Things are about to get a whole lot easier on the hill for snowboarders. Burton just revealed a new binding called StepOn. The system does away with buckles completely, in favor of an easy-to-step-into click-in system that allows riders to step into their bindings as soon as they get off the lift. It may not sound very different from the step-in bindings of the 1990s, but the design and how it translates to the snow are a paradigm shift.
A combination of Boa-equipped snowboard boots (with two styles for men and two for women, based on stiffness) and a completely new buckle-free binding system lets riders step into and out of their bindings within seconds. Two toe cleats on either side of the boot’s toe box click into the binding’s toe hooks (in the same way a cyclist clicks into a pair of clipless pedals). This works alongside a heel cleat that locks into the back of the binding to create a secure connection between boot and binding. Credit the boot’s Boa system for the secure feel, too — the strap that reaches laterally from inner to outer foot and houses one of two Boa dials cranks down giving the rider the familiar feel of having a binding ankle strap. A quick lift of a lever and riders can step right out of their bindings.
According to Burton, this system delivers a time savings of 300 more runs over the course of a decade. But it isn’t the cumulative effect that’s so obvious; it’s the moment of gliding off the lift and directly onto the run that feels so powerful.
Of course, the term “step-in bindings” practically comes with a scarlet letter. In the 1990s, during their popularity, step-ins were primarily a system used for beginners and in rental shops. And a few of the pros rocked them, too. But they never gained enough traction to make them a worthwhile long-term investment for brands like Burton. “Plus, they physically hurt people when they jumped because they had no absorption,” says Chris Doyle, Burton’s binding developer, harkening back to the round metal discs underfoot that riders could click into, on which he worked for years. In StepOn, Burton uses its popular Re:flex baseplate, which has a lot of dynamic flex built.
StepOn is a complete revolution of the step-in concept — one that Burton kept under wraps, even from its own employees. The company built a secret workspace for a handful of binding developers who worked behind these mysterious walls for five months straight. They were even allowed to ditch all-staff meetings.
Gliding off the lift at Vail, snowboard underfoot, I couldn’t help but hear Nelson from the Simpson’s recognizable “ha-ha” in my head as I slid past snowboarders sitting down and ratcheting down their bindings. Not only could I keep my pants dry, but I could start riding immediately. Unlike step-ins of the past, which sloppily sourced every move from the center of the board under each foot, the toe-to-heel responsiveness was faster than even buckle-equipped bindings, leaving me confident to make quick turns in the trees, beeline it towards powder stashes and ride in tandem with some of the snowboard industry’s best chargers.
Boot stiffness and tautness are both details that need some dialing in — likely from Burton and the riders themselves, overtime — because the system relies heavily on the boots for performance. I cranked my boots down for maximum control but later found bruises on my shins. Professional rider Terje Haakonsen confirmed he slayed a flying squirrel while we were out testing and won the Riks Banked Slalom contest in the Masters division earlier this year. “There isn’t much difference from my normal bindings,” says Haakonsen when I asked him how he likes the system. “There is less power in an ollie, so I’ll ride these when I’m in powder and on groomers, not jumping so much.”
Flaws were truly few and far between. Overall, they rode pretty much like regular top-of-the-line buckled bindings but with a convenience factor that outranks anything with buckles and faster energy transfer. It’s not clear why anyone would go back to straps after trying StepOn.