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Category: Spark in the Field.

Robin Hill 1

By Robin Hill

Photos by Emma Light

Nov. 15, 2014

Late fall in Bozeman, Montana, fires the stoke, but also tests our patience. Every fall, I tell myself I am going to wait a little later to avoid the shark-fin infested slopes of the early season. I was doing well fighting the itch this season, until the cold snap hit last week, and the mountains turned white! Boom, just like that, I was in my car on the bumpy road to Fairy Lake in the Northern Bridgers.

I love that feeling mid-way through the season, when your legs are strong, and all of your gear works without a hitch. This was not one of those days. My skins just about blew out my shoulder as I tried to yank them apart. When I finally did, there was a nice layer of potato chip crumbles on the skin glue. These would make a nice addition to my un-waxed snowboard. Nice! After floundering around for a good ten minutes, we finally set off and skinned up and out of the parking lot towards Frazier Basin.

Robin Hill 2I’m not going to lie: I was feeling a little rusty out of the gates. On my first kick turn, I took a backward slide into my friend Emma, shooting photos for the day. She was super impressed!

As we crested the lower bench, we got our first glimpse at the cirque. This view always gets me; it’s like something out of Lord of the Rings with the big overhanging rock walls, and steep narrow couloirs. The rocks were covered in a beautiful white layer of frost. The shoots are definitely still a little sparse, but starting to see some coverage.

We dropped in on the south side of the cirque in a narrow, left-trending shot. It caught me off guard: It was narrow, with about two inches of light fluff on top of crust. Steep jump turns right off the bat — alright! Down in the basin, we tried to boot up a south facing chute, to no avail. The nearly bullet proof layer underneath the new snow limited out kick stepping abilities and sent me for another backwards slide into Emma. I bet she got some rad shots!

Despite the aches and pains, couple of dings to the board, and challenging snow conditions, it was great to get out on the snow with some friends. Stoked to get again soon — pray for snow!

Robin Hill 3Emma Light (@e.light.photography)

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Category: News.

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Spark_Shop_Plates_raw_vertManufacturing Day, this year on October 3, is a national effort to spotlight manufacturing and manufacturing job opportunities in the United States. The mission of MFG DAY is to “address common misconceptions about manufacturing by giving manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is — and what it isn’t.”

The idea is, by working together during and after MFG DAY, manufacturers can address common issues they may face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing, and ensure the ongoing prosperity of manufacturing in the United States.

Spark_Shop_Pad_printingAt Spark R&D, we are proud of the fact that all of our products are manufactured and/or assembled in our shop in Bozeman, Montana, USA.  From machining to anodizing, laser engraving to assembly– everything is done by a skilled team of workers who are also passionate splitboarders.  Building and riding the best splitboard bindings in the world in our own backyard is also an advantage: In-house design and manufacturing capabilities allow our products to quickly evolve, and provides us the flexibility to cater to niche customers within the splitboarding market.

Spark_Shop_Assemble_back“There is simply no way we could offer products at our level of quality and price if we weren’t manufacturing them ourselves,” said Spark R&D founder Will Ritter.  “It also can be just as fun to figure out the manufacturing of a product as it is to design it.”

As it turns out, the benefits of manufacturing locally are many.  “I never thought of it when Spark R&D was in its infancy, but it’s been very rewarding to create a cool place for people to work,” Will continued.  “If we had an external factory, we’d have about a quarter of the employees. I’m very happy to be paying snowboarders in Montana to make as much of our stuff as possible, rather than strangers that have never been on snow in another country.”

Happy Manufacturing Day!

Spark_Shop_Finished_Phil

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Category: News, Products.

An open letter from your friends at Spark R&D

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I don’t know about you – but the past year FLEW by for us at Spark R&D! The introduction of our new Tesla System bindings last season left our phone ringing off the hook and our email inboxes flooded with email subject lines like this: “I want the AfterBurner more than I want my mustache to connect to my beard.”

Seriously. We wouldn’t make this stuff up.

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New green Magnetos on the assembly line.

