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You can't teach an old dog new tricks, or can you?
Learning to ride: a look at snowboards, boots, and bindings
By Scott Clayton

I started skiing over 20 years ago. Growing up in northern Utah winters were long and cold. Skiing was a welcome pastime that helped me enjoy what was otherwise a dismal time of year. When my wife and I started our family I had great aspirations of skiing together. Four sons and a couple of failed skiing attempts later my ten-year-old let me know his feelings about skiing: "skiing is for old people, I want to go snowboarding." I must admit I was a little disappointed, however I warmed to the idea and decided to try snowboarding along with my sons.

Getting started, the initial hurdle is essential gear: boards, boots, and bindings. Snowboarding requires specialized boots and bindings that fit the board. I had lots of old ski equipment, but nothing I could use snowboarding. My first foray into a snowboarding shop was quite overwhelming. Snowboarder's have their own jargon, as I started looking around I felt like I needed a translator to understand what the heck they were talking about.

Here are a few tips I gleaned:
1 - Get the most comfortable boots you can afford and make sure they fit! Boots will make or break your day on the snow. There's nothing worse than having your feet fall asleep or get too cold to continue riding.

2- Look for a modest pair of strap-in bindings. They're cheaper and easier to learn on.

3- When checking out boards, your weight, boot size, how you ride, and the type of snow you typically ride on - in that order - are the main factors to consider when choosing board length. Most board manufacturers have weight charts to help you make your selection. (see http://www.geocities.com/snowfactory/boardsizing.html for excellent board sizing tips).

4- Acquiring the essential gear can be quite expensive, if you're short on dough or not sure you're going to stick with it I'd recommend renting before buying.

I have a natural aversion to bottom-of-the-line gear. When choosing gear for this review I looked for stuff that would work for a beginner and facilitate the transition to the next level. I also tried to include gear that would work in a variety of situations from groomed trails to backcountry powder.

Here's what I tried:

Boards:
K2 Transit 158
Salomon Classic 156
Boots:
K2 Raider
Salomon Perpetual
K2 Sonic Clicker
Bindings:
K2 V10 Magma
Salomon S3
K2 SST Clicker

K2 Transit 158
Price                 $369

K2 Transit (snowboard) The Transit is based on K2's A-Star model. It's lightweight and a freestyle friendly shape with a deep progressive sidecut. A speedy base ensures quick escapes from less stable forces, and edge to edge handling is a standard option. The Transit is a directional board that works well on the 95% of snowboarding terrain not featured in videos.

The Transit worked well no matter what the conditions of the day were. It is quick edge to edge and turns well on groomed snow as well as in the crud. I spent some time with my sons trying to "get air, land tricks and ride fakie;" the board did a fine job even when I didn't. My favorite day on the Transit was when we rode all-out non-stop from 9:00am till almost 3:00pm stopping only for a quick half-hour lunch. The snow wasn't great, mostly hard, icy, slick crud. But in spite of that this board excelled on the steeper, aggressive runs.

Contact K2 Snowboards at (800) 972-4063 or on the Internet at www.k2snowboards.com.

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Salomon Classic 156
Price                 $379.95

Salomon Classic (snowboard) Salomon's Classic is a perfect balance of easy, confident all-mountain performance. It's constructed with a snappy Twinwood(tm) core plus a fast and durable P-Tex 2000 Electra sintered base.

The Salomon Classic is easy to ride in powder and groomed conditions. Edge to edge transitions are plenty quick. It's slightly stiffer than the K2 Transit which I preferred in most conditions; it does struggle a bit in icy conditions. Overall it's a nice versatile ride and very responsive. My best day on the Classic was late March last year, 10 inches of new snow overnight. We spent the morning cruising the powder, absolutely the greatest, especially for spring! When that was pretty much gone we spent the afternoon in the park trying to get "big air", with an emphasis on TRYING; all in all it was a memorable day.

Contact Salomon at (800) 225-6850 or on the Internet at www.salomonsnowboards.com .

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Of all the gear in this review, boards are definitely the hardest to compare. They each have slight, subtle differences that are difficult for less experienced riders to pick up on -- while the subtleties are less important when starting out they no doubt will become more important as your skill level increases. Both of these boards are great, I'd have to say it's a tossup between them with a very slight preference going to the Salomon Classic.

