Straps & Hi-Back
The straps on Spark bindings are manufactured by Burton. They are very adjustable, though only with a Phillips head screwdriver (something that should always be on hand in the backcountry). The strap design is simple and functional. Each buckle on both the toe and heel strap is made of lightweight metal (not plastic) and is subsequently less likely to break in the cold. The heel strap is wider at the edges and thinner in the middle, allowing it to conform well to most boots. The K2 Thraxis is a low profile boot, so in order to achieve a good fit, I had to shorten the length of the heel strap. This moved the thinner center portion of the strap to the side, but it was soft enough to still conform well to my boot.
The toe strap is an open-cap style which allows a nice fit over the toe and helps to maintain solid heel hold in the heel cup. One day in New Zealand, while climbing Mt. Ruepehu to look into the crater and find a run down some ice balls, I snapped the binding’s heel ladder. But thanks to the strength and style of the toe cap, I was still able to ride down comfortably.
The Magneto’s Hi-back can be adjusted in rotation according to different riding styles. The Hi-back is stiff fore and aft and has an easier torsional flex, with a fair amount of material removed from the back. I have found that bindings without a solid Hi-back tend to last longer. This may have something to do with there being less material liable to get flexed and worn out. In any case, I’ve seen no reason to be concerned about the durability of the Hi-backs on the Magneto.
Baseplate & Heel Cup
Spark R&D put some good thought into this component of the binding. They made the Tesla base plates compatible with other Spark heel cups. So if you’re not ready to upgrade to a completely new set of bindings, you can use a pair of Burners and adapt them to the Tesla plate. And if your Burner or Blaze bindings are the 2011/12 model, a heel loop kit is available to accept the Tesla plates
The Magneto is a lighter version of the Spark AfterBurner, and its baseplates have been machined out in a pattern that reduces material weight without compromising much of the strength. Certainly the strength is reduced compared to a solid plate, but the metal is strong enough to withstand most impacts. The pattern of the removed material on the Magneto is, again, also conducive to easily shedding snow and not allowing ice to cake onto the plate.
I was touring on Molas Pass, Colorado, this past January, applying a ton of force to the bindings in dropping cliffs around 15-20 feet onto firm snow. Through these and similar conditions in New Zealand, the Magneto held up just fine. And hitting jumps, drops, and buttering on groomers also felt very comfortable with a smooth flex from the bindings.
That same day on Molas Pass, I was returning down to the parking lot going very fast through the woods when I came across a creek unexpectedly, hitting the opposing bank VERY hard. I have had some bad crashes, but this one was one of the worst in terms of the force of the impact. The plastic Voile puck on my right (front) foot cracked causing the binding to come loose from the board. The puck was broken, and though the Magneto was completely intact, the base plate had bent so it no longer fit into the touring bracket. Considering how hard I hit the bank, I’m not at all surprised that the base plate deformed a bit.
Even after my incident with the creek, I feel the Magneto is sufficiently strong and durable, capable of standing up to some aggressive riding. And if you’re really looking for a zero compromise approach to your touring setup, then consider the AfterBurner, which features the same Tesla design, only with a solid metal baseplate. Of course, carrying extra ladder straps, screws, and buckles is always wise, but the components of the Magneto seem trustworthy in the backcountry. (For what it’s worth, Spark has said that they plan to beef up the touring brackets for the 14/15 model Magneto, but I can’t say I noticed this was an obvious weak point of the binding’s design at any time during testing.)
Spark R&D’s Magneto, and particularly their Tesla design, is a game-changer in the splitboard binding world. The switch from touring to riding mode is super easy and can practically be done blind. The hardware used (e.g., the touring brackets and heel bar plates) are lightweight and low profile. Spark’s Snap Ramp technology allows for smooth touring with very little resistance on the pivot points, and snow is easily shed through the holes on the base plates, preventing buildup of ice and snow.
All and all I am extremely impressed by and happy with the system.