Last year was indeed crazy for us at Spark and now we have a lot happening around the shop. For the 2014/15 season, we have doubled our factory space and added new machines and team members to continue developing and manufacturing the best splitboard bindings and accessories in the world.

Despite the busy year, we charged ahead with midnight design sessions and dawn patrol product testing missions. Our goal has always been to make splitboarding more accessible and simple with solid gear and breakthrough products that fill in the gaps for the split community … while giving our customers and dealers a voice in what we tackle next.

With that in mind, NEW for this season:

  • Our first-ever hardboot splitboard specific binding, the Dyno DH, along with a Dynafit Toe Piece compatible hardboot touring crampon, the D Rex.  See our entire Hardboot lineup here.
  • Tesla Heel Locker. Riders now have the ability to lock down their heel in tour mode to better adapt to diversified terrain types where quick descents, side-stepping, traversing, and skate splitting become more effective means of backcountry travel.  Find more info here.
  • Low Rider Heel Loop Kit. This XS heel loop positions highbacks lower on the leg for a better calf fit for the not-so-tall, and allows for better heel-toe centering for smaller boot sizes.  Specs and info here.
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New for this season: The Dyno DH hardboot bindings.

Meanwhile, we continue to collaborate with champion companies in the industry – utilizing their already established tech (why re-invent the wheel?) and integrating it into the splitboard binding world. Throughout our product line, we are proud to partner with: Burton, Voile, G3, Dynafit, Verts, and new for this season, Black Diamond, Bomber Industries, and One Binding System.

We have also produced a custom, limited edition splitboard specific binding for Burton called the Hitchhiker, which is available exclusively through their distribution channels.

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The new Tesla Heel Lockers.

Yes, it’s been a crazy ride for us at Spark and this year will no doubt be the same. Our success for the season does not go without many thanks to our loyal Dealers, Ambassadors, Customers, and Friends. Thanks for taking the ride with us and for all of your support over the years.

See you on the skin track!

Spark R&D

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Category: Spark in the Field.

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The awesome beauty of Norway, where ocean and mountains collide.

By Justin Lamoureux

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Justin Lamoureux and crew in the Lyngen Alps, Norway.

Through a haze of jetlag I hear Miikka Haast say, “…it starts with a 20 meter rappel into a 50 degree, 3-meter-wide couloir…yes, let’s do that…” Sounds like a great first run in Norway!

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Justin rapping into Øksehogget, or the “axe cleave” — his first run in Norway.

This past May, I was lucky enough to join friends Miikka Haast and Jonas Hagstrom in their adopted playground of Tamokdallen and Lyngen in Northern Norway. I didn’t know what to expect, but as I soon found out, the area is mind blowing.

Rising right out of the ocean and up to about 1,800 meters in elevation, the area is primarily alpine terrain. ‘Steep’ would be the best single word to describe the riding.

Nearly every mountain has epic, steep faces and couloirs splitting the rocks. Access is easy — straight up — and if you need to cross a farm to get somewhere, just be sure to close the gate behind you.

My trip had 11 days of possible splitboarding and we rode every single day. From powder to slush (mostly powder) we got the best conditions of the year and rode some area classics.

Highlights included two possible first descents; a second descent; camping out; hunting for first descents; and overall had an epic time.

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Jonas Hagstrom in the Lyngen Alps.

I never thought it would be that good in Norway, but it is an amazing place and truly worth a trip.

There are not a lot of places to stay in the Tamok area, so if you go, hit up Aadne Olsrud at Olsrud Adventures (olsrud.adventure@gmail.com). He has places to stay and, as the local avalanche forecaster, has tons of area info.

Takk Ullr!!

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Miikka Haast scouting the lines.

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Category: Spark in the Field.

 

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The author approaching Stanley Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. Photo by Evan Ross

By Clark Corey

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The beautiful Narao Peak.

In the spring, the travel bug can become quite strong. Which got me thinking: A cold and wet spring in Montana surely means it’s looking good up in the Canadian Rockies. With that in mind, we found ourselves cruising down the Trans-Canadian highway towards Lake Louise. I didn’t take long to realize that a week wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the expansive terrain.

