- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

Snowboarders now have a new way to click with their ski friends.

The typical rider’s hassle of bending down - or sitting down in the snow - to buckle boots into the bindings while skiers in their group wait could be a thing of the past.

A new technology that enables the boot to snap onto the board similar to a ski binding has the potential to inject fresh life into a sport that has been dealing with slowing growth for the last decade or so.

After more than four years of research and more than a decade of trying to find the answer to a question that has long perplexed snowboarders and manufacturers alike, Burton Snowboards is releasing its new Step-On binding - touting it as a time-saver that won’t negatively impact performance. The binding goes on sale next fall and will run between $250 and $400.

“We asked the question, ‘What if?’” said Chris Cunningham, Burton’s vice president of product. “What if I could save 30 seconds per run?”

Multiplied by the 10 to 15 runs an average rider logs on any given day, a 30-second difference could mean an extra trip down the mountain per day. Over years, that number could add up into the hundreds. Meanwhile, the binding means less delay, less getting hands wet while fiddling with straps and buckles, less time the skiers in the group have to wait around for their snowboard buddies to prepare their equipment after they get off the lift.

“Every time my dad goes to strap in at the top of the mountain, he lets out a huge ‘Aaarrrrrrrgghhh,’ when he’s got to bend over to strap in,” said Danny Davis, the two-time Winter X Games champion who rides on a Burton board. “Making snowboarding something that’s easier to get into, that’s a good thing.”

An improvement in ski technology, combined with unpredictable weather, the Great Recession and increased pricing for lift tickets, helped play into flat numbers for snowboarding over the past decade-plus. SnowSports Industries America reports microscopic growth (from 7.57 million to 7.602 million) in the number of snowboard participants between 2011-12 and last winter.

Among Burton’s attempts to bring more people to the sport was the invention of the Riglet - a reel-like device that makes it easier for parents to tow young kids around on the snowboard.

The industry has been experimenting with step-in bindings for more than a decade, but the first mass attempt to bring them to market petered out because the performance of the boots was considered subpar.

In this latest attempt, 3D printing technology made it possible for developers at Burton to crank out and refine hundreds of prototypes in a very short time. The project began in a secret, walled-off room on the Burton campus where “people walked by and said, ‘What’s up with that wall?’” Cunningham said.

Within months, they were testing prototypes. In four years, they came up with something that’s ready for the market.

Kimmy Fasani, a professional rider for Burton, said the boot and binding gave her the same level of confidence she had with her old set-up.

“I think sitting down (to get into the bindings) has always been kind of a nuisance for snowboarders,” Fasani said. “There’s an efficiency there. Now, if you have friends who are skiers, you’re not going to be the guy who’s slowing the crowd down.”

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