Karakoram Carbon SL Splitboard Binding – Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 22, 2013      

Jonathan Cooper


The Karakoram at work in the PNW.

It doesn’t take much to notice the current rise in the popularity of splitboarding. Development and innovation are at all-time high. In 2008, Karakoram came out with their completely new interface system. It approached the problems of splitboard performance from a new direction, and managed to create a binding that was lighter, more technical, and much different than anything else on the market. The product in review is one of three bindings that Karakoram currently has on the market. The Carbon Super Light series is their middle of the line binding that has many weight-saving features, as compared to their original Split30 binding.


Karakoram Carbon SL splitboard binding.

The obvious difference with this system, as compared to most other splitboard binding interfaces, is the puck-less system that attaches the accompanying binding to the board. This two piece interface has five attachment points that work to actively pull the board together and bring the binding closer to the board when in ride mode.


The interface is made of aluminum and features an easy-to-use angle adjustment for quick field modifications.

In addition to this, the Karakoram board clips provide an active attachment mechanism that further creates a more solid performance out of the board (as opposed to the traditional hooks that passively connect the board found on most factory made splitboards). I have been riding this system for two years, and the board clips alone have made my board perform much better, and much less like a splitboard.


The clips actively pull the board together, rather than sliding the skis together.


The bindings themselves are an innovative blend of a traditional snowboard binding and weight-saving engineering.

The two attachment components (heel stay and toe stay) on the binding are made of aluminum. The heel stay houses a quick-release lever that engages/disengages three separate titanium pins that attach the binding to the interface. I have found this feature to be extremely effective in clearing snow from the attachment points without much preventative effort on my part (especially in deep snow and gloppy spring conditions). The lever itself has a cam-over action that feels secure when attaching the binding in ride-mode. Just in case, Karakoram has recently added a plastic safety component that prevents the quick-release lever from opening up.


Bottom view of binding.


Lever closed.


The machined-out heel cup, specific to the Carbon SL, shaves some weight compared to the older Split 30. The heel cup, accompanied by the removal of excess material in the heel stay, and the carbon fiber high-back bring each binding to a weight of around 700 grams.


The tour mode interface features a bracket made of Dupont Zytel engineered plastic and a stainless steel clamp.

The toe-stay on the binding has a touring axle with two stainless steel sleeves that rotate around the axle when it is clamped in the touring bracket. The axle itself is threaded on one end and screws into one side of the toe stay. The opposite side has a small pin that is hammered in to prevent the axle from backing out. The binding then pivots around this axle in tour mode.

A major benefit I have seen from this interface is the ability to transition from ride mode into tour mode without taking your feet out of your bindings. Simply open the quick release lever and step into tour mode (after splitting and skinning your board of course). This feature continues to shave time off of my transitions, which is especially beneficial when touring with skiers on a multiple lap outing. Anything to dispel the notion of slowboarder is a winning feature in the splitboarding world.


Step in.


With the touring clamp opened it is simple to step in and down to close the clamp, securing the binding into the bracket.

Despite the ease of the integrated axle, it has suffers from a few problems which have directly affected the strength and integrity of my touring axle. As I mentioned above, one side of the axle is threaded and screws into the corresponding side of the toe-stay. This threading of the axle has created a point of weakness, especially in tour mode. Over the last two seasons of moderate use (50+ days), I have managed to completely shear the axle in half. This point of breakage happened right where the threaded axle enters the toe-stay housing. At this intersection the touring axle sees the most force, and in combination with the threading, serious fatigue has occurred causing the axle to fail.


Broken axle.

This seems to be a fairly isolated issue. Apparently there has only been one other reported case of this happening to the touring axle. This could be due to slight variations in the manufacturing process, or just a matter of time for other users. Regardless, a design alteration would seem essential to minimize the force and fatigue at this intersection of the touring axle and the toe-stay housing.

In lieu of the axle failure, I was out on Berthoud Pass in Colorado touring and taking mellow tree runs this past weekend and did not notice significant play while riding, although anything more than mellow powder runs would probably be more concerning. The folks at Karakoram have been very helpful through this process and have sent me new toe-stays in the mean time.

Another key feature, and unique to Karakoram at this time, is the heel-lock down mechanism. This has been on the wish list for splitboarders for a long time. This feature is integrated into their dual climbing bar component (I appreciate multi-functional components). The taller climbing bar can be pulled out into a 3rd position to accommodate the center titanium pin in the heel-stay.


3rd position bar.

