Making The Switch To AT Ski Touring Hardboot Splitboarding


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 16, 2017      
Team Hardboot descending fluff somewhere in Wyoming.

Team Hardboot descending fluff somewhere in Wyoming.

Here it is, on-going impressions with my infamous “switch to hard-boots.” With so much development and progress happening in the splitboard world, it’s hard to know which direction to go. This might help guide you in one direction or the other depending on what style of riding and level of performance you’re looking for from your split set-up. Moreover, we cover a few concepts in here that can be applied to conventional ski touring (lest you think WildSnow is switching to snowboarding!).

(Please note: While editorial policy here at WildSnow is to avoid the “AT” acronym for ski touring bindings and boots, I’ll use “AT” here for the sake of brevity. While mixing it with the “ski touring” term to help with search.)

This series of posts will serve a dual purpose:

  • 1) To give insight about switching to an AT split set-up
  • 2) To provide an in-depth review of Phantom splitboard bindings
  • I’ve put Phantom splitboard bindings and hardboot set-up through the wringer. I’ve gone back and toured with soft-boot bindings to ensure a full comparison. Testing days have run the gamut of lift-accessed days, mellow tours, low-angled powder, a 2-week ski traverse in the Coast Range of B.C., steep ridge scrambles, boot packs, steep descents, rappel-in lines, you name it.

    Thankful for a fully capable set-up for terrain like this. Monarch Icefield, BC.

    Thankful for a fully capable set-up for terrain like this. Monarch Icefield, BC.

    The motivation to switch to a split-AT set-up is largely rooted in the up-hill benefits. These benefits won’t be new (or maybe even thought of) to our AT-skier friends, but have made a major difference in my touring capabilities and efficiency as a splitboarder.

    One element that I had never truly considered in a soft-boot set-up is the efficiency and usefulness of a walk-mode. With ski touring boot that fits well to your foot (this is critical), and with the boot in walk-mode it is equally as, if not more, comfortable as any traditional snowboard boot I have ever worn. The reality of traveling in the backcountry is that about 90% of the day is spent on the ascent, and with this ratio it is critical to ensure your uphill system is comfortable, efficient, and can deal with a wide variety of conditions.

    Along this same vein, the ability for an AT boot to take a fully automatic “clip on” crampon has been a major benefit. Some of the splitboard mountaineering specific boots out there are good options for a soft-boot set-up, even though they can only take a semi-automatic crampon. I have enjoyed the simplicity and security around a well-fitting fully automatic crampon, especially when you need it most.

    Even without the need of a crampon, kicking steps in firm snow with the low-profile and plastic shell of a ski touring boot has been considerably more confidence inspiring.

    Another element of the uphill that has been improved with an AT-split set-up is the lightweight, low-friction movement of a ski touring boot (modified) in a tech binding toe-piece. Touring through long-flats and through steep firm side-hilling have been significantly improved with an AT boot due to increased cuff-rotation in walk-mode, and the lateral rigidity that soft-boots lack.

    Up-hilling with added efficiency in the Wasatch on an early morning mission during the Outdoor Retailer show in SLC.

    Up-hilling with added efficiency in the Wasatch on an early morning mission during the Outdoor Retailer show in SLC.

    The main question I get from folks is, “Well, how do they ride?” It is relatively easy to portray the uphill benefits of an AT-split system, but despite these glaring benefits, people are much more concerned about the ride down. I can totally relate, because the down is a big part of being out in the backcountry, especially on a snowboard, which otherwise has a couple of pitfalls as a backcountry tool. Simply put, I have not noticed enough of a deficit in the feel of the boots during the descent that would cause me to rescind my recommendation.

    There are a number of ways that people have been modifying ski touring boots for splitboarding, so I cannot speak to all of them as much of it is personal preference. For me, with my Dynafit boots all I did was expand the walk-mode plate on my TLT6’s to provide forward flex while locked in ski-mode. I’ve also experimented with Arcteryx Procline, with simple mods.

    Ski touring “AT” boots have a few key features that I like for splitboarding:

  • Calculated flex is consistent, as compared to a soft-boot which breaks down much quicker and thus the flex and feel changes over time.
  • The AT boot is much more durable, especially relative to a traditional snowboard boot that many people replace every season, if not more.
  • Having a waterproof shell and easily removable liner is great for winter camping, mid-tour river crossings, etc.
  • Overall responsiveness of AT boots, especially in steep firm terrain where calculated movements and response are critical.
  • Another, and often overlooked part of travel is split-skiing. My split-skiing ability has improved drastically, which I will credit partially to the responsiveness of the AT boots, despite the ski-mode modification.
  • Proof of my sub-par skiing ability on the Monarch Icefield. I’d show you the video that this screenshot came from, but I’d rather keep the myth alive.

