Bindings have made huge advances in recent years and these improvements have added new enjoyment into the sport for many long time participants. Along with these improvements have come many misconceptions. First off, there is no magic material for constructing the perfect binding. That being said, lets review some of those materials that are commonly used.
Aluminum Alloy: Portions of many bindings are made from aluminum, and the notion exists, "aluminum is more substantial than plastic. It will last longer, and weigh less". This can be very misleading. 1.) Aluminum as a base (and disk) material for snowboard bindings needs to be designed with great care. A snowboard must flex evenly to perform well. All bindings restrict this even flex to some degree, as they present two hard, static plates which must be screwed firmly to the board. Aluminum is an extremely rigid material. This can potentially lead to the board flexing, and the bindings remaining rigid. Without careful design, this leads to a "kinked" flex pattern to the board. At worst it canlead to board damage or binding damage. Remember, if the board flexes hard enough (landing jumps, wipeouts, etc.) and the bindings remain rigid, something must give. The current breed of high end aluminum bindings solve this issue with base contours and dampening layers but there are still many poorly designed aluminum models out there that should be avoided. 2.) As a material for the heel cup (the portion of the binding that connects the base to the highback) aluminum is great! It adds stiffness where it useful for edging control, and provides a surface which remains cold and slippery for easy boot access. 3.) As a ratchet material aluminum is a preference choice, but not a clear winner over plastic, as advertised. Aluminum is stiff, precise, and the ratchet teeth don't wear as quickly as plastic. On the other hand, aluminum ices up quicker than plastic, and the mechanisms tend to develop mechanical slop with extended use.
Plastic: It must be noted that to this point we have used the term plastic as though all plastics are one product. We have done so to simplify the above discussion of aluminum, but this is far from the truth. Plastic, Nylon, Polycarbonate, Thermoplastic, Glass injected plastic, Carbon Fiber, etc. are all plastics that are used in snowboard bindings. The notion that plastic is cheap or inferior (the "plastic toy" concept) is absolutely wrong in many cases. 1.) Most high end bindings today use some form of plastic base. This is an excellent base (and disk) choice, as it will flex and twist naturally to match the board's flexible nature. This improves performance, and reduces potential damage. 2.) The stiffer plastics (Polycarbonate for one) make exceptional heel cups, and certainly rival aluminum in this department as well. 3.) As ratchets, the hardest plastics are excellent as they resist gathering ice, and tend to be less sloppy with time than their aluminum counterparts. Plastic ratchet teeth do tend to wear quicker than aluminum. Special note: Older plastic bindings were in many cases inferior products that were indeed made from cheap toy-like plastic. They should not be confused with the newer breed of high end, precision "plastic" bindings.
As with many sports that have, "come of age", snowboarding is no longer brand new, and the gear is no longer experimental guesswork. Certain standards in equipment have been proven successful by trial and error (largely at the consumers expense), and are now reflected in the majority of the products you will find. This is true of highback (the portion of the binding that connects to the heel-cup and supports the boot back) height. For many years this height varied radically with terms such as low-back, mid-back and high-back being prevalent. It turns out however, that there is a very small range of heights that work for binding backs. You will find that the vast majority of current binding backs vary by less than an inch (a negligible difference). Some manufacturers still offer multiple back heights, but this amounts to no more than a stab at creative marketing to increase product interest. After all, with the products available becoming so homogenized, the companies have to keep working to create a market edge. Sized bindings are equally tricky. Some companies offer bindings in multiple sizes while others offer adjustable models. This gets very tricky, so follow closely. In the case of MOST "sized" bindings, the actual binding structure is identical between sizes, and the bindings are simply pre-adjusted to Small, Medium or Large positions. These bindings should simply be considered adjustable bindings. Other bindings are sold as adjustable, and will have a size range that they can be adjusted for (i.e. 5-14). A very few manufacturers produce 2 or 3 actual binding sizes per model. Please do not assume, however, that this is necessarily advantageous. It is important to remember that the bindings will need to be a good match with the boots your are using. Hopefully the following example will illustrate the problem: A size 5 women's boot by one manufacturer this year had a wider exterior width than a men's 14 by another maker. Trying to put the "small" women's boots into small sized bindings would result in a poor fit. The bottom line is, contact us to assure compatibility between products.
