With the launch of Burton Snowboards new StepOn just around the corner, we re-visit our trip to Laax last January when we got an exclusive preview of the new binding set up. Having seen Step in bindings the first time round, we arrived at Burton HQ with our eyebrows raised enough to form a new hairline and finished the trip wide-eyed agog and wearing our new ‘I love StepOn’ T-shirt. This t-shirt doesn’t exist but if it did we’d probably wear it.
Snowboard bindings have pretty much had the same basic form for the last three decades – a baseplate, a highback, an ankle strap and a toe strap. Of course, there’s a host of different permutations, materials and tech that goes into every brand’s bindings that make them very different to one another, but the basic format remains the same. The reason that this format has stood the test of time is that it works really well. Ok, you have to bend over to strap in which for newcomers and those whose backs are on the way out, can be a real bore; but offering a function that is basically perfect for snowboarding, who really cares about those ten seconds of strapping in you have to do?
Well, apparently some people do. The search for a more convenient way to secure yourself to your snowboard has been ongoing since the very early days of the sport and around 20 years ago, snowboard companies poured a huge amount of money into trying to solve the problem and ‘step in’ – a catch-all name for a number of different systems – was born. The basic idea was to simplify getting into your board, by replacing the straps (and in some cases, highbacks) with a mechanism that allowed you to simply ‘step in’ to your bindings. The problem was that all the systems were pretty much universally horrible: uncomfortable, inefficient, or just plain badly engineered. Most of the various step in systems focussed their engineering on the entry/exit mechanism, which meant that all the response and support had to be built into the boot, leading to a stiff sole and a heavy boot or some kind of Frankenbootbinding system that just looked wrong and didn’t work. Eventually, mercifully, the brands saw that while the idea of a step in binding was a solid one, the execution was poor and most step ins were quietly dropped.
And that was the end of it. Or so we thought.
Rumours started spreading October 2016 that Burton were launching a brand new system called StepOn. At first, we thought it was a joke, but then images started filtering through. StepOn was a reality and while we discussed the pros and cons of resurrecting the concept, the main thought that we kept coming back to, was ‘Why’?
Fast forward to the end of January and Burton invited Europe’s snowboard and tech media to spend a couple of days in Laax, Switzerland, getting to grips with StepOn and spending some time on the hill trying it out for ourselves. The vibe at the presentation was one of detached curiosity: I talked to a couple of the other media guys and they pretty much felt the same as I did – we were struggling to see the point. After the presentation, we got to have a look at the boots and bindings for ourselves and things started to look more promising. There could be something here, I thought.
When I got into the gear room the next morning, my board and bindings were laid out waiting for me. I tried the Photon BOA StepOn boot and getting into it was no different than a regular BOA boot – loosen the BOAs, then the inner boot, slide your foot in and reverse the process. The boot feels like a normal boot, too. No clunky feel, no stiff sole, no ’clack clack’ of the mechanism scuffing the floor as you walk around. There is little difference on the outside of the boot to suggest that it’s not a regular one – just the aluminium tab on each side of your toes and a small latch at the rear of the boot. The two BOAs each adjust a separate part of the boot to allow you to get in and out easily and then tweak the fit and stiffness. The BOA on the lower part of the boot has a kind of toestrap built into it for added response, but it’s designed so that it is barely noticeable, while the upper BOA controls the fit of the ankle and upper part of the boot.
The binding is where things get even more interesting. It is slick to the point that it looks like a regular baseplate and highback that someone has forgotten to put the straps in. You get into the binding in much the same way as you would with a normal one; push your heel to the back of the highback and slide your foot down. At this point, the latch/ratchet on the read of the highjack engages with the clip on the boot and you hear a little click. You then push down with your toes and the two aluminium tabs push aside the wings on the baseplate and you click in. To release your foot you pull up the lever that is neatly integrated into the baseplate, which unlatches your heel and then you twist the front of your foot and you’re out. The whole operation is very slick and almost effortless. While you can hear and feel the clicks as the components engage, it’s an alien experience to step into a snowboard binding, so it takes a little getting used to.
After messing around for a while getting in and out of the bindings it was time to go shred. The first time I stepped in, I heard the click but wasn’t sure if I was in or not. I should have just trusted it – I was in and secure. We took some laps and after a couple of runs, I had pretty much forgotten I was riding a ‘new’ system. It felt almost exactly like a regular strapped system, but with the advantage of no messing about when you get off the lift. We encountered all kinds of snow conditions and terrain – hardback, pow, park, piste, side country, side hits and so on and StepOn performed flawlessly throughout.
I hated to admit it it, but I was really, really impressed. Since the trip, there are a few questions people have asked about StepOn.
What is StepOn like for park?
Honestly, I’m not good enough in the park to really answer that, but suffice to say that Mikkel Bang, Max Zebe and Hitsch Haller definitely are, and they were all stoked.
Can it accidentally release?
There were around 60 people riding StepOn all day and I didn’t hear of any issues at all.
What about getting into your board in deep snow or ice?
It’s no different to putting on a regular board in deep snow, so if you have a brain in your head, you should be OK as long as you make sure that you clear the baseplate of any snow. The heel latch is a two stage affair with the first click being enough to get you in securely, even if there is snow on your baseplate. The second click engages when snow is either forced out of the baseplate, or you don’t have any in there in the first place.
Can I use different boots with the bindings and vice versa?
StepOn is a system, so you have to use both the boot and binding together. Neither will work with any other boot or binding
How much will it cost?
Bundles (boots and bindings) are as follows…
Men’s Photon StepOn bundle – £570
Women’s Felix StepOn bundle – £550
Men’s Ruler StepOn bundle – £510
Women’s Limelight StepOn bundle – £510
Who is it for?
StepOn is for all levels and kinds of snowboarder and not just people who don’t want to bend over to strap in or who want to be first off the lift. There will definitely be interest from newcomers to the sport, crossovers from skiing, the tech guys who love their kit and the annoying guys who want to lead the pack all the time; but crucially it’s for experienced snowboarders, too. I went there wanting to hate it, but I came back converted. The only way to find out if Step On works for you is to try it for yourself.
What are the advantages?
Speed, comfort, response, they feel good. StepOn works.
What are the disadvantages?
You have to buy both the boots and bindings. There are currently only two models of boot each for men and women. Getting over the negative ‘step in’ association may be too much for some people. That’s pretty much it.
Would you spend your own money on them?
StepOn will definitely be a contender the next time I need new boots and bindings.
StepOn will launch November 2nd 2017 at just 70 shops worldwide, with stockists in the UK – The Snowboard Asylum, Absolute Snow and Snow and Rock. There will be two men’s boots – the Ruler StepOn and the Photon BOA StepOn – and two women’s boots – the Limelight StepOn and the Felix BOA StepOn – to cover most of the riders who will be into the system. The Ruler and Limelight are more suitable for progressive riders, while the Photon BOA and Felix BOA will sit better for experienced riders.
This post has been edited since the original post to update stockist, typos and RRP details