    Proof of my sub-par skiing ability on the Monarch Icefield. I’d show you the video that this screenshot came from, but I’d rather keep the myth alive.

    An instance where I have not been impressed by the switch to AT boots has been riding through refrozen avy debris, and other “chunder-like” conditions. The plastic boots don’t have the same dampening effect that soft-boots have. However, in these conditions, riding is going to be unpleasant regardless. I have experienced mild shin-bang, which I had never experienced before in regular snowboard boots.

    Another possible con to the switch is boot fitting. This is totally dependent on your foot size and shape. It’s possible to fit a boot without any customization, but many skiers do a considerable amount of work to get boots to fit well. Splitboarding is not different, as boot fitting is not only critical for comfort and warmth, but super important in the prevention of long-term foot problems that can ultimately cripple you. Heed the warning!

    Rappelling in hardboots isn’t necessarily worth noting, but the ascent to this point required movement through a variety of conditions, which ultimately required crampons.

    Rappelling in hardboots isn’t necessarily worth noting, but the ascent to this point required movement through a variety of conditions, which ultimately required crampons.

    Other than these potential pitfalls, the only thing I have had to worry about since I have switched to an AT-split set up is the perception of a loss of loyalty to the sport of snowboarding, and funny looks as I get on the lift to access the backcountry for a day of touring.

    Making the switch has undoubtedly taken some time to get used to, but almost instantly I was a fan. I think the challenging part here is breaking into it in a cost effective way. Phantom Splitboard Bindings will have a small demo-fleet of modified TLT6’s in the near future, which can help you try it out before fully committing.

    Overall, a big motivation for me to make the switch has been my style of riding, which has been geared more towards the splitboard mountaineering aspect of things. I want a set-up that will perform on the ascent in a wide variety of conditions and technical terrain, and this has provided that. That being said, I use the same system riding deep powder in the trees and in low-angle terrain, so the versatility is there.

    The added efficiency of an AT-split set-up allowed for a full day to culminate in beautiful turns on 3 peaks on Red Mountain Pass.

    The added efficiency of an AT-split set-up allowed for a full day to culminate in beautiful turns on 3 peaks on Red Mountain Pass, Colorado.

    If you have questions, please comment.

    Shop for Dynafit boots here.

    Comments

    22 Responses to “Making The Switch To AT Ski Touring Hardboot Splitboarding”

    1. Garrett Evridge March 16th, 2017 11:19 am

      Loving the splitboard content! Thanks!

    2. Buell March 16th, 2017 3:02 pm

      Yes, thanks for the splitboard content.

      Jonathan, with10 years splitting on modified AT boots and Phantom bindings (since they were released 5 years ago?) in all conditions, I would say that is a very solid write up. Thank you.

      You should ask John for a pair of the modified demo boots to test the improved lateral flex mods, they are riding really well. We also now have the option of a pair of Gignoux splitboard hardshell boots (carbon). They are a pound lighter per foot that the TLT6s, have a lot more built in lateral flex, and have an adjustable forward flex system. My testing of them so far is showing a lot of promise. John also bought a pair to test.

    3. XXX_er March 16th, 2017 8:07 pm

      “Another possible con to the switch is boot fitting. This is totally dependent on your foot size and shape. It’s possible to fit a boot without any customization, but many skiers do a considerable amount of work to get boots to fit well.”

      yeah I get the idea that snow boarders who have been on soft boots all their riding life want to make the switch but may not really understand hard boots and the fit ?

    4. Spencer H March 16th, 2017 8:54 pm

      Nice to hear that phantom will be renting some of this stuff out. Looking at the boots + bindings + dyna touring bracket….yikes man. Thats an expensive experiment for most of us. Thats also quite a few seasons of soft boots to blow through.

      But the advantages do really seem to add up. I can think of about a dozen times in the past year I was struggling with my soft boots when things were gnarly and even just wished I had that hard toe piece to kick into the snow with.

    5. Kyle March 16th, 2017 9:04 pm

      Couple other benefit I have found(Im using the dyno DH from Spark) Sparks are awesome and cheaper.

      Bindings are carried inside your pack so they dont get ice build up.
      Quicker transitions especially from board to ski mode
      No more ratcheting your straps
      No more fidling with the highbacks
      Carrying your skis around you dont have the softboot binding flopping around, its nice and clean like a pair of touring skis
      Same with hiking in ride mode, bindings are low profile

      I like also to ride(when in more open terrain) with my poles between my back and the pack. Saves me breaking them down, and they are easily available if I hit a flat and need to push.

    6. Scott Nelson March 17th, 2017 6:50 am

      First pic: Beautiful !