For the last 15 years of snowboard production, there have been two major standards for board insert patterns (the pre-threaded inserts that are laminated into a snowboard during construction to be used for mounting the bindings). The most common is the standard 4 hole pattern. The "4 holes" refers to the design in which each binding uses 4 screws in a square pattern to mount to the board. Burton (a major manufacturer) promotes two alternate mounting options, one which uses 3 screws in a triangular pattern and another which uses a sliding track that requires bindings that offer matching track specific hardware. Some Burton bindings require an adapter 4 hole disk to mount to boards with a 4 hole pattern. All other bindings will require a special disk to mount to Burton boards (a very few bindings use disks that have been designed to fit both insert types).
Adjustment, Stance, and Mounting
It is important to note that your bindings do not come "ready to ride" from the manufacturer. They will not ship mounted to the board, as it will require your presence and personal input to mount them correctly. They will need to be adjusted to fit your boots and mounted properly on your board. Although we understand that many (if not most) riders choose to do these adjustments and mount their bindings themselves, we must suggest that you have this work done by a certified professional.
The binding straps will need to be adjusted, so that the pads fits comfortably over the top of the foot. Most bindings are designed to have this pad align more over the arch side and top of the foot, so it is slightly off center towards the middle of the board. Different bindings have different hardware for making this adjustment. Some will require the straps be removed and replaced in a different position. Others utilize sliding mechanisms with locking teeth.
Highback lean will need to be adjusted. Riders typically prefer a 5 to 7 degree forward lean. This is adjusted via a release mechanism on the binding's back. If you are having difficulty initiating heelside turns, consider having more forward lean added.
The heel cup may need to be adjusted as well. Larger boots may require the heel cup to be removed and moved to a back position. Smaller boots may require the heel cup to be removed and moved to a forward position. This will allow an adequate amount of room within the binding, as well as the appropriate centering of the foot on the board.
Prior to the bindings being mounted, your stance will need to be determined.
First off, are you Regular (left foot forward), or Goofy (right foot forward). Please note, there is no correlation to your strong hand (i.e. right or left handed). If you surf, skateboard, or slalom water ski, you will ride with the same foot forward as you use in those other sports. If you are unsure which you are, picture yourself running, and sliding on ice. The foot you would naturally put forward to slide with, will likely be your front foot when snowboarding.
If you do not already have a stance width preference, begin with your shoulder width. You should be able to stand comfortably in your bindings. If you feel as though you are doing the splits, or have to "reach" to put your second foot in it's binding, they are set too wide.
The angle of the bindings is set by rotating the bindings to the desired angle, and screwing the disks to the board to affix them in that position. This may be changed later so trial and error is OK, and is often necessary. Stance is a matter of personal choice, and there is no consensus on the "correct" angles. That being said, if you do not have an existing preference, consider the following. Set your rear binding at between 10 and 20 degrees forward (toes towards the nose of the board). Set your front binding at between 15 and 25 degrees forward. Although some riders do choose to have their bindings set to zero degrees (straight across), or ride duck stance (with both feet facing toes outward), this is more of a limited freestyle position, and certainly can impede learning and carving. To further explain, try the following: Stand up, knees bent slightly, with your feet at shoulder width (riding position). Point your toes straight out in front of you. Now turn your upper body so your shoulders are facing square towards where the nose of your (imaginary) board is. Normal riding has your upper body facing down hill for proper and powerful carves, and balanced riding. With your toes facing straight forward, you will feel twisted up, or bound in your hips and mid section. Now alter your stance so your toes on both feet are facing slightly toward the nose of the board. Again turn your upper body towards the nose of the board. You will find the restriction is relieved. This is advantageous for most riding. Some riders choose other stances if they concentrate primarily on freestyle and riding switch (fakie or backwards). Even most freestylers, however, spend most of there riding time riding strong side forward. Special note: Riding with a forward angle on both feet does not mean you cannot ride switch. Some of the top freestylers and half pipe riders, compete with very forward stance angles on both feet, and are switch stance masters.
The binding disks will also have a slide on them (multiple hole choices) that can be used to micro adjust the bindings position from edge to edge. This is useful in conjunction with heel cup adjustment to assure an equal amount of toe and heel overhang.
Your board will have two sets of inserts (one set for each binding). Each consists of a series of pre-threaded inserts that are to be used for binding mounting. This allows multiple stance and width options. Some boards have offset inserts (both sets of inserts are located a bit more towards the tail of the board). Other boards have centered inserts. This will be consistent with the design of the board, and should be considered when mounting. As noted earlier, you will want to keep your stance at near shoulder width. To do so, you will begin by choosing the closest stance available to being centered on the board inserts. If your stance requires not using a centered stance on the board, be sure to go back on the board rather than forward. If this sounds technical and difficult, the pros you use for mounting will be able to measure, and make informed suggestions.