A conversation with Burton’s Rob Sprague – A Burton and Spark co-lab story

Back in the early 2000’s Burton was one of the first snowboard companies to dive into the world of splitboarding with their S-Series interface and splitboard line. While their splitboard interface would eventually go the way of the step-in binding, they’ve continued to push the envelope in developing world class and just plain fun to ride splitboards. This year Burton continues to evolve their splitboard line to provide riders with the complete package by collaborating with Voile for hardware, Spark R&D for bindings, and G3 for skins.

The Burton and Spark R&D relationship is probably the most interesting component and unique within our industry. We recently had a chance to chat with the head of the Burton Binding Division, Rob Sprague, to talk about their original interface design, Burton’s grassroots employee-driven splitboard development, working with Spark, and of course the new Hitchhiker binding.

Splitboard.com: Burton was one of the earliest companies to get into the splitboard scene back with the original S-series system, What did you guys learn from that experience? How has the splitboard landscape changed since? 

Rob Sprague: Ahhhh, the original spilt interface we introduced in the early 2000’s. The concept was pretty cool but it had a few bugs, which we mostly worked out over the few short years the binding system was around but by that time splitboard sales really dropped off so we abandoned it. I remember visiting our Innsbruck, Austria office back in the fall of 1999 and making a trip to the garage of the guy who was hand building some of the key parts; it was literally the garage where he parked his car. Pretty cool experience; very specialized and somewhat complicated product to produce, thus some of the issues we saw. From that point we were focusing on other aspects of the binding market and didn’t have a lot of riders asking for this type of equipment so we never got back into the splitboard binding game. We always kept the boards in our line since the rider demand was there but the investment in time / dollars just didn’t warrant a new split binding. Here we are in 2014 and splitboarding is on fire with several split specific binding companies out there, pretty cool.

Splitboard.com: Seems like the drive for new splitboard gear has been coming from a core group of splitboarding employees. Can you speak to that? 

Rob Sprague: The push into this aspect of the snowboaring market comes from a grassroots crew here at Burton as well as from listening to our customers, the riders. Backcountry riding has always been the foundation of what we do at Burton and splitboarding is a natural extension of that. With that said, the level of terrain that splitboarding has opened up, even here in VT, is amazing. Resort powder stashes are tracked out within minutes on a pow day so being able to skin up and into new stuff that no one knows about is amazing!Our hunger for fresh turns is definitely a driving force behind the renewed push into backcountry riding here at Burton.

Splitboard.com: What was the inspiration for the Spark Burton Co-Lab? How did the relationship with Spark begin?

Rob Sprague: Will Ritter (owner of Spark) approached us at SIA and ISPO back in early 2011 asking if we would be interested in becoming a buckle and strap supplier for Spark; at the time he was struggling to get quality buckles from an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) supplier out of China and knew that we made the best buckles in snowboarding. Since we weren’t pursuing a split binding of our own I decided the relationship made sense and was happy to help Will (and Spark). About 2 years ago our dealers were really wanting a binding to go along with our boards so we bought Magento’s from Spark and acted as a distributor for a season which eventually evolved into the Hitchhiker.

Splitboard.com: How is the Hitchhiker different from the Magneto? What kind of rider are you hoping pick these up? 

Rob Sprague: The primary difference between the two bindings is the highback; we modified one of our old Forum highback tools, modified the Magneto heelhoop and created what you now know as the Hitchhiker. The fundamentals are essentially the same as the Magneto, we just have a highback that rides more like a Burton highback which is what our riders were asking for.

The riders who will buy this are very similar to the Spark customer, we just have a broader audience and hope to attract more people into the splitboard world through our global distribution, however, we had a limit on what we could produce so these are going to be very hard to come by.

Splitboard.com: Can we expect more split specific gear to be coming from Burton in the coming years? 

Rob Sprague: Absolutely. I can’t get into the specifics but we are for sure continuing to work with Spark and will work closely with Will on next year’s version (W16) of the Hitchhiker.

Splitboard.com: Thanks for your time Rob!

Now don’t think this co-lab has been all Burton. When we spoke to Will Ritter, he told us that he “loved” working with Burton and that after “all these years of buying parts from them it was only natural for them to buy parts off of us for their own binding”. He also added that the bindings are co-branded and Burton’s global marketing reach gives Spark added exposure to new riders all over the world.

Stay tuned for a review the Hitchhiker bindings with the new Burton Fish Split later this winter.

About The Author

Profile photo of Alex Showerman

Since I could walk, sliding around on some form of frozen water has been my passion, starting with skiing and hockey, then switching to snowboarding in middle school and never looking back. After moving back to my home state of Vermont, I found that resort riding just wasn't cutting it for me. So I skipped buying a season pass, and bought a splitboard. That first tour was the same ah-ha moment I had when I first strapped on a snowboard in middle school. When not splitboarding, I work in digital media, mountain bike, play hockey and enjoy all of the amazing beers the Green Mountain State has to offer. Look for me to write about gear, trip reports, tips and tricks and other miscellanea such as climate change, often with an east coast bent.

2 Responses

  1. Steve

    Just got done my first run with my new Hitchiker bindings and they were all I was looking for and then some!! Great job, great binding!

    Reply

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