It is easy to engage on the fly while in tour mode, as you open the quick-release lever, adjust the climbing bar, and re-engage the lever to lock the binding down. According to Karakoram, the heel lock-down feature is not meant for downhill skiing (most likely because it is not releasable). I tested it skiing down a mellow access road, sidestepping, and sidehilling. In my opinion, this feature greatly increases safety and the ability to move through sketchy side hills, and short down-hill sections on long tours. Although I have not fully tested the strength of the climbing bar as a mechanism to lock the heel down, I do see limitations. There is potential for high levels of force being loaded on the climbing bar while the heel is locked down. I would like to see a component that is fully rated to split-ski (as much as is realistic for a splitboard and snowboard boots) without the worry of failure. Regardless, there is a solution to the problem of locking the heel down which has not previously existed.


Heel lockdown open.


Heel lockdown close.

A last noteworthy component of the Karakoram binding interface is the ski crampon attachment. Over the years I have come to realize that ski crampons for splitboards are a must when the conditions become even slightly less than ideal (i.e. hard, icy traverses). This is largely due to the lack of lateral stiffness while touring, which is mostly a result of soft snowboard boots. The Karakoram ski crampons attach directly to the binding, and can be mounted while in tour mode with relative ease. With the quick release lever open, the crampon slides under the binding and hooks two bolts that screw the heel cup into the toe stay. The quick-release lever engages and locks the crampon into the binding. These crampons (and the binding as a whole) performed well on a recent trip to Mt. Rainier in January. (see Wildsnow TR here).


Ski crampon.

Overall, the Karakoram Carbon SL splitboard bindings seem to have succeeded in pushing the technical development of the sport and the gear. Although one of the priciest products on the market, the small Washington based company seems to be committed to continual development and refining of their product, as new improvements seem to come out every few months. Check them out and see their line-up at www.karakorambc.com.

Shop for Karakoram here.

(Guest blogger, Jonathan Cooper, is a recent Western Washington University graduate balancing work with traveling around the world. He currently lives and skis in Colorado, and often drops in on the Cascade mountains to explore snowy peaks with friends.


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19 Responses to “Karakoram Carbon SL Splitboard Binding – Review”

  1. Swen February 22nd, 2013 11:39 am

    I’m glad to see you covering split boarding. Although the approach is sometimes harder, I have really had more fun on the down with my board, felt more Gs too. It’s a good tool for enjoying big mountains.

  2. John February 22nd, 2013 12:36 pm

    Thanks for this review, as a snowboarder getting into backcountry, I like seeing this technology progress, and I like the frank assessment of very technical details on this system. Thanks Jonathan!

  3. Shane February 22nd, 2013 1:35 pm

    Ditto on the appreciation for deviating a bit from the AT and European pastry blogging that you usually do here. If I hadn’t given up skiing for snowboarding 20+ years ago (dear Lord, when DID I get this old) I would feel comfortable skiing the backcountry and it would be my prefered mode of travel. As it is, I’m a danger to myself and others unless I’m strapped to a board and pointed sideways. Although we have our own site, I do like to visit Wildsnow.com and this was a pleasant surprise.

    I’ve been aware of the K-system for a while but never really searched out the details. However, as a a guy started out splitting on the old Burton system, I’m still a bit gunshy of something so mechinized. I’m actually quite relieved that Spark has postponed release of the Edison binding in favor of the Tesla which still eliminates the pin while retaining a puck system.

  4. Lou Dawson February 22nd, 2013 2:24 pm

    Shane, that hurts, it really hurts.

  5. Colin Lantz February 22nd, 2013 2:30 pm

    Nice review Lou. I saw this at SIA and I have to say it was probably the coolest thing I saw at the show. I haven’t snowboarded for probably 15 years but I’ve watched in amazement how the split technology hasn’t evolved at all during that time. I had the 1st gen voile split and the system they sell today is basically the same – only the boards have gotten better. When I saw this new system it was pretty clear that they’d done a great job solving some of the technical issues that made those old splits ride so badly.

  6. Colin Lantz February 22nd, 2013 2:34 pm

    Errrrr… nice review Jonathan that is.

  7. Paulina February 22nd, 2013 3:57 pm

    Snowboarding is a legit and FUN way to travel in the backcountry and it can be a challenge to be up on all the new innovations so thank you for including boards on this blog. Hope it becomes a regular feature.

  8. TC February 22nd, 2013 5:20 pm

    Splitboarders! Geez…
    The next thing you know we’ll see a WildSnow review of a F1 boot, Dynafit toe telemark setup.