K2 Raider
Price                 $149

K2 Raider (snowboarding boots) K2's Raider boots have a flexible design for freestyle maneuvers with just the right amount of dialed support in the special spots for all mountain performance. The surefit stitched liner offers warm, comfortable circulation. They are constructed from weatherproof leather and a textile upper with polyurethane coating for keeping dry.

The most notable attribute of the K2 Raider is how comfortable they are, while riding or just walking around. They're easy to put on and take off. The upper portion of the boots are quite flexible. On one trip I did have a problem getting the boots to fit right. After the first couple of runs I had to loosen the boots and walk around because my right foot fell asleep. My second attempt at strapping them on was good for the rest of the day. My feet were always toasty warm and dry. Of the three boots I tried they are the biggest. The size 9's I tried barely fit in the Salomon S3 bindings (size medium, straps maxed out); I had to work pretty hard to strap in with a minimal click or two. I even had to adjust the straps on the V10 Magma bindings in order to comfortably fit in them; by the way, that was a breeze, no tools necessary.

Contact K2 Snowboards at (800) 972-4063 or on the Internet at www.k2snowboards.com .

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Salomon Perpetual
Price                 $189

Salomon Perpetual (snowboarding boots) Salomon's Perpetual boots employ an overlap Thermicfit-Alu liner with anatomical pre-formed zones for better hold and comfort. They have new, reinforced support and stronger, more responsive envelopment. The two-fabric liner interior allows easy entry and effortless heel-hold. An aluminum layer in the forefoot keeps toes cozy and warm.

The stiff upper section of the Perpetual boots transfers even the slightest rocking motion directly to leverage on the board edge making carving a breeze. Riding feels more natural and requires less effort. They are on the snug side which means sock choice is critical. After trying several different socks, none of which were very comfortable, I tried using only my Fox River Xstatic liners. I thought my feet would freeze but they didn't and the boots were the most comfortable they'd ever been. Still not as comfortable as the K2 Raider boots but acceptable, and in fact due to the leverage gained while turning, I prefer the Perpetual boots. More snug also means more of a struggle to get on and off, but still worth the effort.

Contact Salomon at (800) 225-6850 or on the Internet at www.salomonsnowboards.com.

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K2 V10 Magma
Price                 $179

K2 V10 Magma (snowboarding bindings) K2's V10 Magma bindings boast a pro-level performance in a light yet bombproof construction. They sport an exclusive injection-molded magnesium chassis to provide the lightest, dampest and most responsive ride they can. Their focus is on durability and flexibility. The contoured super-stiff plasma highback has a molded calf and heel-gripper pads. The super-stiff, adjustable aluminum heelcup has a molded power-band. The aluminum power stroke forward lean adjustment allows for ease of entry and exit for users who ride forward. The ankle strap is built using welded seams. The buckles incorporate exclusive aluminum lift release bomber ratchets. Access ports protect hardware from loosening and corrosion. A stiff, over-sized roto-disc gives an infinite stance adjustment, no blind spots. A multi-size toe-ramp and heel landing pad provide integrated damping.

Whew! Say that three times fast. Let's cut to the chase, K2's V10 Magma bindings are solid. The magnesium base, aluminum heelcup, plus the plasma highback exude durability. The buckles are sturdy, the straps are comfortable; the ankle strap length can be adjusted by hand, tool-free. Overall the V10 Magma are highly adjustable, accommodating precise tweaking. While budget conscious riders will lean towards the Salomon S3, those looking to upgrade will appreciate the "bombproof" construction offered by the V10 Magma.

Contact K2 Snowboards at (800) 972-4063 or on the Internet at www.k2snowboards.com.

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Salomon S3
Price                 $139

Salomon S3 (snowboarding bindings) Salomon's S3 bindings are their fully featured bindings with Salomon's trademark performance and durability. They include an all-new, lighter, stiffer SensiShaped(tm) composite highback with grip-pads on the wing for efficient lateral support. They have a generous forward lean -- 8 to 35 degrees -- for a fully personalized response.

The S3 bindings get the job done, period; a workhorse binding at a modest price. They allow for plenty of adjustment, so you can tailor them to your specific needs. The straps are convenient, comfortable and very easy to strap on. Like the V10 Magma, the ankle strap length can be adjusted by hand, no tools required. The buckles are smooth and easy to use. After a couple trips I was able to strap in, after getting off the lift, from a standing position with one hand.

Contact Salomon at (800) 225-6850 or on the Internet at www.salomonsnowboards.com.

