Ski Gear

I started snowboarding on a used Rosignol with strap bindings. I was looking for a backcountry tool and before I could even really ride I started experimenting with plate bindings and plastic ski-mountaineering and climbing boots.  I eventually learned to make turns in my Scarpas, but they were never really satisfactory.  I couldn’t get around the heel lift and I never found plate bindings that I could set up for regular angles.

When I bought my first new board I got K2 Clickers.I bought into the Clicker concept because I was looking for something quick where you didn’t have to sit down so much.  I also was attracted by the fact that K2 was the only manufacturer doing anything specifically for backcountry. (Sadly they’ve disontinued that whole effort.)  I thought their line of approach skis, snowshoes, crampons, etc. that all worked with snowboard boots was elegant and pretty much exactly what I wanted.  I used the approach skis and snowshoes a lot and was happy with them. I really liked the flat lightweight aspect of the Clicker binding for carrying my board on my pack. Sadly they’ve discontinued that, too.

I bought Clicker high-backs for teaching and for riding in the areas. I was happy with the system and never really had a problem with snow accumulation.  (I didn’t like the Ride boots I got, though, and never really got to the point where I could be sure that they wouldn’t hurt my feet – even with custom orthotics.)  During the 2003 season I bought a split-board after having a couple of guys smoke me on backcountry trips.  I wanted to put a set of Clickers on my new board but neither of the the two ski shops I went to carried them anymore (Sturdevants and Fiorini.)  I bought a used pair of flat Clickersw with big plastic fairings and wasn’t too happy.

In 2004 I decided to get a new teaching board and went to Snowboard Connection with money in my pocket.  They didn’t have Clicker highbacks and looking at the K2 catalogue and website it was apparent that they had been discontinued.  K2 seemed to only have two styles of flat Clickers – both low-end models.  All of their backcountry gear had been reconfigured so that it was available in non-Clicker styles too. By 2005 Clickers were history.

So I decided to switch my whole quiver back to straps.

I still wanted something simple and light.  I also wanted to be able to let other people use my gear even if they didn’t have special boots.  After some reflection and research (Couloir does a good backcountry gear review that includes snowboards and snowboard bindings and boots,) I decided to use the Voile slider as the basis for my entire backcountry setup.  I did that because I think that there is a weight savings in only carrying one binding for use on various tools.  I also wanted to be able to try flow bindings but I wasn’t sure how happy I’d be hiking with them.  Finally, I’m thinking about giving plate bindings and plastic boots another try so I wanted a set-up where I could easily change bindings back and forth.

My first modification was to take the hinge and Clicker off of my approach skis and mount the touring bracket and climber from Voile. I was able to use the existing inserts in the skis by drilling a couple of holes in the touring brackets.  

This means that I can use my approach skis with whatever binding I have on my split-board.  The modification was easy. I ran the screws on one of the climbers a little too far down causing bumps in the p-tex, but those bases aren’t for skiing anyway

My second modification was snowshoes.  I had the Clicker Verts and it was a no-brainer to unscrew the Clickers and replace them with Voile pucks.

The holes didn’t line up so I had to drill six holes for each snowshoe.  The pucks don’t come with mounting hardware so I had to buy some M5 machine screws and stopnuts.  I used some flat faucet washers on the two back screws to get the spacing right. The end result works just fine – now if I’m going up without any skiers I can snowshoe using the binding from my splitboard

The next modification was really the clincher – I set up my old "Stealth" Eldorado for use with Voile sliders.  Now I can take one set of bindings to use on skis or snowshoes on the way up and ride with them on the way down.  I’ve got a second pair of sliders so I can offer a ride to a friend as long as they supply their own boots.
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I took an old set of plastic plate bindings that I bought at MEC and removed the heel- and toe-pieces. (I don’t remember the manufacturer, but they say "made in Switzerland".) The rail that those pieces rode on was the right width for the sliders and all I had to do was cut off the ends so that it was the right length, and cut a groove in the center plate for the slider edges.

I’d previously drilled holes so that I could mount the plates straight across.  The flatest angle you can get on them otherwise is about 35 degrees.  I’m going with zero in the back and thirty-five in the front which is as close to a regular stance as I can get.  It took a lot of sawing and filing to get the length right and the groove on the sides deep enough and the right width.  Then I figured out that I had to make enough space on the top for the binding screws to clear.  I got out the router for that and chipped it out freehand.
The end result looked ugly and unprofessional, but the sliders went on and off smoothly and it felt strong.  I don’t like having the front foot angled so far forward and I don’t like having no angles between zero and thirty-five. I don’t like having the binding raised an inch above the board.

After a week of riding at Whistler on a new board I realized that I wasn’t going to be happy with my feet either straight across or angled so acutely.  So back to the drawing board. I cut a rectangle from a plastic cutting board and used the router to make an ear on either side that the slider would fit over.  I used a 3 1/4 inch hole saw to cut a space for a disk to sit (routed it out about 3/8th of an inch deep for a plastic disk from an old set of snow-pro plate bindings.)
I planned to cut a smaller hole inside the disk hole so that I could screw the disk into the standard four-hole insert pattern and set the block to any angle.  However, I discovered a major design flaw – the four screws would need a 2 1/2 inch hole which was wider than the space between the ears.  I should have gone with four semi-circular tracks like the plasic plate bindings, only rotated enough to permit flatter angles.  Instead I cut a couple of small holes and then drilled additional holes to get the angles I wanted.

Someday when I’m looking for something to do I’ll make another set and do it right.  In the meantime this set-up slides in and out of the sliders okay and it gets the angles right and the bindings down onto the deck. I’m a little worried about a blow-out because of all of the hacking I did to get the angles right.  I figure that most of the strength comes from the disk which I didn’t compromise.  What I’d really like would be an aluminum plate with a metal disk.

The last modification was the crampons.  I’ve never had to use these, but I’ve been on a lot of climbs where it was frozen solid in the morning.  I bought split decision crampons for the split-board and they should also fit on the approach skis, but I really don’t want to go up a big mountain without boot crampons – and none of my regular crampons is going to work on snowboard boots.  (I climbed St. Helens in snowboard boots and carried crampons just in case.  When I got back to the car I realized that I’d taken the wrong crampons and that I would have been in trouble if they had been necessary.)  The Clicker crampons were just Stubai toe and heel pieces bolted to a flat plate.  I planned to bolt them to Voile pucks, but I would have been left with a gap about 1 1/2 inches wide between the two pucks and I didn’t have a good way to bridge it.

I thought about a flat plate with the pucks on top and about a flexible connection that just spread the pucks, but in the end I did the rectangle from a plastic cutting board.

I bolted the crampon units on either end and used the router to recess the top enough for both sets of bolts to clear.  Even with less than professional router work the end result slides on and off smoothly and doesn’t look bad (in the slider.)

I’m not going to sell my Clicker stuff yet – I can always put it back if I change my mind.  I figure that in a couple of years the supply will have started to dry up and then maybe those boots and bindings and assorted parts will be worth something on ebay…