From Snowboard to SplitboardAs part of the transition to an AT boot, the bindings also have to transition. Typically a binding for hardboots is called a plate or plate-binding. When I first migrated from a snowboard boot & binding to the AT setup, I started off with Voile SD Mountain Plates. Voile bindings worked great for two seasons, but I began noticing little nuances that bothered me.
I eventually decided to modify a pair of Trench Digger bindings made by Bomber Industries. The difference between the aluminum alloy binding and the Voile binding is day and night. I will still use the Voile SD plates on another board though.
There are several companies out there that manufacture hard boot bindings. Some are for racing bindings or hardboot carvers, others are for monoski. Others are specifically designed for splitboards and can interface directly to the Voile slider plate. If you are creative you can use virtually any combination of the above because all use a bale / alpine plate system.
Among the companies out there are:
With hardboots, most of your forward lean, boot canting, tightness, etc., is adjusted in your boot, not your binding. The binding serves to connect the hardboot on to the deck. Your stance distance, stance angle, and binding cant are adjusted on your binding. Plate bindings can mount to the Voile interface, or may be comprised of a more sophisticated system. Typically though, the plate binding is made up of the forward bale, and rear heal. With the exception of step-in bindings, the bale lever locks on to the tongue of the boot the same way a newmatic crampon does.
There are MANY preferences to stance, from narrow to broad, switch, duck-foot, and so on. For a moment though, throw out all that you know or have become accustomed to with your riding stance. Pull out your board and stand on the board in the most neutral comfortable position that you can. Mark these areas with tape on your board.
Now put your AT boots on – adjusted with as much forward lean as you would riding (i.e. rear lock out in tour or walk mode, power strap loose, buckles to ride settings). Stand beside your board and replicate the same stance which is taped on your board. Flex toe side, heal side, and initiate turns.. Move your stance to the most neutral position that you can. You will want to move your leading foot forward a few degrees in a hard boot. Unlike soft boots, you will want a tad more forward momentum. Once you have a suitable stance figured out, transfer tape again to the board to mark the stance.
You will now mount the slider pucks to conform to this stance. Once mounted, lock in the slider plates with the plate bindings – which should already be adjusted to your AT boots. The bales should be snug but DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN! If the bales have too much pressure they will force the boot arch down at the toe and you could have SERIOUS problems. Downward pressure can cause the bale to release on a boot flex and you could potentially release from one binding while still being held in the other. Needless to say this can cause serious injury!
Lock yourself in to the bindings with a piece of carpet under the board. Again try your toe-side, and heal side and initiate turns. When returning to your stance you should feel as if you are in a completely neutral position.
Binding cant actually applies to both snowboarding and splitboarding with either soft boots or hard boots. Rocker technology has made canting essential, and more people are starting to do it. The neutral position that I talked about earlier is essential. Canting the bindings can aid in the neutral position. Typically the further your stance distance is, the greater the cant angle. I will discuss canting as it applies to AT boots & plate bindings. The House also published an article that covers snowboard binding footbed canting – which is a great read.
Binding cant is not to be confused with the boot canting adjustment. A binding cant tilts the entire binding. With a plate setup, the cant has to be placed under the binding block so that the entire plate is canted. The amount of canting is very small – usually between 2-5 degrees inward on each side.
The torsion power (think mechanical advantage) you get in a plate binding is unbelievable compared to that of a regular snowboard binding. It is also a very directional mechanical advantage. I figured out Binding Cant Strips from Tognar. Essentially these are widgets of rubber than are available from one degree to five degrees. Canting alters the lateral tilt or “cant angle” which is relative to the perpendicular running surface or bottom plane of the attached board. Essentially it takes the inward pressure off of your knees. It will also aid in dampening vibration.
In addition to tognar strips, you could also rip the cants on a table saw out of polyethylene (known as PE or high density PE – HDPE). You can find the material from a plastic supply or use an old cutting board. I would not advise wood as it will compress over time (and expand with moisture), making your binding mounts at risk to loosening. I would start with a two degree cant. Cants will make a huge difference!
Some people have also placed a cant on the heal to give it lift. I haven’t had the need to do this personally. If you are having problems initiating turns on your toe-side; it may be something to consider.
You will need to dial in the small details on the snow. Always make a note or reference as to which adjustments you have made.
Once you have made all adjustments to the binding plate; all screws used in the binding system should be moderately torqued and Threadlocker [blue] or it’s equivalent should be used on the threads. If you remove the screw, the threads should be re-treated with Threadlocker. If you skip this it can mean the loosening of the slider pucks or binder plate and can cause serious injury. Not to mention losing a binding screw in the backcountry can mean having to skin all the way back.
It is a good idea to keep a few spare mounting screws in a small repair kit with you. I usually keep an assortment of the 6mm / 8mm mounting screws as well as other hardware in a repair kit when in the backcountry.
One of the biggest advantages to an AT boot is the Dynafit toe-piece. This enables touring without the slider plates and bindings which can reduce a lot of weight. To utilize the Dynafit toe-piece you will need to replace the standard touring bracket with Dynafit toe-pieces. Sparks R&D makes a mounting bracket and sells the Dynafit Radical toe-pieces. This eliminates the need for drilling and uses your pre-existing tour bracket holes. Sparks also includes a rear plate, which is needed with this modification due to the vibram sole of an AT boot. Otherwise the climbing wire will strike in the arch of your foot.
Gallery of modified Trench Digger bindings on Voile slider plate: