Spark Tesla Splitboard Binding System–The Afterburner–Review


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Zachary Winters

As a Spark R&D splitboard binding user since 2009, I was excited when I caught wind that the company had a new binding system set for release this year. The new Tesla system has eliminated the long-lived pin system found in many splitboard bindings, reduced weight, and aims to improve transition speed and downhill performance. Spark R&D has released two new bindings employing the Tesla system: the Afterburner and the Magneto, prioritizing stiffness/response and weight respectively.

The Afterburner, a new splitboard binding from Spark R&D with the lower of two climbing wires engaged.

The Afterburner, a new splitboard binding from Spark R&D with the lower of two climbing wires engaged.

Since this is the first blog entry specifically regarding Spark R&D binding products, and only the second splitboard binding specific review here at Wildsnow.com, allow me to provide a bit of background. Spark R&D was born in Bozeman, Montana in 2005. Their popularity grew rapidly in their early years as splitboarding boomed. Fast forward to 2009. I picked up my first pair of Sparks, the “Fuse”, and was among the enlightened. Since then Spark has made gradual improvements to the original design in weight, stiffness, and pin bushing durability, dropping the name “Fuse” in favor of “Blaze” and “Burner” – but the foundation of the interface has stayed the same through each of the subsequent binding models until this year.

Testing the Afterburner bindings in Whitewater, BC

Testing the Afterburner bindings in Whitewater, BC

When Karakoram mixed things up by releasing their lightweight puck and pin free interface, Spark R&D fans were eager to see a new interface from Spark as well. Spark created a prototype splitboard binding that featured an extreme makeover of the splitboard interface called the Edison. In favor of simplicity, durability, and snow/ice tolerance (common reasons for Spark users not yet jumping on the Karakoram bandwagon), Spark discontinued development of the Edison and decided to keep things a bit simpler with the Tesla.

To clear up any confusion with the Edison system, the Tesla still uses the enduring Voile slider pucks and either Voile’s Split Hooks or Karakoram’s Splitboard Clips.

The hardware set-up for older Spark bindings (left), the Afterburner (center), and with the bindings attached in ride mode (right). Both toe and heel touring brackets are included with the bindings.

The hardware set-up for older Spark bindings (left), the Afterburner (center), and with the bindings attached in ride mode (right). Both toe and heel touring brackets are included with the bindings.

The Tesla system’s most obvious change is the absence of the steel pins (or lighter aluminum LT Pins) that have been the centerpiece of all of Spark’s previous bindings, as well as Voile’s Light Rail binding and the “Alpine Trekker” for splitboarders: the Voile slider tracks. There are a few reasons I’m happy to see the pins gone. Firstly, they are heavy. Spark’s LT pins helped in this category a bit, but there was still unnecessary metal between the two pivot points. Secondly, if you lose a pin you’ll quickly remember that feeling of watching your skier friends skinning while you drown in your own sweat trying to keep up boot-packing. The fix: carry an extra pin, unfortunately increasing weight even more.

In place of pins, Tesla system bindings have a “snap ramp”, which is a hinged plate under the toe of the baseplate that snaps down to secure the binding for both touring and descending. For touring, there are two short, permanently mounted pegs (in the same diameter as the ancestral pins) that pivot inside what Spark calls a “Side Lock Touring Bracket” (included with the both Tesla bindings). The pegs are inserted to the side of the touring bracket, and the snap ramp is depressed to secure the assembly. In transition at the top of the skin track, the binding slides onto the Voile pucks (nothing new here), and when the snap ramp is depressed the binding is locked into place.

The heel lift climbing wires are different, too. While most other splitboard bindings use a tele-like heel lift wire mounted to the ski, the wires on the Tesla bindings are attached to the bindings themselves and land with each step on a catch plate mounted on the ski (not unlike the Marker touring bindings). There are two different heights, one nested inside the other. My first impression was: why lift that weight with each step? I still don’t know that it’s the most efficient, but including the climbing wires the bindings are still lighter than its non-Tesla brother, the Burner. The wires are also wider, aiming to have better weight transfer to the ski edge on sidehills. While a good idea, I think the lateral stiffness of most boots and overall stiffness of the ski are weaker links than the climbing wire. However I do prefer the new wires for their ease of use (see video). They are easily pushed down from your heel rather than needing to be pulled up from the ski. The longer of the two wires engages first, so in order to use the shorter wire, both must be engaged, then the longer one retracted. Despite the extra step, I still find this faster than the old system.

Transitions with Spark R&D Afterburner binding from Zachary Winters on Vimeo.

The new bindings were also released with a new crampon. The Sabretooth Crampon, as Spark is calling it, is 61g lighter than the crampon for the non-Tesla Sparks. This weight savings is due to the fact that the crampon does not need its own set of climbing wires like its predecessor as a result of the in-binding wires. The crampon is also slotted into the touring bracket from the side, rather than vertically. I have not had a chance to try out the new crampons in the field.

Over the last couple months of testing the Afterburner binding, I have found this new interface to transition faster and to be more resilient to snow and ice buildup. And the reason is fairly simple; instead of lining up four holes with the pin to tour and two holes to ride (all of which must be snow free), only two must be lined up to tour and none to ride. The snap ramp can be closed even with snow underneath it; the ramp effectively forces the snow from that space. I have found myself spending less time clearing ice from my bindings and more time getting an extra sip of water or snapping a photo before heading back up the skin track.

