I’d bought a split board when I was in Canada in 03/04 for the season and had mixed results. I used my normal bindings and soft boots and found that it was not the best skinning on hard pack when I went back to Chamonix the following season. I bought a 178 too based on the logic that if I was boarding in the back country, then it would always be powder. Well, the board felt too heavy and unwieldy for technical sections and of course you experience all kinds of snow in the backcountry and more often than not hardpack in the high alpine environment of Chamonix. In short, the board was way too long and heavy.
So, it didn’t really work out for me and I went back to the joys of snowshoeing. But while I was surfing the net and looking at various sites, I came across Greg Hill’s site and saw that he was hanging about with quite a few splitboarders who were all on hardboots and Dynafit toe pieces. The idea of hardboots had occured to me before but for nothing more than a split second as it seemed to go against the whole concept of snowboarding and the sensation of powder. But seeing all these guys, and some of them ex pros, riding with hardboots, I realised that there must be something to it. I got more information from the Splitboard.com forum and decided to go for it.
All I can say is that I loved it and have never looked back! Going from snowshoes, it’s such a revolution in mountain transport for me. I am now almost on an equal footing with skiers on the up and so much lighter and faster and the descent is just as good as with soft boots with the right boot configuration. The boots do need some fine tuning and it definitely does take some getting used to but it is completely possible to replicate my softboot snowboard experience with all the advantages of hardboots.
One modification I did to the boots was to replace the original tongue of my boots to the much, much softer Scarpa Spirit 4 (the Spirit 3 is the same tongue too), bought directly from Scarpa for EUR30. It made the boot a lot more flexible. A big improvement. I´m yet to drill the touring mode bar at the back of the boot.
The bindings are, of course, an intrinsic part to a successful setup though. I started out with Bomber Bindings and the Voile plate that comes with the original setup. This worked pretty well but once you take into account the Voile pucks on the board and then add the Voile plate and then add the Bomber bindings on top of that, you are pretty high above the board. Another problem inherent with the Voile system is the movement of the Voile plate relative to the pucks, both forward and sideways. Sure, you can get everything nice and snug to the point where movement is minimal but things soon start to loosen up. That was at least my experience. The consequence of loose plates is of course that the two halves of the board also start to move and you have exasperated the classic compromise of a splitboard over a solid board; the ride, stiffness and responsiveness. Well, that was really the only option for a while until I discovered the beautifully crafted Phantom Splitboard Bindings.
These were doing the rounds on splitboard.com and there was a lot of excitement surrounding them. And that excitement was warranted. Without wanting to exaggerate, this system is quite simply revolutionary compared to the Voile/Bomber combination. It resolves all the problems that system presented; the binding consists of a plate which connects directly to the board and the boot then to that, so you have maybe 8mm (the thickness of the plate) between your boot and the board. The design of the plate enables you to pull the two halves of the board tightly together, so there is no slop whatsoever. The ride is simply incredible compared to my old system. I´ve heard people claim that their splitboard rides like a solid board after incorporating board clips from Karakoram but was always sceptical that such a small change could have such a big effect. I can, however, say for the first time that my board does now ride like a solid board with the Phantom Splitboard Bindings in terms of stiffness and responsiveness (as best as I can remember. It´s been so long since I was on a solid board!). They are pretty amazing. Oh.. and they´re really easy to transition with…. oh… and they´re lighter than the Voile/Bomber system.. oh and the plates are made from aerospace grade aluminum alloys, heat treated steel bails, and stainless steel hardware. What´s not to like….?
Well, the only disadvantage they have is that they are made with such small tolerances to achieve the solid board feel which means that all the snow has to be cleared from the system for the plates to work. This is not a problem in dry powder as it just brushes away but becomes more of a nuisance with milder temperatures and heavier snow. But you cannot have it all! A small price to pay for such vast improvements in all areas in my opinion. You can get your whole set-up from them as I did. My set-up consists of:
- Prior Backcountry 168 with traditional camber
- Phantom Splitboard Bindings
- Dynafit Toe pieces and toe piece converters provided by Phantom Splitboard Bindings
- Phantom Splitboard Heel risers
- Dynafit Zzero 3 Carbon boots
Due to the increased stiffness, ridgidity, better edge control and responsiveness of the splitboard with the Phantom bindings over the Voile system, the decision as to whether to ride with soft or hard boots is no longer simply confined to the choice of footwear but whether you actually want a better performing board. That should convince a few more non-believers in the future of hardboots for splitboarding. Not only are hardboots better and safer for snowboard mountaineering, with the Phantom bindings you also get a better board.