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 Post subject: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2014 9:58 am 
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This is a very long winded and detailed review of the Phantom Alpha system. I have had a full season on the system and would like to report back to anyone who is thinking of switching to the Phantom System. I did do an initial impressions review thread last year here http://splitboard.com/talk/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=16089&hilit=phantom+initial throughout last season, but wanted to put my thoughts in one area to make it a bit easier to follow. Anyone who would like to add their opinion on the Phantoms below, feel free!

I have a feeling this thread will turn into a hardboot vs softboot macho-fest, but hopefully we can keep this to the bindings themselves and keep that out of it.

My overall opinion is that you won’t regret if you switch to Phantoms, this system is a leader and the best overall system you can get today, hardboot or soft. In summary, my overall thoughts are

Pros:
1. Lightest and strongest hardboot system available today
2. Industry leading boot to board interface makes for a solid and consistent ride
3. Proven reliable tour system that incorporates Dynafit system
4. Less moving parts creates a reliable system that offers peace of mind
5. Heel riser is a “set it and forget it” design

Cons:
1. Icing requires a bit more maintenance during changeovers
2. Pins sometimes get stuck in cold temperatures, requiring a multi-tool to release
3. You will need to modify the boot to get a true snowboard boot like feel
4. Expensive system to switch over to

The details are outlined in a lot of depth below. I tried to cover everything to exhaustion that I experienced, both good and bad. To me, this deserves a long review because it is different than anything out there, and it’s very impressive. In this I will go into depth of my first impressions, tech details, touring, changeover and riding.

My first disclaimer is that I am friends with John, the owner of Phantom. We run the Silverton Splitfest together for the past 3 years, and I’ve known him for 4, before he started Phantom. No, I did not get the Phantoms for free, I paid for them, and I am not affiliated to the Phantom company in any way. I think John is a very smart guy and that shows with these bindings. He is extremely devoted, still working a day job (as a rocket engineer!?), with 2 young kids, and still finds time to make bindings at somehow. I don’t see how he does it, he probably gets imports of coffee from karkis up in BC or something. The guy is an animal and devoted to progressing the hard-boot movement and making the best binding out there, and it shows.

About me. I am a weekend warrior. I used to be a soft-booter, and have been snowboarding now for ~20 years. I'm 28, I’m not a large guy, being 5’ 7” and 150lbs. I normally get approximately 50 days a season, ~85% of which are touring, mostly in the San Juans of Colorado. I would classify myself as an expert level snowboarder. I am not a mountaineer (0 rope skills), I enjoy powder (who doesn’t), but realize you can’t always have that, so I’ll take soft snow when I can get it. The best feeling is being in the hallway of a couloir with soft snow. When possible, I like to get air, but rarely is that over 20 feet, because we don’t get much of that in the San Juans.

John (left) and I at Silverton Splitfest 2014. Photo Ryan Irvin https://www.facebook.com/ryanirvinphotography?fref=photo
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Last season I spent the majority of my time on Phantoms. I would say out of the 50ish days I rode, 40 were on Phantoms. I had a few days in the beginning of the season on my soft-boot system, and a few days mid-season at the resorts on soft-boots as well (Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Crested Butte, and Telluride) so I got a mix of both and went back and forth a few times for comparison. I rode the Phantoms a significant amount of the days in the Silverton, Colorado area (probably 30 days), and 7 days in interior BC, at Rogers Pass, and a few others around Colorado resorts (CB and T-ride). Most days touring were around 3,000ft or more uphill, with a dozen or so 5K+ days, and one 7K day (thanks Karkis for kicking our ass in BC). Certainly not Greg Hill standards, but that’s ok with me. I wouldn't say I am terribly hard on bindings, so anyone with more days or additional feedback please feel free to add to this!

I was coming from a 2010 Spark Blaze and 2009 Burton Driver X system that I had been on for 3 seasons (150ish days), and voile plates prior to that with Burton Hail boots I think. I have tried 3 days on the Spark Afterburners as well. My new setup is the Phantom Alpha system, with 2013 Dynafit TLT5 Mountain boots, with only the forward lean modification, and power strap removed. I have the vert adaptors, and at the end of last season upgraded from the voile risers to John’s prototypes (same as what is being sold this year, reviewed in a bit more detail).

I did start out on John’s Alpha “Pho” system, which was a lighter weight version of the Alphas that John was trying out. The main difference is that there is less reinforcement under the toe and heel to give more flex. The issue there is that I ended up bending the bail block on them in about 5 days, probably after a resort day and some tomahawks, which caused a rocking in the system, which wasn't so great. John being super nice sent me a new Alpha model that is what he is using now, and I have not had any issues on the Alpha system since.

First Impressions
John didn’t send the system in a fancy box with Phantom plastered all over it, which was OK with me. But out of the box, the first thing I noticed is the craftsmanship. There was no flaws, scratches, weird cuts, and the system was beautifully assembled. John sent over some Loctite as well (actually something a bit different, but same idea) which was helpful, as well as a few little tools to help out in the field. There is two Allen wrenches, as well as a small flathead screwdriver, used for your pins to adjust. I only carry one of them, because my multi-tool can handle all the rest of the screws. There are 3 different types of screws on the system to account for.

