Background – Transformation to AT boots & Dynafits
This modification is for those migrating to an AT boot which will be discussed further below. Please keep in mind, the decision process to migrate to hard boot is based on individual experience and opinion. For some, a soft boot married with a Sparks R&D or Karakoram binding is perfectly suitable. Everyone is different. So as a premise, I am simply offering this mod for those looking for a hard alpine boot for the same reasons.
I was originally dead set with the Scarpa Inverno Ice climbing boots after reading about Jeff Golsten’s mod on TGR. After trying those on however, I realized there is no way a mountaineering boot would fly on a splitboard. Zero heel side control. Not to mention, mountaineering boots..well, suck. I like my shins, and would like to keep them. In fact that goes for the whole line up of ice climbing, and mountaineering boots. I know a bunch of you are going to jump on my ass for saying that, but keep in mind I am referring to their use in splitboarding.
After seeing a transition to the Dynafit by several in the Teton community, I knew they were on to something. The transition has gotten much publicized traction since. Most snowboarders cannot imagine a transition to a hard boot, but most mountaineers cannot fathom being in the backcountry in a soft boot. A middle ground was met for those who are a hybrid of the two. This is a video that illustrates the transition, and is what first drew my attention to it.
Among the many that helped with the transition, I have to give a huge thanks to Mountaineer Ski Guide Ruedi Beglinger and Tim Ryan. Well worth the read if you are considering the transition. Likely one of the best observations I have seen posted in any of the communities.
Among the other considerations to making this switch were the inherent dangers of having a soft boot in the alpine terrain. I did not have the ability to kick step in couloirs. After being in Dead Dog Couloir in snowboard boots, I promised myself never again until I got with the program – I knew better. Ever try to properly self arrest with an ice axe in a soft toe and heel? Or, scramble in rocky terrain safely without the vibram soles of an AT boot? New-matic crampons cannot be attached to a snowboard boot. Strap-ons could work (the Grivel 12 point is one of the few that accepts the bulk of a snowboard boot – but who wants a 12 point crampon in a non-shank boot?). It goes without saying that if you are using new-matic crampon in a [shank] sole that cannot support the crampon you are playing with fire.
Charlet Moser pons will work too – barely, but I would not want to be on a climbing slope and have one fail. Anyone that has traveled in crampons understands the risk you take being in a soft boot of any kind and crampons related accidents – many of them from catching a crampon point on a soft boot (as in hiking boot, so you can only imagine how likely this would be in a snowboard boot), and the inherent tripping hazard of wearing them with anything other than an ice climbing boot or mountaineering boot. The list is sobering, and again, I am preaching to the choir.
In October 2011 I started looking in to the AT boot. The issue I initially had was the thought of splitboard touring with mountain plates and bales – it just didn’t appeal to me. Sparks R&D had made several modifications by eliminating the Voile touring bracket altogether. Replacing it with a Dynafit toe-piece for touring, and either Voile or Bomber mountain plates for descent. This was the exact modification that that was becoming prevalent in the snowboard mountaineering community over the past few years. With a means to setup, now the battle was finding an AT boot that would behave the same as a snowboard boot on descents, yet offer a touring comfort. Scarpa was the answer.
Scarpa USA (based here in Boulder, CO) helped me with the mondo / BSL sizing issue. I had narrowed down the Scarpa line to two models; the Rush, and the Matrix. With the boot problem solved, it was now time to tackle the modifications to the splitboard. I knew right away mounting Dynafit to a splitboard was going to be a problem. The amount of lateral force applied to Dynafit would tear a surface mount right off the board, and I did not want to drill and install more t-nuts. Spark R&D solved this problem with an adapter plate that enables you to mount the Dynafit toe-piece to the existing touring bracket holes so that the toe-piece is utilizing the existing T-nut mounting (no drilling).