Note: After a snowy ride in the back of my truck returning from BC, one of the snap ramps iced in a way that prevented it from fully opening until it thawed. I have not had this happen in the field, but it seems possible under the right conditions.

Table: Advertised weights and prices compared for various splitboard binding models. Karakoram is not included because of different hardware weights. Karakoram prices range from $600-$850.

Table: Advertised weights and prices compared for various Spark R&D binding models and the Voile Light Rail. Karakoram is not included because of different hardware weights. Karakoram prices range from $600-$850.

Comments

11 Responses to “Spark Tesla Splitboard Binding System–The Afterburner–Review”

  1. Deez February 5th, 2014 7:39 am

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ve been snowboarding for 30 years and started backcountry skiing about eight years ago. I save the skiboard for lift-serviced terrain and the skis for the skin track. Unfortunately I’ve been hoisted up on a ski lift only once this year and have been in the backcountry at least 30 times. I look forward to trying out some of the new splitboard systems coming out but I have to say the dynafit binder paired with a manslut powder ski is hard to beat.

  2. Lou Dawson February 5th, 2014 7:50 am

    Have to agree, ‘Slu and a lightweight Dynafit binding is the everyman’s pow harvester of all time!

  3. Jason February 5th, 2014 9:34 am

    The comparison price on the Karakoram is a bit misleading as it includes everything you need to mount bindings to the board and the price for the Sparks does not include the Voile pucks that will add another $100. For sure the Karakoram bindings are more expensive but it’s not as drastic as it looks here. The flip side is that a lot of people already have Voile pucks and don’t need to replace them everytime they upgrade bindings.

  4. Brian February 5th, 2014 10:36 am

    Voile’s Universal Puck Kit is ~$55. The Universal Puck Kit is all you should need to set-up a split board with Spark’s current binding offerings.

  5. kh February 5th, 2014 12:24 pm

    Great to see a splitboard binding review on here. Would love to see a review of some hardboot snowboard bindings. Dynafit toes coupled with the offering of franken-sliderplates, Phantoms or Spark’s new HB binding are the new frontier.

  6. David February 5th, 2014 11:08 pm

    Nice thorough review. I agree that the speed and simplicity of the Spark system is a strong point.

    It will be interesting to see how the snap ramp performs over time.

    (I think Voile pucks are closer to $50 bones)

  7. Zach W February 6th, 2014 12:33 am

    Jason, apologies for any confusion on the price comparison. I was hoping to avoid an apples vs oranges comparison by leaving Karakoram out of the side by side table. Yes, Karakoram bindings come with all needed hardware. The Tesla system Sparks require the Voile Puck Set ($55). So if starting from scratch, a fairer cost comparison including hardware would be as follows – Spark Tesla: $440-$470, Karakoram: $600-$850. For the Burner, Blaze, Light Rail, and older models the hardware cost is higher and varies by components chosen (ie LT Pin System, dual climbing wires, etc.).

    David, the durability of the snap ramps is my greatest concern as well. It has a good solid feel and doesn’t seem likely to break, but because it would be difficult at best to replace a snap ramp, I hope they don’t wear (and introduce a sloppy pivot) as I continue to put the miles on them. Only 15-20 days on this pair, but so far so good.

  8. Benji February 6th, 2014 3:53 am

    Good info Zach. Thanks for the post. Appreciate the nod to Us snowboard travelers!

  9. Mike February 6th, 2014 7:57 am

    Great review of the Spark binders. Sure gets confusing with all of their different names. The new system is very easy to use, lightweight, and has some great K.I.S.S. features. They also have a new heel lock down mode that looks very easy to use as well as a new hardboot plate binding that is very light.

    One of the downsides to this system is the fact that they STILL use Voile Pucks!!! But that is their choice. The pucks allow the board to flex much more than the Karakoram system, which actively engages the two board halves pulling them together and preventing independent flexing of the board halves. Also, one thing that I don’t like about the spark system is the lack of a sidewall on the binding. This reduces weight, but also reduces ride performance in my opinion. Lastly, Spark fails to offer a stiffer highback option, whether it be a carbon highback, or just a burlier highback. Also, their forward lean adjustment is very finicky and doesn’t have a “walk-mode” that is easy to perform. Just like AT boots are evolving to offer more support and performance, splitboard bindings should also offer models with superior ride performance, even at the expense of added weight.

    Not to sound like I am down on Sparks, because I really like what they do and keeping a lower pricepoint is definitely appreciated. They are very functional, and easy to use in icing situations. I just think that there is always room for innovation. Hope they keep up the good work!

  10. Brian February 6th, 2014 11:09 am

    Another big plus of Spark bindings is the modularity of their designs and good availability of replacement parts, parts kits and conversion kits. Pretty nice to have the option to purchase just a minimum number of parts to convert previous generation bindings to take advantage of upgrades in technology offered the next season (~$250 to $270 this season). I haven’t seen this same offering from other competitors, nor have I seen anything like the second board kit for ~$60 (Universal Puck Kit needed in addition to set up a second board).

  11. Jason February 6th, 2014 4:30 pm

    Of course, you guys are right. It’s been a year plus since I last looked at Voile pucks for my frankenplate setup. Last year at this time the only puck kit that I remember being available included climbing wires and touring brackets (of course those aren’t needed with the AfterBurners/Magnetos). Good to see that Voile is keeping up with the demand by offering just the pucks.

    I’m really excited to see the new Sparks HB offering as well and agree that HB splitting is the best option when it crosses into splitmo terrain as opposed to pow farming in friendlier conditions.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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