    7. Kyle March 17th, 2017 8:35 am

      That first pic is a beauty!
      A myth that needs to be busted is surf style riding on hardboots can’t be done. That’s basically the only reason I ride for that style, and I’m finding it just as good, better in fact when I want to smash a lip. Riding same stance width and duck angles.

      It won’t be long before a pro like Jeremy Jones uses the system then all the doubtets will join. That said the less people interested the more used tlt6s around for me!

    8. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2017 8:49 am

      Xer, exactly, much of our mission here is a sort of public service approach, and emphasizing the importance of properly fitting boots is part of that. Reason being that foot damage can be permanent, and result in life altering situations not to mention expensive medical treatments. For example, a narrow boot might be uncomfortable and you just put up with it. You go on an expedition and develop a neuroma in your metatarsal area, but you decide to keep going as who ever called for a rescue because their feet hurt? Then, you spend years with a neuroma that you can’t seem to get rid of, and eventually requires surgery, and after that you have foot problems the rest of your life. As it says in blog post above. You have been warned.

      I’d add that one “trick” Coop and I talked about was using a slightly shorter boot if you’re “between sizes” and punching for length and width as needed, thus ending up with a boot that might be less prone to toe or heel hang. Of course, too much messing around with toe box shape can compromise the binding latch. So proceed with caution.

      Lou

    9. VtVolk March 17th, 2017 9:50 am

      Kyle, I couldn’t agree more with the incorrect perception that “hard boots” only work well for rigid, technical riding and don’t allow the rider similar freedom as “soft boots.” I’ve been dyna-splitting for several years now, first in BD Primes, then modded TLT5s, and now in some lovely Fischer Travers from Germany (non-carbon version). I always ride with my boots in walk mode, and they are softer and surfier feeling than my soft boot/binding combo ever was. In fact, I’ve now switched to using the Travers and Spark Dynos on my solid board too, thanks to the One Binding System pucks, and couldn’t be happier. I don’t see myself ever going back to soft boots for splitting or otherwise. Warmer, lighter, dryer, and way quicker in and out of the bindings are all huge pluses, and hopefully my riding can speak for itself for anyone doubting the performance gains.

    10. Jason Bushey March 17th, 2017 10:32 am

      Coop,
      Great write up, after 4 years on Phantoms, I believe you summarized hardboot advantages perfectly. There are a lot of little things as well that make you more efficient at the end of the day, like getting in and out of tour and ride mode and faster transitions, really the efficiency at the end of the day is baffling compared to softboots. Also, the Phantom interface I believe creates the tightest fitting system out there for a great ride feel. And it allows DIY board makers the ability to not drill as many holes as you can use existing board holes. As you know, I drink the coolaid pretty hard here.

      I highly recommend you at least try Phantom’s cuff movement and boot slot modifications. They allow you to have a better inner and outer flex that is more similar to a traditional softboot, and the buckle movement keeps your heel in place a lot better than standard, and actually allows your fore foot to rotate in a bit easier for flex. From a chunder standpoint, I believe the hole modification in the upper cuff helps that significantly as well, but its still debatable how much that is needed and advantages over less waterproofing. I personally have mine done and like it. With corn season here I’m stoked to get more time in variable snow.

      And because we know cutting up a $700 boot at Wildsnow is fully appreciated, and modification will blow anything Lou has done out of the water, you should send it!

    11. Brian March 17th, 2017 11:22 am

      I have been considering this for awhile, but cost is of course the main thing keeping me from experimenting. All my other bc gear cost so much in the first place.

      As I have been getting into more mountaineering terrain on the split, I would love to hear from someone who has done this in softboots with non-automatic crampons? Was it that bad? Anyone use soft boots sometimes and hard boots other times? I appreciate the write up for sure, but just want some of the other side as well.

      Best

    12. Jason Bushey March 17th, 2017 12:33 pm

      Brian, I only used strap crampons a few times, and other friends have used them with me there as well. I had BD Contacts on 2009 Burton Driver X’s. The crampon moves around when side hilling and doesn’t feel fully secure on your foot. At one point I had the crampon actually fall off, luckly in a good place and no issues. I’ve heard of this as well with at least a few others. Those issues don’t happen with an AT boot. With strap crampons, my opinion is make sure they are fastened extremely well and continue to check to ensure it isn’t getting loose. Now, it has been almost 5 years since I have used them, so maybe they have changed.

    13. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2017 2:53 pm

      Once you’re really done alpine climbing, strapping crampons to a soft boot feels nothing less than crazy… however, if you’re just slugging it out up softer snow and essentially walking around, they do work if you pay attention to keeping them tightly strapped. Lou

    14. Paul S. March 17th, 2017 4:20 pm

      I have also kicked strap crampons off a snowboard boot. Completely unacceptable if you are using the front points. Fully automatic is the only way to go!

