The latest take on backless bindings comes from NOW Snowboarding. You may have heard of these, maybe even seen a pair or two on the slopes, and you’re probably skeptical of “How could it work with no highbacks?” The basic idea is that the Kingpin system is supposed to be what sets these bindings apart from the competition, by giving you better feel & flex.
I gambled on a pair of these before the season started, and 20+ days in here is how they’ve held up for me so far.
Highback/Noback: The NOW bindings come with a minimal highback which I immediately removed and stored in the cellar. They appear more suited for freestyle riding than hard-charging freeriding but even without the highbacks, they hold up just fine on a park board at 45 mph over groomers and hardpack. I might try them sometime, just for comparison sake, but let’s face it if you’re buying these there’s a decent chance you want to try the no-back experience anyways.
Footbed: The padding is a 15mm EVA footbed, it’s good and almost seems like a memory foam. Ample padding even when you’re knuckling 20+ foot jumps, no complaints in this department and the lack of canting hasn’t been a problem for me, either.
Straps: The straps on the IPOs are among the most comfortable out there as far as I’m concerned. The split toe works great for me (’13 K2 Maysis, size 11). Ankle strap is plush; no pressure points from either. After about 15 days of use the ankle strap on my right (rear) binding is showing some minor wear in the spot where it rubs against the BOA on my boot.
Flex & Response: The IPO are pretty “medium” in my book. Not overly stiff, not overly soft.The IPO comes with three sets of bushings so there’s several combinations you could use to dial in your preferred level of response but so far I have only used the stock medium bushings.
The alumi-ring minimal base allows for a noticeable difference in how you interact with the board. Since the binding/baseplate doesn’t really interfere with the board’s natural flex, the board does exactly what you want it to do. And since there’s no baseplate in the traditional sense you get a little more play with a little less effort involved, in every turn or maneuver. Compounded over the course of the day this means less fatigue and makes for a noticeable difference which plays in to the IPO’s overall comfort.
Handling: Although initially I felt like maybe there were a few times I could’ve benefited from highbacks, I’ve ridden these on my Blacklist on absolutely bulletproof ice and not once did I think to myself “A highback would help.” I guess there might be times if you’re set on cruising or racing or something, but most of the time in most conditions, you don’t need the highback, the heelcup and the Kingpin system do the trick and you get some more tweakability and maneuverability.
Pricing: The IPOs retail at $289 or so. That’s a higher-than-average pricetag but it’s not stratospheric.
Concerns: This is a first year product so there may be some issues. There is a ladder issue (stripped teeth?) which NOW is addressing through warranty. I haven’t had this problem. The other day I did get some ice/wet snow packed in to the toolless adjustment on the interior of the straps and that caused them to come loose on me, three times. I’m hoping that was a fluke and won’t happen again, otherwise I’m calling the warranty department to get some replacement parts.
Overall: I gambled on these bindings since I didn’t have a chance to demo them and 23 days in to the season I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to “traditional” bindings. They IPO are supremely comfy and the combination of flex and board feel you can get from the hanger/Kingpin system is unparalleled. Whether you’re looking for something to fit your soul-surfy pow days or a more natural skate-like feel when you’re lapping the park or a comfy binding for ripping morning corduroy and hardpack, the versatile IPO will do it all; it really is a revolutionary binding. Check ’em out if you get a chance.