Geographically, the Canadian Rockies are not far from Montana (a day’s drive), but they are a whole different animal: huge vertical, scary steep terrain in every direction, and glaciers clinging to craggy summits. In other words, the sheer amount of seriously impressive peaks one can see from the road is 100 percent overwhelming!

While mid-winter snow in the Rockies can be a little thin, the conditions for steep riding become ideal in the spring. On our trip, fresh snow was sticking to the steepest chutes and faces, while the winds remained light. Some lines that were likely not ridable three weeks prior were suddenly “in”. The Y couloir on Stanley Peak (Kootenay National Park) was an example of how quickly conditions can change. With a foot of new snow just four days prior, we found 1.5 feet of snow perfectly bonded to ice as the angle reached 50 degrees. Without that last storm, I’m not sure it would have been ridable!

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About to drop in, Narao Peak.

Although we did battle our fair share of challenging weather, we did get to sneak in a few stellar lines, which made the quick foray up to the great north well worth it. Now armed with recon pictures, a good sense for the area, and a taste for some Canadian mountains, we will surely be back!

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Category: Avalanche Education.

Tips on how to stay safe in the late season conditions

Topping out in the Spanish Peaks, MT

Topping out in the Spanish Peaks, MT

 

By Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

How can people hang up the boards just when it’s getting good? It seems that every year, the season starts early and riders are itching to make those first turns when the snow flies in November and December. But when March or April roll around, for some reason, motivation seems to dwindle, as biking, rivers and climbing are just on the horizon.

Here in Montana (and many other areas), the months of March, April and May are when it can all come together. Early and mid-winter, the snow can be shallow and variable, plus the days are shorter and colder. But come spring, warmer storms help the snow stick better, and coverage in the alpine seems to shape up overnight. The days get longer, and temperatures become less-arctic. The avalanche hazard often becomes more manageable, and we can finally get out and explore some of those lines we’ve been eyeing all winter. These are the days to get out!

Avalanche centers typically wrap up their daily advisories in April (some stick with a weekly summary), so keep these things in mind as you head out:

Mind the Heat

When the snowpack has entered a full corn cycle (melts during the day and freezes at night), heat is the main thing you want to pay attention to. Be careful when temperatures start climbing and when strong solar radiation is present. In order to work around this problem, we can start early in the day (sometimes in the dark) and time it so that the descent is right when the snow surface is thawing. In the morning, the sun generally hits a northeast slope first and works clockwise, ending the day warming the west and northwest aspects. The harder the freeze and the more melt-freeze cycles the snow has been through, the more room you have to work with on timing.

Early sun on SE facing line - get it early!

Morning sun on SE facing line – get it early!

In corn snow, if the slush starts to become boot-top height; you’re punching through the supportable layer into mank; or wet sluffs/roller balls are starting to happen, it’s best to call it a day. If there is little or no freeze (snowpack is wet), than you might consider not even going out. Also be mindful of cornices: This time of year, they are quite large and serious heat can take them down. Rock fall can be a concern as well, so heads up while climbing couloirs when it’s getting warm.

Problems with New Snow

Up here in the northern regions, we don’t always enter a full corn cycle. Even if we do, they can be short lived. Continual, unsettled weather can certainly persist in the spring, which means that powdery conditions can often be found. Because spring storms are warmer, they often bond to underlying layers, but that isn’t always the case and the new snow can create its own instabilities. In fact, because the snow has more cohesion to it, this new snow can act more slab-like.

Cold snow on a spring day in the Tetons, WY

Cold snow on a spring day in the Tetons, WY

There are many reasons why storm snow might not bond (upside-down layering, graupel, firm bed surface), so unless you’re sure it’s sticking, it’s never a bad idea to let things settle out for a day or two after any significant storm before diving into steep, committing terrain. Hand pits and skin track cuts are really fast ways to see how well the new snow is bonding and how “slabby” it might be. Expect on the first warm and sunny day preceding a spring storm that you’ll experience some avalanche activity.