I was actually thinking of calling in a favor for the use of a mill and fabricating my own out of T6 – but since Sparks R&D already solved the problem, there was no sense in going through the trouble. Here’s a pic of the adapter plates with Dynafits; You can custom order the toe-piece directly from Neptune or Bent Gate Mountaineering, and they can have them in the shop in a few days. However, those friends at Spark R&D have the Dynafit TLT in stock, and as always they are a breeze to deal with. You will likely find that their price cannot be beat either. Weight: For the best spring condition snow often a trail ascent before you even get to the snow is in order. Rather than using a splitboard in tour mode, it becomes necessary to pack it in. My previous setup was a pain in the ass having to pack in; snowboard boots with Boa weigh in at 5.6lbs. The bindings added another 4.7 lbs. Originally I thought about going to a lighter, shorter board.. But that is analogous to burning down your house to get rid of a rat.
I was very concerned about adding even more weight transitioning to an AT set up. The Scarpa Matrix weigh in at 4.1lbs and the complete mountain plates weigh in at just 2.2lbs. The Scarpa Rush beats them all – weighing in at a whopping 3.1lbs (based on a mens size 27.5), and the women’s Scarpa Blink or Gea even lighter at 2lbs 2oz! So even for packing in on longer ascents I have switched out roughly 10lbs for 6lbs. In mountaineering terms that is the farm.
Next is eliminating the snowboard binding altogether, and switching to a mountain plate. Same principle as a new-matic crampon using toe & heel mountaineering bale.
AT Boots with Mountain Plates
Previously, I had two different setups depending on the terrain when I used regular snowboard bindings. A Flow V binding for the 161, and a Ride Delta for the 159. The Flow bindings did not need an avy rip cord, but I did attach an avy rip cord to the Ride bindings – similar to Voile’s avy ripcord. Both systems were a huge liability in avy terrain though – especially in touring mode. If caught in a slide neither system would allow a quick break away.
- Tour & Ride modes
So in sum, eliminated was; Voile touring bracket, snowboard boots, snowboard bindings, slider gasket.
Replaced with: Dynafit, mountain plates, AT boots.
For those that are headed toward this mod, here are a few pointers that may save you some time and leg work. Scarpa makes over 20 different types of AT boots – so you really have to figure out what works for you. Again, I ride switch, and needed a boot I could adjust to be rigid in the alpine, and soft and flexible on touring. My choice was the Scarpa Matrix. It has a forward lean adjustment and canting adjustment that give more flex than a soft boot if I want it, and at the flip of a switch I can lock them out to be rigid.
Scarpa AT boots – make sure you get a shell fit regardless of what size you think you wear (known as BSL which is measured in millimeters). Go to a real mountaineer place (Neptune, Bent Gate, Larry’s) to get sized. Know that in Scarpa-land, that a size 27.5 is the same shell size as a 28.. Only the liner changes sizes on the full size. After you determine the shell size, get fit for the mondo size (actual centimeter boot size). All Scarpa AT boots use an Intuition liner – so it is heat molded to your feet. Once they are heat molded it is like wearing a tennis shoe. Keep this in mind if you shop for them used.
Dynafit – go with the Dynafit TLT or Radical. Don’t have some random Nordic shop try to sell you a higher vigor Dynafit. It’s only going to be used for touring. Definitely use the Spark R&D adapter plate. I wouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel direct mounting them to a board. Sparks will include adapter plates for the rear climbing wire as well. You will need this modification due to the vibram sole of an AT boot. Otherwise the climbing wire will strike in the arch of your foot.
In summary, I have about 45 days on the snow with this transition, and I could never go back to a soft boot. There is a learning curve switching between a soft boot and a hard boot. For me it took about two days to really get the hang of the difference. Your heel side initiation, and toe side response to turns is much greater in hardboots (think: feather clutch). You will want to face your dominate foot about two degrees forward than you would in a soft boot stance (if you ride switch, do that to the front and rear).
If you would like to see another custom split of a Ride Society with this same setup, I have another one here…