We just got back from Laax where Burton Snowboards had organised a couple of days' riding and testing their new StepOn boot and binding system. Read on to check what we made of them...
Burton have a long and fruitful relationship with the Swiss resort of Laax, so when we found out they were offering a select crew of media the chance to test out their much-discussed new boot/binding interface it was no surprise to learn we'd be bouncing back to this legendary Mecca of freestyle Euroboarding a little over a week after we'd wrapped up the Laax Open coverage. Happy days!
Upon arrival we were led downstairs to the club beneath the Riders Palace where the B had prepared the unveiling of the StepOn, and settled down to hear a few Burton honchos revisit the inglorious history of step ins in snowboarding, before detailing how they approached going back to the future. Turns out they'd locked some of their brightest product nerds away in a sealed off room at Burton HQ with specific instructions to get deep into the step in question, with zero distractions, to realise Jake's 'moonshot'.
[Below: Fun fact - Mikkel Bang rides a 170cm Burton Custom and can style out backflips using the StepOn system no biggie. Photo: Cyril Mueller]
[Above: Burton's Chris Patsch gives some chat in front of the newly unveiled system. Photo: Cyril Mueller]
Then, the curtain was drawn back and we finally got to get our filthy paws on the product. You might remember how we leaked Terje testing the StepOn system out a few months back, so although we'd seen them in action before, it was a lot better to have the time to nerd out on the mechanism and see a bit clearer how it all worked.
But reminiscing on PR bants is not what you're here for. You want to know if they work and how they ride and the answer is, for me, an emphatic YES and GREAT. There were a lot of different people with different opinions on snowboarding's previous dalliance with stepping in, but with a couple of exceptions everyone I spoke to was stoked/surprised to be stoked on a step in system. (Disclosure: the two people I spoke to who didn't get on so well with them had issues with the fit of the boot - and this will be the deal breaker as to whether the system works for you: if your feet don't get along with the boots the system isn't for you.)
Getting into the StepOn is a little unusual at first. You need to put your boot in the binding heel-down first so the cleat at the back of the boot engages properly with the hinge that holds it in place. And make sure your pant bottoms are secured by the clip just above the cleat so they don't get snarled in the mechanism. Having been strapping in for 25 years it was certainly a little different to go in this way, and there were initial moments when you're not sure if you engaged properly, or you know you didn't engage, but couldn't work out why (push the lever down, dumbass). With the heel engaged you then roll in your toes so the winged hooks on the sides of boot's forefoot click under the binding 'loops'. And that's it. To exit, you pull up the lever, flex forward to disengage the heel and then roll your toes out. That sounds more complicated than it is, but it's certainly different at first.
[Below: Christian Haller tweaks a StepOn Method in the Laax Minipipe. Photo: Cyril Mueller]
[Above: Hot pow laps all day. Hitsch loving the StepOn test in Laax. Photo: Cyril Mueller]
However, after taking two laps the entry process became second nature. 'Clunk, click, click, ride.' And they just work. A few people had said they felt a difference from a regular two-strap setup (one was adamant these actually give you greater control because of the toe- and heel-hold the system has), but from my perspective once I'd stepped on and started riding it was easy to forget I was riding anything other than my regular setup. It's also important to note that not once did I fear popping out in any way. It just felt real solid.
The on-piste conditions were challengingly bumpy, but I was easily able to get low and carve, while tweaking out Methods felt no different to when I'd done the same earlier in the week in my Vans boots and Union bindings. We also had hot pow to lap, and again everything just felt gravy in the deeper stuff. Not once did I have any issues with snow clogging the interface, thought admittedly I didn't have the opportunity of trying to get out and in in super light pow - the snow was so sticky that it stayed out when you cleared the binding.
The boots felt like a pair of broken in Burton Ions I have (with the exception of the Boa 'ankle strap) and were utterly normal to walk around in. It was a bit weird at first when the inevitable first run footcramp hit - normally you'd loosen your straps on the chairlift to ease the pain, but here... whaaaa? Fear not, just release the Boa coliers and your feet can chill a bit. Again, it's different. Not bad.
Three of Burton's riders were in town to lap with us - Mikkel Bang, Christian Haller and Max Zebe - and they all genuinely seemed stoked on the system's performance. The question I put to Hitsch was, ok, for hot lapping they're great but would you use them to boost 10m-plus Methods on a mega hip or drop in for a superpipe contest run? "I could," was his reply but the feeling was maybe at this apex of freestyle superboarding he might be more comfortable in equipment he knows. Fair enough.
For every other snowboarder - from beginners, to seasoned rippers - they question would be 'why would you NOT ride these?' They're quick, easy and felt great. Plus if you're a photographer, filmer, or anyone else who has to regularly cart a heavy backpack around you'll sure dig these. Beyond a dogged insistence that they can't possibly work because step ins were a bit shit close to 20 years ago, I can think of a couple of reasons these might not be up your street: If your feet don't fit well in the boots, certainly they're not for you; if you just like the aesthetic of riding with two straps and care not for saving 10 seconds every run then again they're not for you; if you hit 25m superbooters or are serious about riding Superpipes they probably would work but it would be understandable if you'd rather go with the tried and tested; if you don't have the cash (RRP will be starting in the region of €600 for the Ruler boot/binding combo) then you're not missing out on ultra-high performance - as I said I just felt I was riding with my regular setup, with the added bonus of being able to get in way quicker.
In all honesty, Burton might very well have developed a system that is perfect for 90% of snowboarders out there, and that will save you a buncha time in the long run. You could say the jury's maybe out for people who have high-performance niche tastes - how they'd hold up after repeated bomb drops to flat, fully committed AK lines, or Olympic pipe runs is unclear, but I don't ride like that and chances are you don't either.
I'd certainly be stoked to ride StepOn again.
[Below: Haller getting low. Photo: Cyril Mueller]