Don’t forget the wind

Wind slabs can also be a concern as spring powder can be accompanied by that lovely spring wind. These tend to be shorter lived, and warm weather can begin to glue them down within a few days. Keep an eye out for wind slabs at the tops or sides of couloirs, around ribs or side-walls of gullies, and on alpine faces. If you are climbing your line, constantly be on the eye for any suspicious looking pillows or drifts, and pay attention to the surface snow. Also, wind slabs resting on firm melt-freeze crusts probably aren’t going to bond well initially.

Deeper in the pack

Sometimes spring comes late. Abnormal years can make for abnormal avalanche problems. If winter is holding its grip and there’s a prominent layer of depth hoar in the pack, be very careful of big storms, drastic warm up, and intense sun. It’s natural to think that by April, the nasty layer of basal facets must be healed, but this isn’t always the case. Even after the couple big warm ups, if water has the chance to percolate down to the weak layer, it can wake it up, resulting in a massive climax avalanche.

Stack the cards and watch the weather

Slab avalanche casued by the first big warm after a heavy April storm

Slab avalanche caused by the first big warmup after a heavy April storm

The good news is springtime conditions can be easier to manage.

• Keep an eye on the weather forecast and remote weather stations. If it is forecast to snow, think about if it’s coming in warm and finishing cold (good bond) or if the storm is starting cold and finishing warm (upside-down storm, poor bonding).
• While in the mountains, test to see if the snow is bonded, and give it a day to settle out, if need be.
• If you’re worried about rising temps, than plan your day so that you’re not in serious avalanche terrain during the heat of the day (easterly and south in the morning; west facing later). If temps become too hot, than pull the plug and retreat.
• When there’s little or no freeze (again check weather forecast and remote stations), maybe it’s not worth even trying.
• During depth hoar years, be real careful when the snowpack is transitioning and when you don’t get a freeze.

Stay safe, have fun, and milk the rest of the season for what it’s worth!

 

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Category: Spark in the Field.

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Mike Handford, Nine Springs snow cave, Kyrgyzstan
Photo by Jock Gunn

British splitboarder Mike Handford and a group of freeride skiers from New Zealand and Australia are currently traveling through Kyrgyzstan riding and skiing the remote mountains that blanket the country. With little information about this former Soviet country, they set out aiming to explore as much of the terrain as possible, while educating local guides in avalanche awareness.

“The terrain, while perfect for freeriding, makes life difficult in this part of the world,” Mike wrote from Kyrgyzstan.  “Lacking the oil or infrastructure of its neighbors, and a huge portion of its landmass buried under permanent ice, there are few sources of income for the traditionally nomadic people.  A painful succession from the Soviet Union and two further revolutions further weakened the economy, the third poorest in Central Asia. While the country is home to a handful of ski resorts, relics of Soviet control prior to 1991, even greater opportunity for tourism lies in Kyrgyzstan’s endless backcountry. Mountain roads and alpine villages provide spectacular and easy access into freeride terrain that ranks among the best on earth. While a huge amount of effort has been put into training local guides for summer hiking, lack of training and avalanche awareness leaves many afraid to venture into the mountains in the winter.”

 

By Mike Handford

We first started discussing the possibility of a backcountry trip into Kyrgyzstan as the 2013 winter season in New Zealand drew to a close. Twenty-four hours and some hasty Googling later, we had agreed the trip was on.  Fast forward six months and we were arriving in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, with little to no idea of what to really expect — but an awful lot of enthusiasm to make up for it!

We spent the first week in Karakol, which had been marketed to us as Kyrgyzstan’s “Outdoor Adventure Capital.”  Unfortunately, after a little exploration, the snow down low was rotten and the ridge lines up high wind scoured, which was a bit disheartening.  It was, however, a great place to spend some time and come to grips with what we had to expect in the coming two months.  We were all very surprised at how much technology has engulfed the culture in the past couple of years.  Everyone has a mobile phone that seems to ring 20 times an hour (although we still have no idea what they possibly have to talk about) and WIFI was easily accessible.  If you pick up a guide book, however, be wary of when it was written:  Kyrgyzstan is a rapidly changing culture right now and it would be very easy to find yourself caught out.

