Spark R&D, a company operating out of Bozeman, Montana, have developed a new binding specifically designed for splitboards. I heard this news last year and had to investigate. For many snowboarders who choose to get away from the resort crowds, the simple option is snowshoes. They work fine, but as a photographer I carry a large, heavy rucksack and adding the weight of a snowboard to the pack while climbing seemed just too much like hard work. Plus, have you ever tried to open rucksacks which have snowshoes tied to the back…. The answer I came to many years ago was a splitboard.
I had a Duotone splitboard with Voile fixings but have recently bought a new Prior Backcountry Split. The Voile system works well but once you’ve added your own bindings the rider’s feet are quite high above the board and this can result in poor transmission of weight to the board’s edges – leaving it feeling slow to respond. It can also result in a degree of sideways rolling of the feet which is undesirable.
However Spark R&D have come up with a clever new integrated binding. Naturally you can’t use your own bindings but the Spark Fuse bindings use the straps and highbacks from regular Bent Metal Fuse bindings. Made of aluminium, initial impressions were good – lightweight but apparently strong and unfussy design. The baseplate and integrated pin puts the riders feet back down to board level and eliminates twisting and unresponsiveness. Also in walk mode, the bindings have a full 90 degree pivot, which means there’s no danger of blowing out your pin if you fall face-first whilst skinning (it happens!). Yep it might sound funny, but if the pin breaks in the backcountry you could be in real trouble.
For their first trip I took the new bindings to Gulmarg in Kashmir where I was photographing a ski trip for The Observer newspaper. Despite difficult conditions and poor snow the bindings worked impeccably and are seemingly bombproof. The integrated pin system means the switch from ride mode to walk mode, and vice versa, is achieved in seconds.
These binding are flying off the shelves and hence in very short supply, but I managed to get some from the very helpful Biwakscharte (www.biwakscharte.de) in Germany, a mountain sports supplier and Spark dealer. So big thanks to Sandy and the team for all their help.
Next stop for the splitboard setup is Aspen, Colorado in early February..
Update! Only a couple of days of easy touring in Aspen but the Spark bindings were again excellent. One thing i noticed was you do have to be quite deliberate with the head of the pin which twists and sits under the toe binding strap. If it is released from under the toe binding – possible in heavy snow – the pin can begin to work loose. Once I noticed it had worked out of one side of the binding and was only held on by the one remaining hole..