Splitboarding has become exponentially more popular over the last few years. As skiing and snowboarding have grown, so have the crowds at resorts and snowboarders have sought ways to get into the mountains yet maintain the feeling of being secluded.
When Jeremy Jones released his Deeper movie a turning point was made. Every year since snowboarders have flocked en-masse to the backcountry. For some the transition is not so easy. Soft boots are designed to flex but when you’re climbing a steep, hardpacked snow or ice that’s last thing you want! We needed a solution and a return to snowboarding’s hard booting history is a step forward for modern day splitboarding. Read on to find out how the Spark Dyno DH & Phantom Alpha bindings have sought to solve this problem.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s legendary riders like Damian Sanders were ripping their way into snowboard history on modified ski boots. Damian has been quoted as saying, “Hard boots gave me power and control that I never could touch with soft boots,”. But the cultural war between skiing and snowboarding meant that this trend was not going to last. Snowboarders wanted nothing to do with being like skiers.
Meanwhile in Utah, two backcountry legends, Brett “Cowboy” Kobernik and Mark “Wally” Wariakois, teamed up to create the first DIY splitboard kit. Their creation would help start an impetus for human powered snowboarding but it would take until the mid 2000’s for it to really taking off.
Cowboy and Wally are the originators of a lot of the tech that we still use today. Voile Hooks and Pucks are still found on lots of today’s splitboards. That said, splitboarding equipment really has come a long way since it’s literally split origins. Tech and design have improved exponentially over the last ten years and splitboards now ride much more like their solid forefathers. Of course a lot of that is owed to how the two halves are connected.
Softboots on a splitboard allow for an amazing, surfy feel. They’re also quite comfortable and as an added bonus a lot warmer than hard boots. Some might say they offer more freedom of expression while riding. However, splitboarding is a lot about the uphill and soft, flexible boots aren’t going to give you a whole lot of control on a traversing uptrack.
This led to a small, yet growing, number of splitboarders who have eschewed the comfort of soft boots for soft and flexible (relatively speaking) Alpine Touring boots. Damian Sanders would be proud of this return to hard boots. These boots, typically with two buckles and a power strap, allow for superior edge hold and fore/aft movement at the ankle that soft boots simply cannot rival. But of course this introduced a new complication: how to attach them to a snowboard.
With a little influence from alpine racing bindings, Spark R&D from Montana and Phantom Splitboard bindings of Colorado have both come up with very unique solutions to attaching AT boots to a board: the Spark R&D Dyno DH & the Phantom Alpha bindings. Each is reviewed in detail below.
Spark R&D Dyno DH
Spark R&D has been making bindings since 2006 and is the biggest splitboard binding company on the market, and for good reason. Their bindings are built tough and have been refined often. Their bindings borrow heavily from the Voile slider and track system. At their foundation are the Spark Pucks, a variation of the Voile pucks of yore.
What are Spark Pucks?
Spark Pucks, four of ‘em, are how the Spark Dyno DH bindings mount to the board. Each puck is a combination of two bolts, an adjustable aluminum top plate and a plastic base. The plastic base has several rounded “notches” that allow the puck to slide towards the toe or heel edge of the board. The aluminum plates have one long gnarled groove each, somewhat akin to Burton’s “The Channel.” This channel allows the pucks to move fore and aft. The gnarling keeps the bolts in place while loose aiding in assembly.
The pucks also feature 3 degrees of cant, or side angle. AT boots sit bolt upright. They’re not designed to tilt inward or outward at all. Once you have a wide snowboard stance having your lower legs at 90 degrees to the ground will likely injure your knee. This 3 degrees of cant, or inward tilt, takes a lot of this pressure away.
The Spark Pucks also come with an adapter plate for set up. I find it is much easier to put the pucks on the board loosely and then slide on the bindings. Line everything up and then put the screw driver through the binding baseplate and tighten things down when they are all together. Skip the adapter.
The Spark Dyno DH
The Spark Dyno DH bindings feature baseplates with “cutouts milled out of the baseplate for weight savings.” This means the aluminum baseplate has myriad holes cut out in order to make the bindings lighter and allow some flex.
The toe and heel bails are attached by aluminum wings that are held in place by two bolts, each. An elegantly simple system that’s easily adjusted.
The Dyno DH slides in from the heel side until the heel puck hits the limiters. It has two lips on the baseplate that slide onto the receiving side of the pucks. Push the Tesla Snap Ramp toe lock down and then the binding is locked into place. It’s as simple as that. A bonus to this system is that the railing on the Dyno DH is thick, so it doesn’t tend to get a ton of snow stuck on it. And when some snow does get packed into it, a good hard push on the pucks tends to clear the system entirely.
The whole system reminds me of a Ford truck, built tough. It’s easy to get in and out of, easy to repair, gets the job done and is built like a tank. The binding rides quite well. Sliding the binding onto the pucks clears pacific north wet snow really well. It’s hard to clog this binding. The Binding sits somewhat high off the board at the outer edge of the pucks due to three degree cant. Any flex caused by this is hardly, if at all, noticed.
