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10 SNOWBOARD ‘GIMMICKS’ THAT ACTUALLY WORKED

Tor Lundstrom knows Bataleon's TBT works, and doesn't mind showing it. Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi
Tor Lundstrom knows Bataleon’s TBT works, and doesn’t mind showing it. Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi

Innovation is great. Innovation to solve a problem that doesn’t exist dressed up in a camouflage of rhetoric and technowaffle? Not so much so. Nowadays any idiot with an idea can put it on Kickstarter and flood feeds with the ‘new essential snowboarding gondolier pole that will revolutionise flat spots!’ (it won’t).

It’s worth remembering, though, that for every pair of bindings with actual springs under the baseplates – for dampening, yo – there has been an equal number of developments that might have seemed like a novelty exercise in wheel-reinvention at the time, but that actually made a beneficial impact on snowboarding.

So here are a selection of snowboard products that, when they first appeared, might have been viewed as gimmicks, but that in fact actually worked!

Boa

Vans' different Boa offerings.
Vans’ different Boa offerings.

‘They look like those weird Pumas that Chavs used to wear’ was our initial reaction upon seeing Boa’s debut on a pair of Vans boots back in the early 2000s.

Of course, tying your boots really isn’t all that hard and arguably the single Boa took longer than simply lacing up, but what we dug from day 1 was how quick they were to loosen or take off after a long day on the hill. ‘Pop, whirr, aaaah’.

Subsequently brands experimented with multiple Boas to give the possibility of fine-tuning fit and flex – with success – and now it’s even common to see Boa used in regular lace-up boots – not as the main method of tightening but to just lock the heel down, like on Vans’ Infuse Boas. This way you get the traditional look of a regular lace boot, with the crankability and heel hold of Boa. And the results are pretty awesome.

ABS Backpack

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It’s clear that the best way to survive an avalanche is to be smart and not get caught by one in the first place. Practicing avalanche safety and awareness is paramount.

But sometimes bad calls are made, conditions change rapidly or the mountain just throws a curveball despite all the signs pointing to stability. Avalanches are violent entities, and while it’s imminently possible that being caught by one will result in injury or death from impact trauma, the chances of death increase significantly when the victim is buried.

If you are involved in a slide, staying on top of the avalanche and avoiding burial is something you want and in 1985 a German fella patented a system that would use compressed gas to inflate an airbag housed in a backpack to help. The ABS system was born.

Over the years, the system has been fine tuned and improved, to today where there are dual airbags housed in a selection of different brands’ compatible backpacks that are much more ergonomic and rider friendly than ever before.

Triple Base Technology

bataleon-tbt

WTF?! Was our first reaction when Bataleon unveiled their first range of boards, all complete with what they dubbed ‘3BT’ or Triple Base Technology in the early 2000s. Till that point (by-and-large, with the exceptions of things like the Morrow Spoon) snowboard bases had been flat, but now here was this thing that had a three-dimensional shape that reminded us tentatively of a boat hull.

What 3BT does is maintain the positive characteristics of camber, but by dividing the nose and tail into three sections it reduces the negative effects camber produces around the contact points (edge-catching hooks on the hardpack or diving into powder). Now your edge pressure can be more evenly distributed, resulting in smoother turn initiation with improved edge grip and a ton of pop, but it’s a mellower, floatier ride because the majority of the edge doesn’t engage until you need it to.

There are now seven different blends of 3BT offered for different types of riding, from hardcore jibbing to hardcore powder and everything in between.

Highbacks

The highback on Union's Contact Pro removes a lot of material to save weight.
The highback on Union’s Contact Pro removes a lot of material to save weight.

Anyone who’s not an old fart might be shocked to discover snowboard bindings haven’t always had highbacks. Of course, the early pioneers used straps like windsurfers do to attach themselves, but even when early riders realised that having a degree of heelside control was an advantage, the result wasn’t what we’ve become accustomed to today.

Of course, as a few purists will tell you, highbacks aren’t so necessary when you’re riding powder, nor are they when you’re messing around trying to translate skate tricks to the first small incarnations of terrain parks. The lowback was an early effort at improving support and response, stubby little lumps on the heelcup popularised by the likes of Bryan Iguchi in his pomp.

But as lines got gnarlier and parks bigger these were insufficient and highbacks grew to the size we’re accustomed to today.

Magne-Traction

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Magne-Traction on Gnu’s Barrett Christy pro model.

As with the TBT that debuted around the same time, our first reaction upon seeing Lib Tech (at the time Mervin Mfg only had one Lib model that featured Magne-Traction – it’s now on pretty much all Lib, Gnu and Roxy boards as well as a few other brands that have licensed the tech) was a big “say whaaaaat?”

Brands had experimented with edge technologies and sidecut radii before, but we’d never seen something as demonstrably in-your-face weird as this. Lib likened it to a ‘steak knife’ and it was easy to see why – a succession of different-sized bumps populated each edge to give a serrated, wavy look. Would it even work?

