Backcountry bound: New shapes and bindings lighten and liven snowboards and splitboards

Some of the growing number of snowboard companies at Outdoor Retailer debuted expanded their backcountry lines, while others entered the market for the first time. SNEWS recaps the new products we saw at Winter Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It's an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Just like in the ski world, more snowboarders than ever are venturing through the gates, paying for heli-drops, hopping on cat tours and using their own manpower to earn turns.

The growing number of snowboard companies at Winter Market and their accompanying backcountry innovation mirror the frenzy. Some brands are expanding their lines three-fold, others are entering the market for the first time, and a few are responsible for some of the biggest gear stories on the show floor.

Leave it to G3 Genuine Guide Gear, makers of award-winning backcountry skis, to dive into splitboarding headfirst. Its debut, the aptly named Blacksheep (7 pounds, 7 ounces in a 162; MSRP $790), is an all-mountain freeride plank with a directional shape and setback stance. Designed for powder stashes, the lightweight Blacksheep has a slight taper and a poplar/paulownia wood core. It’s one of the few all-mountain boards sporting a reverse camber profile; most have embraced a camber-rocker mix. “We love how playful yet aggressive the full reverse camber is on our big mountain skis,” said Jason Kennett, one of the board’s designers. “So we wanted to try it on a snowboard. Sure enough, it worked.” It has a few other ski-inspired features: The low-profile nose cuts through powder; featherweight fiberglass-carbon fiber keeps it light but affordable; and the top and bottom sheets are pinched together with cap construction at the tip and tail for added durability and weight savings.

G3 also releases its High Traction skins (MSRP $180), which are said to be 15 percent more grippy than its debut skin from last year, the Alpinist Splitboard Skins.

Jones Snowboards, helmed by big mountain snowboard mountaineer Jeremy Jones, expands its line with its first full-cambered snowboard, the true-twin Aviator (MSRP $529). “A lot of pro riders are still riding cambered boards,” said, Jones’ Chad Perrin, “because they offer pop and tighter control.” But thanks to nose and tail edges that are beveled up, riders still get some of the playfulness that rockered boards are known for. Edge grip isn’t compromised, though: Jones’ new Hard Core, made from a hard FSC certified wood, offers better energy transfer and stronger dampening. An x-shaped piece of carbon in the nose cuts down chatter.

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Jones also debuts a narrower, softer version of the all-mountain, freeride Hovercraft (MSRP $449) in a 148 designed specifically for women.

With a handful of new designs coming out, Burton takes the prize for the wackiest innovations. Scott Seward, one of Burton’s board designers, is most excited about the all-mountain Landlord (MSRP $570, photo below). “Most boards fall into a generic shape,” Seward said, “but with this one, we looked at how the different-shaped elements affect performance and then we matched those up.” Which is to say, the Landlord is kind of a hodge-podge Willy Wonka experiment — but likely a successful one. Burton matches up the board’s S-Rocker (camber underfoot, rockered nose), stance location, sidecut center and taper to create a board that rides like, well, two. “When you’re on flat snow, the board rides like a twin because you’re centered over what’s touching the snow,” said Seward, “but, when you get into deeper snow or on edge, the rest of the board engages making it ride like a directional-tapered board.”

Another example of unconventional-but-innovative design is its new technology, Filet-O-Flex, as seen on the new powder-specific Fishcuit (MSRP $600, photo below), which claims to have the most taper of any board on the market. “We’ve always had trouble getting a consistent flex out of the board because of the setback stance and small tail,” Seward said. Filet-O-Flex solves this problem by focusing on the thickness of the core, top to bottom. In the past, binding inserts have dictated this measurement. Not so with the Fishcuit. The board is slimmer than its inserts and the extra space is filled in with a surf pad designed with Burton’s sister-company, Channel Islands. This creates enough flex for even, smooth arcing on snow. Also noteworthy: The Fishcuit’s convex nose — designed like the hull of a boat — to make the snow spill away.

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Burton, which is in its second season at Winter Market, also releases the Day Trader (MSRP $550, photo below), a women’s freeride board designed by pro-rider Kimmy Fasani; the Cloud Splitter (MSRP $650), Burton’s most drastic swallow tail design; and the Fish (MSRP $600), a surf-inspired winged swallow tail with a setback sidecut and flattened rear contact points that create a gentle release from turns.

If you remember snowboarding’s clicker step-in bindings, you’ll appreciate K2’s new Kwicker Backside System. It’s a new take on the step-in that uses a bracket on the bottom of the boot to click into what’s almost a non-binding, it’s so minimalist. The biggest downfall with the original clickers, and the reason they aren’t utilized anymore, was the lack of support in the boots. “We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years with boots,” said Hunter Waldron, K2’s brain behind this system. “We found that our stiffest boots actually act mid-level stiff without a high-back. It’s the perfect replacement.”

The system is made up of the Ultra Split board (3,030 grams for the 161; MSRP $700) or the women’s Northern Lite (2,830 grams for the 152; $700), the Kwicker BC b
indings (366 grams each, MSRP $200), the Stark boots (1,400 grams each; $100) and optional Kwicker crampon (MSRP $100), and also available for sale as a package (MSRP $1,250, men’s) and (MSRP $950, women’s).

The bamboo-cored Ultra Split board has rocker in the tip and tail and no camber between the feet and features Split Track, K2’s new infinite stance channel mounting system. The Kwicker BC bindings — where the real magic happens — slide onto Voile pucks and with the flip of a lever go from tour into ride mode. The binding system is slimmer than current offerings and offers a more natural glide. The Stark boots feature K2’s BoaConda technology, a cage that wraps the foot and locks it into the heel cup. The click-in metal bracket is recessed into boot’s sole.

The entire system is 4 pounds lighter than anything currently on the market, according to K2, and takes about half the transition time at the top of the hill. 

--Ali Carr Troxell

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