My first bindings were step-ins despite the sage advice of the shop employee who helped me pick out my setup. At the time—about two decades ago—pros like Travis Parker, Brian Savard and Chris Engelsman were riding step-ins. I have an autographed poster of Travis blasting a frontside air in Clickers. My second pair of bindings had straps, and I’ve been ratcheting in ever since.
As a traditionalist who prefers directional, cambered boards and boots with laces—the kind you tie, that tear and fray—I’m skeptical of anything that claims to revolutionize something I don’t believe needs reforming. When I heard Burton planned to release a new take on the step-in system, I was certain I’d hate it. But why say no to snowboarding in any form, especially when it’s coupled with a strong prospect of free food? Despite my woes, I headed to Vail for Burton’s Step On unveiling.
Conditions: 6-10 inches of fresh overnight, with new snow falling throughout the day. So, pretty damn good.
Board: Burton Skeleton Key 154
Typical board: Salomon Sick Stick 156
Boot: Burton Photon Boa Step On Size 9*
Typical boot: Vans Sequal, Size 9
Binding: Burton Step On, Size Medium*
Typical binding: Union Team, Size Medium
* The boots and bindings I rode are not production models. Certain flaws may be updated before the Step On system’s official release in the fall of 2017.
The boots look pretty good. I thought I was going to feel like a nerd walking around in these things, and I kind of did. It didn’t help that the pair I was wearing was blue. But compared to step-in boots of yesterday, they’re low-profile and unassuming. Unless you’re looking for it, it’s hard to notice the “toe cleats”, as they’re referred to. Burton is planning to offer a Step On version of their Photon and Ruler models for men and the Limelight and Felix models for women—the Photon and Felix being the stiffer model for guys and girls, respectively.
Acknowledging the obvious lack of straps, the bindings look as normal as they could.
Only once during my whole day on this setup did someone comment on it. To me, that’s a good thing, but perhaps not if you were the first guy at the office to have an Apple Watch, making sure to take all calls from your wrist instead of your pocket.
Listening to the audio in the video, you can hear the subtle noise created by shifting pressure toe-to-heel while locked into the Step On system.
One undesirable aspect of the Step On system is an audible clicking between the boot and binding that occurs when you turn. It becomes more pronounced as the temperature drops and the binding material hardens. Burton is aware of the problem and hoping to minimize it before production.
The first thing I noticed was the comfort of the boot. I slid my foot into the plush liner with ease. I was advised by two people—Burton VP of Brand Marketing, Randy Torcom, and brand ambassador Alex Andrews—not to over-tighten the boots, but I locked these babies down anyway because that’s what I do with all my boots. It wasn’t until my foot started to ache that I loosened the grip of the dual Boa system and realized why I’d been advised as I had. Late in the day, long after loosening the boots appropriately, I noticed a slight amount of lateral pinching at the wide point of my foot, where two of the system’s three mechanisms of attachment engage. I have a very narrow foot, so it makes me wonder how they would fit someone with big dogs.
Boot-to-binding entry is quicker than a normal binding, as long as there isn’t snow in the way. The same issue with snow build-up that plagued step-in systems of the past doesn’t seem to have been solved. However, snow build-up isn’t something you want in any binding regardless of its retention mechanism. Traditional bindings allow entry with snow in the tray, where a step-in, or Step On, will not.
This is what it looked like for me to get in and out of the system after one day on it—perhaps a quicker entry than a traditional binding and no requirement to bend over, but the time savings in terms of exiting seems negligible.
For me, getting out of the binding was no quicker than a regular binding. If anything, it took longer. I’d imagine once muscle memory is built up the exiting motion becomes easier, but the time savings over exiting a modern, traditional binding will never be significant.
By far the greatest effect on performance I noticed was due to a lack of movement within the binding. It wasn’t until riding the Step On system that I realized how much my boot is able to move within a traditional binding, even when my straps are ratcheted tight. The consequence of this was most notable when it came to ollies.
With the Step On system, your boot is locked to the binding. If you snap ollies on your snowboard like you would on a skateboard—where the soles of your feet stay slightly more parallel with the ground than the angle of the board, as you raise the its nose—the Step On system doesn’t feel as intuitive.
In its current form, this system restricts the wiggle room that facilitates a loose riding style. There are a number of small movements I had no idea I make when I snowboard until I was locked into the Step On system. Consequently, I felt the bindings changed my riding style.
The benefit of this locked-down feel is response, especially toe-to-heel. I’m not sure the stiffest, most expensive traditional binding with a carbon highback parallels the response time offered by the Step On system. I also feel the system has the ability to improve performance on landings. I was able to ride away from stuff where I might have gone over the nose in my normal bindings. I did, however, question their efficacy upon massive impact. Can you blow out of these things? Burton VP of Global Product, Chris Cunningham, assured me the system has been rigorously tested against this type of force and passed.
I landed nose-heavy after this log and might have gone over the bars if it wasn’t for the rigidity of the Step On system. | Video: Dave Downing
The toe box is reinforced to help prevent breakdown and improve responsiveness, though after only a few runs I did notice a crease where the Boa-powered pseudo heelstrap sits on the boot. Being in a brand new pair of the stiffer of the two men’s Step On boot models, the Photon, and having no significant performance or comfort issue was a welcome feeling because there are few things I enjoy less about snowboarding than breaking in new boots. But it makes me wonder how this boot would perform once its day-count reaches double digits. My rule of thumb has always been that if a boot is easy to ride out of the box, it won’t last. Maybe these boots are good enough to break that rule, or maybe they’re going to be piles of mush when the season is over. You’ll have to let me know because I don’t plan on spending a season on the Step On system.
As much as I wanted to, I don’t hate the Step On system. It performs. It’s comfortable. It’s just not for me. This is for those who value ease of use and the latest in technology. I don’t want a car that parallel parks itself. I like my 15-year-old truck.
Quick boot-to-binding entry that doesn’t require bending over.
Laser-fast toe-to-heel response.
The boots are comfortable.
Odd clicking noise.
Lack of freedom to ride other bindings/boots.
Boot-to-binding entry is tough with snow build-up.
Restriction of movement.
Step-ins—or Step Ons—will never be as cool as bindings with straps. And you can quote me on this.