The lock of the Toe Bail is solid. A Nice positive click and you’re engaged, never worrying about an accidental unlock.
In the two years I used the Spark Dyno DH the only major problem I had was bolts falling out no matter how much blue Loctite I used. The beauty of this is that they are M6 bolts. A quick trip to Home Depot and you have a whole lot of repair parts for 2 bucks.
Pros: The cored out baseplate makes setting up the binding a snap. Micro adjustments for boot fit are easy. You may already have pucks from your softboots that make entry price easier on the wallet. Replacement hardware is easy to get.
Cons: Bolts are prone to come loose, even with Loctite. Metal Toe Bail Lever digs into boots
Weight: Dyno DH pair 818g. Canted Pucks 322g
If you are interested in the Spark Dyno DH, head on over to their site: Spark R&D
Phantom Splitboard Bindings
The Phantom Split Tech system looks like it was designed by an aerospace engineer because it was. John Keffler and his crew have been making these bindings since 2012. And they’ve taken a much different approach in how they attached to a board than any other split binding on the market. The set-up consist of two different parts: the Alpha (now Superseded by the M6) Binding and the Board Cleats.
The Phantom Boardcleats
The foundation of the system is the Board Cleats. First, the opposing base plates are mounted to the board. Then, the three part binding pin receiver, consisting of a plastic base, metal core and an elongated washer with binding angle markers engraved on the top, mounts to the baseplate. As you can imagine, adjusting this system is definitely finickier than that of the Spark system.
The Alpha Binding
The Alpha binding uses a wide base plate that sits flush with the board. Placing the binding flat on the board and rotating it into position lines up the binding until the pins lineup. Pushing down on the levers on the toe and heel side drives pins in towards the board cleat locking the binding into place. This effectively pushes the two board halves tighter. And, as the two halves of a board become looser as they get older, this is a tremendous advantage!
However, everything needs to line up just right, and there is no guide to help you do this. Setting up the Board Cleats require a little trial and error as everything needs to be eyeballed with the Alpha binding. Once engaged though, this binding is connected! Thanks to its wide base plate and the driving force of the two pins this an incredibly solid connection. The board feel is great since the bindings sit flush with the topsheet. That said, cleaning snow off of the cleats can be a little tricky, especially with wet, Pacific Northwest snow. This has apparently been improved upon with the new M6 version of the bindings but we haven’t had the opportunity to test those out yet.
My biggest complaint with the bindings is with the spring that helps backout the pin when removing the binding. If the binding warms in your pack while touring, it will melt just a bit of snow when you’ve put the binding back on for ride mode. This snow will then freeze and you can’t open the Quick Flicks locking levers.
These Phantom Alpha bindings are performance oriented. I like to think of them as a the Ferrari of the hard boot binding world. They will need a little TLC while out on the trail but they’re the most high performance hardboot binding you can get.
Pros: The locking pin actively pushes board halves together creating an even more solid board like ride. The plastic toe bail doesn’t damage boots. The best board feel due to the flush mount with the topsheet of the board.
Cons: A little tricky to set up the first time. The bindings can get a little clogged with snow though this has apparently been improved in the new M6 model. Repair parts cannot be bought in stores.
Weight: M6 binding size SM 860g, M6 binding Size LXL 960g, Cleats 291 g
If you’re interested in the Phantom Alpha Bindings, head on over to their site: Phantom
So, What’s the Difference?
I’ve used both bindings for over two seasons each and I continue to use both sets. Their patina has come from months of use and abuse. I feel the Spark Dyno DH and the Phantom Alpha (now M6) are both great bindings in their own right however they excel in different areas.
Spark Dyno DH
The Spark Dyno is simple and dependable. Set-up is easy, and so is installation and removal of the binding while on the mountain. Clearing snow stuck on your bindings is a breeze thanks to the tried and true puck and slider system. Parts can be bought at most snowboard stores and the bolts are easily available at Home Depot. Perhaps you already own Spark Pucks from your soft boot set-up, too, and that will help make the decision.
That said, the base of the binding is raised above the board and so power has to be transferred from the binding through the Spark Pucks and into the board. Board feel is there, but not quite as immediate as you’d expect. It is by no means a hindrance just not all performance.
Phantom Alpha Binding
The Phantom Alpha on the other hand is a little trickier to set-up. There are a few steps to set up the board cleats, and no definitive guide line to follow. Replacement parts aren’t easy to come by as Phantom bindings and their parts are only sold by Phantom.
They do, however, allow for the most board feel. The entire base of the binding sits right on the top sheet and you’ll have the most board control you could hope for. When you close the Quick Flicks levers they push the two halves of the board together for an unprecedented fit between the board halves.
Blacksheep Adventure Sports was not compensated in any way for this review and the opinions expressed are entirely our own.