    Good review!
    Although I realize this great blog has a focus and audience, it’s nice to get a run down of some of the other ways to have fun in the hills.

  9. Crazy Horse February 22nd, 2013 5:33 pm

    Now if they would just figure out how to keep both bindings pointed straight ahead and let the two halves of the board separate when you are going downhill—-.

  10. Jonathan Cooper February 22nd, 2013 6:19 pm

    Always appreciate the jokes, Crazy Horse and TC. I hope we haven’t opened a can of worms here!

  11. Kyle February 22nd, 2013 6:20 pm

    Nice to see splitboarding get an article. I love to ride, and use spark bindings on my setup, they perform just as well as the Karakoram stuff, even though they use pucks. I don’t think the puck system was the problem with performance of early boards, more the giant gap that they had, and the fact that you had to use plates underneath your bindings. Now with a pair of sparks, and their new pin system(LT,not new anymore I guess..), you barely notice you are on a split, if at all, except that it is a little heavier. Splitboarding is definitely legit now, with innovations happening quickly. Lots of guys using hardboot setups like the TLT5 for snowboarding with great results.

    We still are at a disadvantage in certain situations, mainly icy exits in the backcountry where skiers manage much better. Its also not the best tool for up and down rolling traverse type tours, but neither is a pair of 120 wide skis. ( ; Thats why I can ski a bit as well, as each has its place. As for people who think we are slow, well some of us are( :, but don’t forget to take a look at some of the best, and fastest skiers, partners (think Greg Hill and Andreas Franson, and others) they are often boarders. Heck, Greg Hill even said he could probably do the 2 million in a year on a dyna split setup. And there is some video of him ripping at splitfest with a board.

    I guess Im saying its all good and skiers and splitters should be riding together because its so much fun. While we are putting our boards together you can admire how nice it is in the mountains for an extra 25 seconds.

  12. Bryce Kloster February 22nd, 2013 7:11 pm


    Thanks for the review. I remember when you bought your bindings in 2010-11, we were working out of our garage. We now have a full assembly line in North Bend, WA. We appreciate the feedback as it helps us continually improve.

  13. DRS February 23rd, 2013 1:25 pm

    After 10+ years as a splitboarder I finally switched back to skis 4 years ago when I got tired of always rushing to keep up on the changeover and waiting at the bottom for the tele skiers I always ride with (“hey lets traverse over there”). When I realized that fat rockered powder skis are almost as fun as a board in powder I made the switch, and saved many pounds from my setup.

    Hence it has been a while since I have checked on splitboard technology, but things have come a long way. Almost thinking I might get back on the single rail….this system looks so much easier, heel lock down, plus lighter weight, just what I was wanting in a splitboard.

  14. Kyle February 23rd, 2013 9:45 pm

    DRS, there are a few companies, like Prior and Jones, who have lightweight carbon construction too.

    What would be great is a snowboard boot with a walk mode, with the benefits of a ski boot. Obviously guys are using modded TLT5s and Scarpa Rush boots already, but this requires making permanent mods to an already expensive boot,but it would be nice if a company took a stab at it. It gives us the full walk range when touring, and more control over our split ski when in that mode. Obviously there is not enough people interested in this type of setup for a manufacturer to take interest.

    Phantom bindings is making a great looking hardboot binding. What I would like to see is something similar to the TLt5 but softer, more lean adjustment, and a slightly wider fit.

    Take a look at this guy, riding hardboot TLT on a split.

  15. Kyle February 23rd, 2013 9:55 pm

    One more note, I love what Karakorum is doing as well, so thanks for the review. I am glad Jones seems to be partnered with them so I expect a lot of great things to come from this company as well as Spark.

  16. Garrett February 26th, 2013 11:20 am

    Stoked to see some splitboard attention on the blog.

  17. chris February 28th, 2013 3:04 pm

    tlt-5’s on a splitboard are the way to go!

  18. Wookie1974 March 4th, 2013 9:08 am

    Any information Wildsnow can provide which helps skiers’ Slowboarding friends climb more than 8 degree slopes, or which reduces the time spent solving intricate metal puzzles on windy ridges is a game-changer!

    I’d give up Gore-Tex if I could get splitboarders 50% faster.

  19. Shaun July 6th, 2013 4:49 pm

    I have found on a split people tend to take a more direct S shaped route up the hill. This is due to the fatter skies. Skiers tend to traverse in a more V shaped pattern that is less steep. Not sure where ur getting this 8 degree slope comment from.

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