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Mike Handford, Arslanbob pillow line
Tyrone Lowe

Luckily we heard through the grapevine that Arslanbob, a small traditional, mainly Uzbek-populated town in the south west — a mere 18 hour drive away — was having a record snow year.  That was our signal to pack up and head that way. As we wound our way through the many mountain passes on the Bishkek-to-Osh road, the climate and snow level were ever changing, and when we eventually arrived in Arslanbob, it was a winter wonderland.  It was one of the most scenic drives we have ever done!  Topping out at 3586 meters, the Too Ashuu pass is certainly spectacular — if you can find time to enjoy it between one of the near death experiences with the speeding taxi drivers and the negligible road laws.

Hayat, the head of Arslanbob’s community-based tourism, greeted us on arrival and set us up with a host family for our stay. The community-based tourism system all over Kyrgyzstan is great and a really effective way to both immerse yourself in the local culture and help out the local families with some passing winter trade. Arslanbob is situated in a valley, surrounded by 4000 meter peaks and the largest walnut forest on earth, which gives great possibilities for both high alpine mountaineering and stormy day tree skiing.

Mike Handford, Arslanbob Walnut forest, PC TYRONE LOWE

Mike Handford, Arslanbob walnut forest pow
Photo by Tyrone Lowe

Our first trip was to a zone called Jaz Jarum.  We left first thing in the morning and toured four hours into base camp. On arrival, the options were overwhelming!  We decided to have a look at the snowpack and ride a single line before dinner.  After a quick skin up, we were standing atop our line with a combination of both excitement, and a little apprehension.  Alex dropped first and after a huge woomph, the whole face started to slide.  After 200 meters of tumbling over rocks with both skis off and both poles gone, we were relieved to see him giving the OK from the bottom.  He had somehow managed to claw his way out of the main path of the slide and over the ridge into something a little smaller that had only buried him waist deep.  We returned to camp, where the atmosphere was somber.  We needed to decompress and reassess our options.

We woke the following morning to another amazing bluebird day and, after talking things over the previous night, we decided to ski some really mellow terrain and get a more concise understanding of the snow pack before we went back to any steep faces.

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Nooruz Hut Shashlik Kebabs
Photo by Tyrone Lowe

On our return, we were greeted by the arrival of a few more of the crew.  Blake, Chris and Jock had all just arrived from Bishkek and brought in a great boost of energy after the previous few days happenings.  We immediately started planning to head out for five days, staying at the base of a peak to the west of town called Nooruz.  After talking to Hayat, we were informed we could stay at a shepherd’s hut close by, complete with a wood burning stove, insulation and, as we later found out, mice that steal your eggs. This was great news and it turned out to be an amazing place to eat, rest, and dry out our gear.

We managed a summit on our second day in camp, topping out at 2876 meters. We woke at 4am one morning to catch the sunrise from a nearby ridge and rode some amazing lines. Definitely a zone we would recommend and, to top it off, the snowpack was becoming more stable, which gave us confidence in what we were riding.  Hayat and his CBT guides came and joined us for the last evening, cooking us amazing food and sharing stories. The following morning we arranged to take all the guides out for some avalanche education.  We spent the day talking them through digging a pit, identifying snow layers, testing the snowpack along with terrain and approach selection. This was something we had talked about doing while organizing the trip and it was great to pass on knowledge that will keep the guides and their clients safer. It was a great way to end the trip into Nooruz.

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Hayat avalanche class for local guides

On our return, we heard that the 21st of March was New Year’s Eve on the Persian calendar.  This coincided with Chris heading back to Australia, so we decided to head back towards Bishkek.  In the three weeks we had been away in Arslanbob the city had completely changed. All the snow had melted and the atmosphere was much more vibrant. We spent the day around the Ala Too Square, which although the centre of many political clashes had been transformed into a huge street party filled with music, entertainment and a lot of balloons. The crowning glory of our day was definitely starting a street party with a group of kids from a local dance group. Growing a crowd of ten to hundreds within minutes will certainly live long in my memory.

As I sit writing this, we are currently preparing to leave for the last two weeks of our trip. First on to Bokonbaev where Hayat has arranged for us to meet up with the CBT there and then on to Narin before finishing up in the high alpine of the Ala Bel Pass.

