2013-2014 Spark R&D Magneto Splitboard Bindings
Size: Medium (9.5/10 boots) Flow Rift Quickfit 10, K2 Thraxis 9.5
Board: 2013-2014 Venture Zephyr Split 161
Test locations: Backcountry: terrain off of Treble Cone and Mount Ruepehu Crater, New Zealand; Taos Ski Valley, NM, and Santa Fe, NM; and the San Juan Mountains. Resort riding: Treble Cone and Whakapapa, New Zealand
Days ridden: 25+
Color: Light Blue (green and black also available)
I’ve used a number of different splitboard bindings over the years, and have been impressed by how the technology has evolved and improved. I remember when the only way to achieve a touring-capable splitboard binding system was to stack regular snowboard bindings on top of a Voile plate (or Slider Track) which would then slide over “pucks” on either half of the splitboard.
Like a lot of people, I found this plate & puck setup heavy and less than durable (I bent one of the Voile slider plates on only my third day of touring with them). These traditional systems also use a pin, similar to a cotter pin on a trailer, which slides through the front of the slider plate, locking it onto the pucks in both touring and riding modes. The pins can also be a hassle, as they too tend to bend easily and can be lost, resulting in some good old-fashioned posthole touring.
The Voile system is still used by some companies, but is quickly being replaced by splitboard-specific binding designs made by Spark R&D, Karakoram, Voile, K2, and Ranger.
The Spark “Tesla System”
Spark R&D has developed a design they are calling the “Tesla System,” which does away with both the separate locking pin and Voile slider plate, incorporating the functions of both into the base plate of the Magneto binding itself. Although the Voile pucks are still used (something I’ll talk more about below), thanks to the Tesla System, the Magneto binding makes for a far lighter split-binding on the whole, and is much quicker and easier to use than traditional systems.
Key to the Magneto’s design is the toe ramp portion of its baseplate. Two “needles” protrude from the edge of the base and a hinged toe ramp, or “Snap Ramp,” moves up and down in between them. In touring mode, the needles slide into the touring bracket from the side. The Snap Ramp then swings down over the needles in the touring bracket, locking them in place, allowing the binding to hinge from the toe while touring.
In riding (downhill) mode, the baseplate is slid over the Voile pucks from the rear (just at the Voile plate does on a traditional setup, only with a binding sitting on top of it) and is held in place with the Snap Ramp. The Ramp snaps down directly at the front, toe-side edge of the puck, leaving little to no wiggle room while riding.
In both touring mode and riding mode, the Snap Ramp is held in place by your boot resting on top of it when strapped in the binding. Once the boot is in the binding, the Ramp can’t move, so as long as your boot and binding sizing is correct, there should be no issues with binding retention with the Tesla System.
Switching Modes: Touring to Riding
Switching from tour mode to ride mode is easier with the Magneto than with any other touring binding I have ever used. A lot of the precise alignment of pieces required when using the Karakoram system is nonexistent with the Magneto, and any snow caked onto the pucks is channeled right through the holes in the baseplate when it is slid on. I timed myself a few times doing a complete switch from one mode to the other, and it is easily done in a minute and half (after some practice placing skins).
The bindings have two sets of climbing risers that drop down from the rear of the baseplate. They sit on a plastic brace on the board and are very easy to deploy and stow with the basket of a ski pole
The Magneto is also nicely compatible with Spark’s Sabertooth crampons (sold separately). The crampons simply slide onto the touring bracket from the side, and sit underneath each binding, allowing the binding to lift while the crampon stays in contact with the surface of the snow / ice. I used these a few times in New Zealand, and though I realized that if is going to be really icy and steep I would probably prefer to use regular crampons, the Sabertooths make traversing in icy, spring conditions much easier.
The only thing I feel the Magneto lacks is a lockable heel. Being able to lock down the heel of the binding in touring mode helps with side stepping and skating over flat terrain.Though not an absolutely crucial feature, I’d like to see Spark incorporate this into the Magneto’s design, if possible.
Why Stick with Pucks?
Some companies are moving away from the Voile pucks (as well as the slider plates) with their splitboard binding designs, but obviously Spark has incorporated the pucks into the design of the Magneto.
Personally I’m glad Spark still uses the Voile pucks, first because they don’t interfere with the looser, softer torsional flex of a splitboard.
Many people prefer that a splitboard ride as much like a normal snowboard as possible, minimizing the torsional flex caused by separating the two halves of the board. I have used 1st generation Karakoram bindings that aim to achieve this, but find that the added structure of the bindings’ aluminum mounting plates actually creates too much rigidity through binding and board, making the ride harsh.
On a setup that uses plastic Voile pucks, the pucks are situated on each half of the splitboard with the rails of the Magneto’s baseplate joining each pair (in the same way that a Voile slider plate does), so energy is still primarily focused separately onto either side of the deck, rather than across it (as on a conventional solid deck). And to me, the added flex this allows makes for an exciting, more energetic ride. Caveat: I should say that the Venture Zephyr Split I ride is very stiff to begin with, so while the softened torsional flex allowed by a Voile puck compatible system may not seem problematic to me, someone using a softer-flexing splitboard might feel differently.
Apart from their effect (or lack thereof) on a splitboard’s particular flex pattern, the plastic pucks can also serve as dampening pads to absorb the chatter experienced when riding from a higher stack height over the board. This is a less relevant point concerning the Magneto, however, as it places the boot sole lower to the board than a setup using Voile slider plates.
Lastly, the integration of the Magneto’s Tesla System with Viole pucks makes it less prone to getting clogged with wet, cakey snow. As I’ve mentioned above, with the Magnetos it was a 2 second process to slide the bindings onto the pucks and snap the Snap Ramp down. I never had an issue with snow caking in or around the bindings.