T1 Climbing System
I was excited to check out Spark’s new T1 climbing wire system. Spark claims that the T1 wires are “easily operated with the basket of your ski pole”. This was welcome news, since the ski-mounted heel risers used by Voile and Karakoram can be tough to engage, especially with packed snow and ice clogging them.
In practice though, I haven’t found that claim to be true. I found the climbing wire to be too stiff to engage from flat to 12° with the baskets on my Black Diamond Compactor poles with any ease.
Possible? Yes. Practical? No. It’s worth noting that the Compactor baskets are certainly soft – I haven’t tried with other poles that may have stiffer baskets.
I have no issues moving the wire from 12° to 18° with the tip of my pole, and going from 18° to 12° without yanking the wire back to flat is delicate but very possible after some practice. Additionally, it’s possible that with more use they’ll continue to break in and become easier to use.
For the time being, though, I either have to get my heel high enough to use the tip of my pole to start the riser, or lean down and use my hand—the wire isn’t accessible with the handle of a pole. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is certainly annoying. I’ll report back on this next year (to my knowledge, the Arc is returning unchanged for ’16-’17).
Additionally, Spark is introducing an accessory, the Whammy Bar, a small extended lever that actuates the riser, that could potentially solve the problem entirely. Though the T1 climbing wire didn’t blow away the current competition, it doesn’t dissuade me from being excited about its potential, nor does it exclude the Arc from the top tier of splitboard bindings. Overall, I’m quite impressed.
Much has been made of the Karakoram / Spark rivalry, so a review of the Arc would be incomplete without a brief comparison. If you haven’t already, check out Andrew Forward’s great review of the Karakoram Prime Carbon.
I haven’t personally ridden Karakoram’s Prime system, but I’ve had many conversations on the skin track with touring partners who do. Karakoram’s offerings are significantly more expensive ($780 for the 675 g / binding Prime SL including mounting hardware) and require their own clips ($50) for ride mode. Also, the heel riser is made of plastic (which Andrew had issues with in his testing period).
Karakoram bindings contain substantially more moving parts, which would make me nervous if I were deep in the backcountry in binding-breaking temperatures. That said, all the split boarders I know that have used Karakoram have loved them. It’s possible to transition with your feet still in the bindings, which is an undeniable advantage.
While I can’t make the most substantive of comparisons between them for performance, I can say that the Spark R&D Arc gives me everything I want out of a splitboard binding. I wouldn’t feel obliged to spend substantially more on a Karakoram setup even if there were modest performance gains—especially given the problems Andrew experienced with his setup.
The Spark R&D Arc is a great do-everything splitboard binding. It’s lightweight, dependable, and performs well both uphill and downhill. The Tesla T1 climbing wire system hasn’t convinced me that it’s groundbreaking yet, but it certainly gets the job done. I’ll report back after more testing and checking out the Whammy Bar. Until then, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a lightweight, reliable splitboard binding.