Keep up to date with our travels on Instagram: @renegades_ob

or Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renegades-OB/1423971274519585

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Category: Spark Hits the Road.

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Destination Baker

We weren’t the only ones who made the journey to this years’ Mt. Baker Splitfest. Between the variety of Splitboards on hand from a number of board builders, and the trailer of Spark gear we towed along for demo, there were no shortage of pow grins out on the mountain. Following local’s advice, we made it out early morning to get the snow at its coldest. Headed in the direction of a zone we had been up in the past, we found ourselves standing at treeline where everything above us was lost in an endless gray void. We retreated back to protected trees at lower elevations and had no trouble finding deep pow glades to session for the rest of the trip.

Demo Day / Pow Day

Sparks to the People!

Looking at our trip’s worth of routes on the topo map within the context of what’s out there beyond the range of visibility we had, only proves we had just begun to get our feet wet — at least in the figurative sense. In the literal sense, it was not only our feet getting wet, it was our hands, arms, legs, and everything in between. That’s not to say we had anything short of awesome riding, it’s just to say, be prepared, there is no amount of waterproofing that can possibly be done to keep dry under a Spring storm in the North Cascades. With the Baker Area being one of the snowiest spots on earth, it’s a place where deep is what you can expect. And that’s what we got.

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Baker Splitfest HQ @Chair9

After tons of fun, on and off our boards, and truckloads of gear raffled off to benefit the Northwest Avalanche Center, it was time we get back to the shop. Our first sighting of Mt. Baker towering under blue skies at dusk didn’t make it any easier to head for home, but we rode the storm, and shared great times, and we will be back for more.

 

 

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Category: Events, Spark Hits the Road.

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SIA SnowShow, Denver, CO

It nearly took a map and compass to navigate the bustling grid of overflowing rows and aisles to find the spot where our crate was awaiting setup. Upping our floor space to twice what we had last year gave us the opportunity to design a new booth from the ground up. Our work was cut out for us to get it built in place, but our time paid off, and after a rush to the finish line, the doors opened and it was show time.

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SIA OnSnow Demo, Copper Mountain, CO

We were amped to be back with another exciting year of innovation in the world of splitboarding. We’ve been working hard to design, build, test, and debut our newest addition to the Spark Binding family: the Dyno DH hardboot Binding System with D Rex Crampons. Also new for Fall ‘14/15: the Heel Locker accessory for Tesla System bindings, and fresh colorways across the line.

Huge thanks to all our awesome Dealers and the many friendly faces who dropped by to share the stoke! Also, big thanks to our friend and Bozeman neighbor, Eric Newman, founder of Seneca Boards (Seneca on Facebook.), for the time and use of his cnc mill—a big help on the construction end of our new Spark booth. Thanks!

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Production manager Kory Graham putting the final touches on our ISPO booth.

The craziness that is Trade Shows has come and gone.  The weeks leading up the shows are a time of great stress and anxiety as we have a thousand things to do to get ready:  build prototype gear, create and print a catalog, design and build trade show booths… the list goes on and on.  The first real break, actually, is the 13 hour flight to Munich for ISPO!

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This guys was REALLY excited about our new Dyno DH hard boot bindings!

If you haven’t been, ISPO is truly a sight to behold. This year, 2,565 exhibitors from 51 countries filled over 1 million square feet of exhibition hall space that seemed to go on forever.  It’s absolutely overwhelming and, for a gear junkie, heaven on earth.  Over the 4 days, more than 80,000 visitors wandered the endless displays of outdoor gear bliss.  At one point, it seemed all 80,000 were standing in our booth!

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Team rider Luca Pandolfi stopped by to hang out and talk splitboarding.

To the many great dealers, friends, and fans of Spark we meet during the show, thanks for stopping by!  It is your energy, enthusiasm, and kind words that make all the hard work worth it.  Very special thanks to Markus Reichard, owner of Wildschnee, for all his help constructing our booth, helping out with the crowds, and (most importantly) bringing us beer.   We couldn’t have done it without you — see you next year!

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Markus Reichard and Spark owner Will Ritter enjoying the local flavor at the St. Augustiner beer hall in Munich.