For winter 2016 / 2017, the Surge enters its second year in the Spark R&D line. It sits alongside the Arc binding in the Spark range and is built around the same Tesla T1 system. The Arc is the lighter, more minimal of the two, the Surge is more burly. As Spark R&D put it, the Surge is an ‘unapologetically stiff and powerful ‘ binding. I got the chance to use a pair of Surge binders on a recent trip to Norway. They were a permanent fixture on the Amplid Creamer Split I took along on that trip.
Last winter Spark updated their tried and tested Tesla system. The new Tesla T1 design brought about new features and some weight savings, along with the move to just one climbing wire – hence the ‘T1’ definition. The original Tesla system’s main features remained unchanged though – the offset touring bracket and snap ramp that have garnered so many fans over the past few years still form the centrepiece of the binding’s functionality.
The Spark Pucks are new to the Spark line for 2017. They represent a definite step forward in splitboard interface design. Durable metal centre disks with 6.5mm (1/4″) toe – heel adjustment sit within plastic molds. The disks are designed to be super durable whilst the plastic housing means sliding bindings on and off is a smooth and easy operation. The disk’s centre channel provides a huge range of stance width options. They come supplied with an alignment tool that helps dial everything in during set up. Once on the board the pucks give great adjustability and the kind of stance options that haven’t been available to splitboarders before.
The alignment tool works well and I found it essential to get an exact binding ‘fit’ on the split I was using. I also made sure I took both the alignment tool and a Spark Pocket Tool in my pack the first couple of times I rode the new split with the Surge’s in case I ended up tweaking my stance on the mountain.
In The Skintrack
In tour mode the Surge’s felt great. They aren’t the lightest binding out there and it’s fair to say that construction wise they are built for charging big lines rather than efficiency on the up but they do have a couple of design features that are aimed at making touring more enjoyable.
First of all, the straps are comfy and secure. That might sound like a pretty basic requirement of a splitboard binding but it sure is an important one. Slogging many miles for many hours in tour mode means general comfort is really important. The Surge’s straps are simple and straightforward. They contain a moderate amount of padding and are nicely shaped. The buckles are also secure – having a buckle work its way loose on a sketchy kick turn is not cool and is something I saw happen more than once with a different pair of bindings on the same trip.
The other big feature aimed at making the touring phase of the journey more enjoyable and efficient is the tour mode toggle. A small toggle that sits in the space on the highback and rests on the heel cup can be flipped up to give an extra 13% of backward lean for better glide whilst skinning. It’s a nice feature that is easy to use and well designed. It definitely gives a little more freedom in the glide, especially on the flats.
The single climbing wires that Spark have built into the Surge worked well too. They were a little stiff to initiate, but solid once in place. I hardly used the second climbing position and found the first covered a wide range of slope angles well, from fairly shallow to pretty steep. When things got icy I found the Spark R&D Ibex splitboard crampons really useful. I know some splitters prefer not to carry ski crampons and use a proper pair of boot crampons instead. No doubt on really technical ground that’s the way to go but for the kind of moderate terrain and slope angles I usually find myself on, I found the Ibex to be ideal. They are incredibly easy to deploy – just slide them into a groove under the binding. They come in 2 sizes to ensure a good fit on wide boards too. They reduce glide efficiency on flatter ground but when the going gets icy I found them invaluable.
This is where modern pin free splItboard binding designs like those from the likes of Spark R&D and Karakoram really come into their own. Transitioning from tour to ride mode with old school pin bindings used to be a massive ball ache, especially in cold, windy conditions. Things are very different these days. The Tesla T1 system is super slick and a joy to use. Everything is machined and built to a really high standard and the whole process of switching from tour to ride mode is a joy rather than a chore. Flip up the toe piece to release the bindings, lift them out of the offset brackets, lock the board together using the board clips then slide the bindings into the pucks and lock the toe piece down again. It feels satisfying just doing it – nothing is too tight or stiff and nothing is a struggle, yet everything feels well locked in. It’s a tried and tested design and one which will probably be around for many years.
On The Descent
As previously mentioned, the Surge is a pretty stiff binding. The sold base plate doesn’t feature any weight saving (or flex inducing) cut outs which really contributes to the Surge’s solid feel. They felt good underfoot on crusty, challenging snow and complemented the directional big mountain feel of the Amplid Creamer Split I used them with. And, although the set up perhaps lacked the kind of flex and flow I like in more mellow terrain, it certainly felt confidence inspiring on steeper stuff and especially at so at speed.
The Surge’s highbacks are pretty tall and offer a lot of response but they perhaps aren’t quite as stiff as I imagined they would be. Cut away sections in the highbacks also keep the weight down. I found them comfortable and they seem well made and durable. That’s pretty much all I look for in a highback. I’ve tried enough over the years that were either simply not comfortable or that snapped unexpectedly, neither of which is acceptable in a binding for splitboarding.
Lastly, the straps again are worth a mention. Spark R&D use Burton manufactured straps and buckles on their binders and, just like in tour mode, whilst riding the Surge’s ankle straps are supportive and comfortable. The toe straps are shaped to go over the top of the foot or the toe. Being a trad over the foot guy I like bindings to have that option – these days some don’t.
Overall then it’s difficult to see the Surge as being anything other than a really high-end, well designed splitboard binding. They would suit more aggressive or heavier riders who are looking for a lot of strength and response, but also any one looking for bindings that will simply last the distance. Decking yourself out for splitboarding can be expensive and sometimes choosing a well made, durable option is the right choice to maximise value for money in the long run, especially when it comes to hardware.
I imagine the Surge would also be a great choice for advanced and pro riders, who’s splitboarding takes them into serious lines with big consequences when a strong and responsive binding isn’t just preferable, but essential. On the flip side riders who aren’t quite so aggressive, or those who favour a set up primarily based around saving weight rather than strength and responsiveness, might want to consider the Spark R&D Arc binding over the Surge.
For the winter 2017 season, the Spark R&D Surge is available in 3 sizes and 3 different colours. A Women’s specific model is in the range too. Check out sparkrandd.com for more info.