite a cool colour? and possibly on sale cheap because no one else wanted them? so my young mind was made up.
With that, I was off to razz around Cervinia and Zermatt for the winter with fairly reckless abandon. I didn?t know much about snowboarding other than I liked to do it ? fast and hard. Turning was for gimps. Just go straight down the hill as fast as humanly possible. Hit jumps with zero technique and land on your head. Have no fear and even less regard for your own personal safety.
Unable to find many who shared my shred pace and ethos, I fell in with a pair of mildly unhinged Norwegian telemarkers ? who?d routinely be found busting out backflips and 720s without their heels fixed in, like it ain?t no thang. I followed these mad bastards down some of the most technical terrain and unreal pow fields we could find ? to this day, some of the hardest and best riding I’ve done ? all the while clicked-in to my supposedly inferior step-in setup.
I?m not trying to say they were totally awesome ? the sole was extremely hard and liked to put you on your back occasionally when walking on icy ground, for instance ? but they did a pretty good job of standing up to whatever I could throw at them in that anything-but-tame season.
Sure, it’s a long time ago now ? and the other thing we did that season was drink enough to kill a small battalion of tramps, so I might have forgot, or blocked it from my memory for being too terrible ? but I really don?t remember them being anything but pretty solid. And every time we got off a chairlift, I was away like a shot, with the boys, without so much as a second thought. No ratcheting. No rejection. No shame. And a dry arse.
It’s certainly true that I?m not riding a step-in setup today, and I?m not saying that I’ll be running out to buy the Burton system any time soon, but I’ll watch how it gets on with interest and an open mind. So far it looks like they’ve got quite a clever, capable system, that’s pretty low profile and stealthy ? which will appeal to you if you like the idea of step-ins only just a bit more than what the haters will think of you for using them.
It does seem that Burton might still have some issues though. Early tests report odd clicky noises while turning, and they might not have entirely got to the bottom of the problem of snow clogging the mechanics. Nonetheless, they’ve reportedly spent a small fortune on R&D, with a lot of their best minds working on it, so if the concept of step-in bindings has one last shot at a future, this is probably the best it’s going to get.
Someone at Burton believes in step-ins, and they’ve put their money where their mouth is. Who knows ? maybe they weren?t all that bad? Maybe it was the cool kids and the haters that killed step-ins first time round? Maybe a re-brand and a re-launch was all they needed?
Terje was quoted recently as saying ?Everyone will be riding these in a couple of years?. If that turns out to be the case then I’ll be at the front of the queue of similarly open-minded appreciators, ready to smugly claim that we ?told you so? all along ? that we didn?t need to see Terje in a pair to know a good idea when we saw one. Vindicated, after all these years!
And in that, there will be a lesson for us all.
Or perhaps the internet will be right, the haters will prevail, step-ins will disappear for ever more, and we’ll have to go back to having our clandestine Step-ins Anonymous meetings in obscure village halls across the land, shunned by society as we have been these last years.
Only time will tell?