The Downhill Report, December 1996
It was the last bastion of skier superiority, the ability to smugly glide from chair to slope while the knuckle draggers futzed and fumbled, strapping into their bindings. Well, snowboarding's last evolutionary defect is now a thing of the past. Soft-boot step-in bindings--which mechanically lock shoe to board in much the same manner as ski bindings--have until recently been underwhelming, but their refinement was inevitable. That's because step-ins do more than speed up the process: They create a tighter connection between foot and board, thus, at least theoretically, improving control. Herewith a guide to five of the best new systems on the market (each requiring its own specially designed boots).
Device's new step-in (boots, $204-$219; bindings, $178; 800-713-1860) looks like a traditional binding, but it has a bar at the toe that mates with a metal bracket and a locking mechanism--like a car's door latch--at the heel. Perhaps its biggest advantage is that it retains the "highback" of strap-on models for added support, allowing Device boots to be less stiff than other step-ins.
For those looking for more control, board-maker Switch Manufacturing (800-794-8349) offers a novel system (boots, $220-$235; bindings, $149-$179) in which metal bars on the sides of the boots lock into a plate-style binding. With no hardware underfoot, your heel and toe sit directly on the board, giving an extra measure of sensitivity.
K2's Clicker (boots, $179-$239; bindings $139-$179; 206-463-3631) is a joint venture with bicycle-component giant Shimano, so not surprisingly, it's similar to a clipless pedal system. To get in, you align your foot so that the metal tongue on the underside of the boot slides into a toe loop and then step into a mechanism that locks your heel in place. Clicker's boots more closely resemble ski footwear than soft snowboarding boots, but what you lose in comfort you gain in freeriding control.
At first glance, you'd never guess Blax's I-spine system (boots and bindings, $349-$359; 617-889-1720) was a step-in: The only clues are tiny, spring-loaded metal nubs on either side of the arch, which lock into a minimalist plate on the board. But beyond stealth, where Blax shines is in fit: Its freeriding boot has an intricate internal strapping system that snugly forms the EVA foam lining to the rider's foot.
Finally, the latest offering from DNR (boots and bindings, $498-$598; 801-956-9430) includes perhaps the most unusual feature to come out this year: a hinged highback that's attached directly to the back of the boot. The result? When you lean forward for a toe-side turn, the boot flexes to give you more lateral freedom, but when you go heel-side,
it provides all the extra support you need.