    15. Bryce March 17th, 2017 5:28 pm

      Love the write up, and I agree with everything said. I do have to add one additional difference. I have noticed with hard boots that quick turn initiation is more difficult, I suspect that this is because hard boots do not allow the fine ankle control when lifting the edge of the board to initiate a turn. I have found that turn initiation requires more of my body and makes it more difficult to negotiate tight tree runs with limited visibility of potential paths. I find that I need to plan 2-3 turns in advance to be able to maintain fluid form. However, I will not list this as a disadvantage because I think it has really helped me grow as a rider and forces me to use better form. I have not as of yet found a need to modify my hard boots but perhaps modification would reduce or eliminate the discrepancy in ease of turn initiation.

    16. Jason McNeil March 18th, 2017 6:00 am

      Jason Bushey, are you using the official phantom tlt6 mod kit? I ask as I have been on phantoms since their alpha binding came out and have been riding with only the forward lean modified without issues. I have no complaints other than a liner that is in need of replacement and will be in the coming weeks. I have contemplated the mod kit but am having a hard time just simply due to the concept of “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” Thoughts?

    17. Kyle March 18th, 2017 12:53 pm

      @bryce I did notice a bit of a difference with tighter trees, but have it mostly figured. I also only did small mods to my boots, so I think if I modded them further it would be even better. I also have always kind of sucked in tight trees. Anyways thanks Wildsnow for covering this stuff a bit more, great site, and these articles will help a lot with splitters looking to up their efficiency. And it should be noted that a lot of the softboot setups are awesome too. I think for me I looked to hardboots due to the longer approaches ect that I deal with. That said, knowing what I know now I wouldnt go back even if I had quicker approaches. I think its similar to the ski touring crowd, you see more “heavy” frame style setups with folks that do shorter slackcountry tours, vs lightweight setups for people who know they are gonna be doing a lot of walking..

    18. Buell March 18th, 2017 6:33 pm

      @Bryce if you modify your boots, the slower turn initiation effect will be greatly reduced, if not eliminated. It will depend on how far you go with your modifications.

      @Jason McNeil yes, the Phantom boot mod kit and recommended lateral flex mods will improve the lateral flex and reduce dead spots in your TLT flex pattern. If your boots are well worn though, they should be softer than a new pair and probably ride pretty well with just the forward lean mod.

    19. Brad Riddle March 19th, 2017 1:14 pm

      @Jason McNeil. I have ridden boots starting with just the forward lean mod, all the way to some of Phantom’s demo fleet of completely modded TLTs . Needless to say I got the kit right away and did it to my personal boots as well. The two things this kit does both help to get you to that soft boot feel your looking for. First it moves the buckle further up, pulling your heel in to the back of the boot similar to a strap binding. And second it allows you access to the inner cuff where you can start making cuts to soften up the lower part of your boot.

    20. Jason Bushey March 19th, 2017 6:28 pm

      @Jason McNeil I’ve done all the mod Phantom has suggested, yes. I didn’t have major issues with non-modded boots either, but I was fortunate enough to demo Phantom’s boots. These mods just make the ride a bit less harsh. I think the flex is a bit more natural than non-modified, primarily inwards and allows you to flex the boot better. Also, I enjoy the lower cuff move for better heel lock down as well when I’m riding and don’t need the lower buckle locked down as tight. I did all the mods to my boots after riding Phantoms demos as well. I have about 35 days on them now (between two boots) and think they are great.

    21. Seth Johnson and March 20th, 2017 8:11 pm

      Regarding making quick turns mentioned above: I found that adding a 1/2″ heel rise on my back foot made me feel way more in control with hardboots

    22. Taylor March 22nd, 2017 9:57 am

      Great write up. I agree with everything said.

      With regard to quick turn initiation and ankle flexion, @Bryce, I resolved (or just avoided) that by leaving my back boot (Scarpa Alien) in tour mode while riding, and riding both boot cuffs loose. Ironically, my “hard” boot set up actually has a softer flex, and affords more ankle mobility (and body English) than my “soft” boot set up.

      For my riding style, which relies heavily on ankle flexion rather than boot support in body mechanics and board control, a loose AT set up actually feels better — surfier, quicker, more nimble and natural – than a soft boot set up. And in touring and transition, it’s vastly faster and more elegant (especially when coupled with Phantom).

      Big footed riders considering making the switch to AT should pay careful attention to boot sole length (to avoid boot-out). For a given size of boot, there’s a wide range of BSLs across brands and models. This was one of the reasons I went with the Alien; it’s the shortest BSL available (or was a few years ago). A chart of BSLs across split-popular AT boots would be a useful tool for those with bigger feet.

      Great to see split coverage on this forum.

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