The answer, when we rode it, was yes it did work, and moreover it did what it said on the tin – the bumps (as in the stek knife analogy) work to focus energy more effectively to the board’s edges resulting in improved edge hold, control and more locked-in carves. While we wouldn’t go as far as to agree with their ‘Turns Ice into Powder’ tagline, you certainly feel, and benefit from, the extra bite in firmer conditions and beyond.

Reverse Camber

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Selection of camber varieties. Top to bottom: Regular camber, reverse camber, zero camber, combined camber.

Though there were predecessors in more ancient snowboard history, it was really when K2 reissued their Gyrator model and Lib Tech their Skate Banana that snowboarding went a little bananas for rocker.

It’s rare – even back then and all the more so now – to find a hard-charging pro who prefers rocker, but for many riders lower down the ladder of awesome the ‘get out of jail free’ characteristics were lapped up. The raised contact points reduced twitchiness and aided float in deeper snow, plus they helped people pull cheater nose- and tail presses and the season after Lib and K2 introduced their models, the industry seemed flooded as nearly everyone else rushed to introduce their own versions.

Today, pure reverse camber boards are scarce, but it’s common for brands to extensively use differing combinations of camber, reverse camber and flat profiles to tweak performance characteristics for the perfect blend of response and control with an easier ride and more float.

Slider Inserts

A whole buncha Channels on the Burton 16/17 boards.
A whole buncha Channels on the Burton 16/17 boards.

Thankfully the days of having to drill your own insert holes to mount your bindings were long, long ago, and everyone adopted a standard four-hole system fairly quickly (except Burton who ran with a three-hole version until they developed their Channel system). But for the more fenickety rider, there was always the thought that the static options were still a bit restrictive. Enter the slider systems.

Popularised by Forum and their, at the time, team of superstars these had two pairs of channels where the conventional insert pattern would have sat, each with a sliding component with two inserts. The result was you could now loosely attach the bindings, slide them around till you found your personal sweetspot, then crank down.

Not too long after, Burton acquired Forum and a few years after that debuted their EST system that sat on boards equipped with what they dubbed the ‘Channel’. This took the slider system and streamlined it down to just two thin channels, one for each binding, allowing even truer flex and feel. They’re so confident about it that not only is it now on pretty much every model they make, they back it with a three-year warranty, too.

Quick Change Lenses

Annie-Boulanger-Anon-WM1-Snowboard-Goggle-Magne-Tech
Annie Boulanger gets her fingers on the Anon Magne Tech lens change system.

The weather is famous for changing quickly in the mountains, so for many years goggle manufacturers have supplied lenses of a variety of different tints and coatings that can be swapped out depending on how the light is to give you the best visibility possible.

However, there was just one small problem. It was pretty damned fiddly to do so, and when performed in the logical place for a lens change – a chairlift – you’d have to take your gloves off, freeze your hands and hope your numb extremities a) still function with the required level of dexterity and b) didn’t make a wrong move and fumble the whole damned lot into the snow far below.

But a few years back, the quick change lens popped up on a couple of brands’ top-end goggles, the following year saw more follow suit with their own versions and now the trickle down technology is now more widespread in its availability.

Whether it’s a button you push (Giro), levers that you fold down (Dragon), switches you rotate (Smith) or the magnetic solution offered by Anon, these all make on-hill lens changing a hassle-free affair and most not only work while you still have your gloves on, you can even do it with the goggle sat on your face.

Zip-to-Pant Tech

Volcom's Zip Tech
Volcom’s Zip Tech

When it’s cold, windy and you’re ripping fresh, powder skirts are good to have, however they’re not without their faults. Inevitably they will ride up over time and you can bet that when you do take that tomahawk of destiny it will be when it’s up above your gut, or will be so severe that it will just get yanked all over the place resulting in pow all in your shit.

Plenty of companies are aware of this and offer ways to snap or clip them to compatible pants, which have a degree of success, but a few – most notably Volcom who pioneered and patented their solution – developed a system where you can zip your powder skirt to the top of their pants, forming a near perfect seal.

But because bib pants are now cool you don’t need to worry… until next season when the hype dies.

Splitboards

Salomon's splitboard swag.
Salomon’s splitboard swag.

As everyone knows, snowboarding is awesome and skiing sucks. Apart from when it comes to walking around in the backcountry; sadly we have to concede that skis are actually rather good at that.

Back in the day, if you were wanting to venture off deep into the backcountry to ride virgin pow you had three options: bootpacking, snowshoeing, or using short ‘approach’ skis – all of which work depending on terrain and conditions, but all come with drawbacks.

We’re sure some handy folk had built them before, but we remember being floored when we saw Dave Downing in one of his later TB movie parts ‘skinning’ on what looked like skis up a face, only to disassemble and reassemble the parts into a snowboard that he proceeded to shred pow, kickers and cliffs on. The splitboard had unveiled itself to snowboarders the world over.

Though it took a few more years, splitboarding has become steadily more popular for people looking to ride more uncrowded pow under their own power, and the technology has developed to the point that now the setups are lighter, more responsive and more affordable than ever.

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