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K2 Sonic (clicker)
Price                 $169

K2 Sonic clicker (snowboarding step-in boots) K2's Sonic Clicker step-in interface includes an easy ON/OFF buckle which provides a positive heel-hold while on, and stress-free ejection while off. The surefit liner-less construction is lightweight and responsive. The light cushy EVA midsole gives support to sensitive arches. The dual-density foam with molded anatomical tongue ensures form-fitting control. They also fit K2 HB bindings.

My first impression was how can a liner-less boot compete with a boot that has a liner. In the case of K2's Sonic clicker boots the answer is: very well. Admittedly they are not as comfortable as K2's Raider but they are close. A little on the snug side, again, sock selection will make or break the day. With thicker socks I did get a small blister on my left heel. But that may have been because I wasn't diligently utilizing the buckles to minimize heel-slop.

Heel-slop - up and down movement of the heel inside the boot. With clicker bindings the boot attaches to the snowboard by stepping into a plate that hooks directly to the bottom of the boot, there are no straps that go over the toe or ankle of the boot (like with strap-in bindings). This makes the buckle on the clicker boots a necessity, otherwise there would be no way to control heel-slop.

On a different trip I wore only Fox River Xstatic liners. In addition to being comfy and warm I was more diligent with the buckles. The net result was an enjoyable day riding.

In order to remove all heel-slop I did have to ratchet the buckles pretty tight. While riding they felt fine, but while on the lift I unbuckled to relieve the pressure on my feet. This process is simple and easy, much easier than strapping into strap-in bindings.

Contact K2 Snowboards at (800) 972-4063 or on the Internet at www.k2snowboards.com.

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K2 SST (clicker)
Price                 $179

K2 SST clicker (snowboarding step-in bindings) K2's SST Clicker bindings are constructed using a stiff aluminum baseplate for immediate response and hard snow control. They include rider tuneable damping gaskets (which also adjust foot roll and canting). They incorporate a patented toe-heel connection, a locking release lever and a non-stick coating. Their three-degree angle adjustment works with 3- or 4-hole patterns.

Clickers, some people love'em, some people hate'em, I haven't met anyone in the middle on this one. I fall in the former group. Here's why: decreasing the amount of time I spend bending down decreases my soreness and stiffness at the end of the day, especially on my aging body. It's also faster, (just step-in from a standing position and your off) even though that's not always an advantage -- remember my aging body. Sometimes it's best to give the muscles a chance to resuscitate.

Changing from strap-in bindings to the clickers required an adjustment period. My first few times riding strap-in bindings, I really appreciated the support and responsiveness they provide. My first few times riding the clickers I wasn't sure if I liked them, I seemed to have less leverage especially on the heel-side. After getting used to the clickers they're now my favorite setup (no matter which board I use), the convenience is too compelling. I did have a couple of semi-embarrassing experiences with the clickers and that dang locking release lever that has a habit of locking itself on. But rather than bore you with the details I'll just let you know it is possible to be both locked into and locked out of the clickers. So if you find yourself in either of these situations check the locking release lever and make sure it is parallel (not perpendicular) to your boots before panicking.

Contact K2 Snowboards at (800) 972-4063 or on the Internet at www.k2snowboards.com.

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Summary

I feel comfortable recommending any of the gear in this review. For those just starting out I'd have to say the Salomon Classic, Salomon Perpetual boots, and Salomon S3 bindings would be my preference. My current preferred ride is the Salomon Classic, K2 Sonic (clicker) boots, and K2 SST (clicker) bindings. But I won't hesitate to swap over to the K2 Transit on a day when I want to try something a little different.

I've learned a lot about snowboarding over the past 2 years, and I still have a lot to learn. I feel like if I can do it, anyone can. The biggest rush for me is in doing something I've never done before. The first few times riding -- making major progress on my technique -- made me feel like a kid again, euphoric. I love doing new things!

Don't let the gear get in your way, snowboarding can be intimidating at first. Get the bare essentials, try them out, then you can make more informed decisions. The best thing to do is dive right in, find a friend to go with or take a lesson. If you've thought about learning to ride but put it off you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I wrote down a few notes from my first day learning to ride. I call it "Dude snowboarding is so easy" click thru the link if you're interested.

Scott Clayton is the Fly Fishing Editor at GearReview.com (he now enjoys snowboarding as well).


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