Setting up the system was a breeze, taking about 30 minutes and is very straight forward. I set my stance the exact same as my hard-boot system, 25 degrees, -12 and 22.5” wide (I think, it’s relatively wide for a short guy). A bit of adjustment is needed to make sure the pin was engaged fully when the plates are locked down. You just just tighten or loosening the flathead screws until they are snug when locked down and no play, its pretty simple. Also, make sure to double check the bails have a solid connection to your boots. John already had mine setup in the right place, so I was good, but you should check too. It should be a bit snug when attaching the boot to them, but not too difficult. The only “thinking” part for this newly converted hard-booter was figuring out where the heel risers should hit on your boot. Then the system was setup!

There is also a bit of tweaking that can be done to the system, in terms of cants. This is nice to have, as everyone has a slightly different style that they ride in. This system allows you to add more or less cants easily to change the feel of the ride, from 2-5 degrees at a time. I ended up adding in 5 degrees more cant on the outside of my front foot to bring my knees in a bit more, and make a more natural stance. No other system out there does this today, and it is great to adjust this to meet your needs.

Technical Details – Weight
Anyone who’s on hard-boots probably cares about weight, and if you are on soft-boots, you probably don’t care about weight. One thing I will say is as soon as you switch, you WILL become a weight wienie, accept that, and embrace it. So first thing I did was compare the overall system weight between the two, with boots. I originally weighed the Pho’s which was detailed here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=16089&hilit=phantom+initial, and the weight has been updated with the Alphas, with plates being 59g more per plate, and the heel riser taking off 7g per foot.

Overall, the system’s weights compare as follows:
Phantom / TLT5 - 4047 = 8.92lbs
Spark / Driver X – 4300g = 9.48lbs
So the saving for me was 0.56 lbs or 253g, which is 6% reduction in weight. When touring, the weight on your feet is even less, as the plates are stored in your pack. So your feet when touring are actually 1.73lbs (798g) lighter (18% reduction in foot weight). I will say you do notice this. On kick turns and general steps, it is noticeably lighter. While I wasn’t burning away my buddies on the skin track, it did turn into extra weight saved which was nice.

Touring
This was the main reason I got this system, to be honest. Everything that I expected was met, and then some. It is undisputed by most people that touring with a tech toe piece is the best system out there, and Dynafit is the best on the business. I have Dynafit TLT5 Mountain’s at 27.0 sizing (comparable to 9.2). The boots fit true to size, and I added superfeet to them which are awesome. They are massively comfortable touring with.

Long approaches and firm snow are more comfortable with hardboots. Silverton Splitfest. Photo Ryan Irvin https://www.facebook.com/ryanirvinphotography?fref=photo
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Skiers get a large advantage from AT to Tech toes, and splitboarding is even a larger jump in efficiency. The pivot point is at a better spot for stepping, and the stride you get (60 degress) is significantly more efficient and comfortable as you travel, even uphill. Side hilling is much more stable side to side as well, and the boot to binding interface has 0 slop. Kick steps are a breeze in ski boots, and crampon compatibility is awesome. The only time I felt that it wasn’t much more efficient is touring uphill in powder. In these cases, your stride is very similar and there is no side hilling in a lot of cases, so you don’t gain much advantage, but I would still prefer hard-boots there. Splitskiing I also find is easier. I lock down my boot and can ski decently for a silly snowboarder. I haven’t used the ski strap mod John created on his heel risers to lock your foot in, because I never felt that I have needed it.

Breaking trail on the phantoms. Notice hikeforturns stride in the back. This is normal for hardboots, but you don’t get this as easily on soft-boots. Photo, Zack Wilson (mountaindog)
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Overall, I would always choose a hard-boot system for touring over soft-boots, it is just flat out better in every case. But that is proven, Dynafit is one of the leaders. Phantom hasn’t done anything too groundbreaking here with the toe piece adapter on my model, but it does its job to integrate the two, which is key. My one gripe with the toe piece system, is if you are transferring across boards, taking out 7 screws opposed to 3 is a bit of a pain. I had to do this a couple times during the season, and for anyone with a quiver, they might get a bit annoyed. But for 2014/15 it looks like John has made a new adapter that allows for easier changeovers to other boards by only taking out two screws, which is awesome!

One other area that I didn’t enjoy was the voile heel riser. I had the Phantom adaptor with voile’s dual risers. I just like things to work from the start, without having to fiddle with it. The low riser continued to fall down, especially when breaking trail, which led me to having to put it back up every 10-20 steps. The high riser worked fine, but it was frustrating dealing with the low riser falling down. I tried to adjust the riser placement, and couldn’t get it to work correctly after a lot of fiddling. I did get lucky though and was upgraded to John’s new heel risers, and got about 10 days on them. These things are slick. Both face straight forward and are very easy to get up with your pole. You can slide your pole tip through the center channel for easy access. The risers never fell down. I was a major fan of them. One thing that felt a bit different is that the low and high risers seem a bit lower than voile’s was, but I never experienced any slipping, and it actually a pretty natural angle.

The new heel riser, photo, Phantom.
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I also got the opportunity to use the Phantom adaptors with Verts for 3 days. I hadn’t used verts prior, but wow, these tools are awesome in going up couloirs! The Phantom adaptors allow you to put your plates directly mounted on the Verts. I didn’t experience any issues, and they worked as intended, kept my foot locked in after a lot of kick steps and weight being thrown on it. Certainly not a long term review on these, but good initial impressions.

How the verts connect, Photo Phantom
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Climbing powder with verts. Photo Phantom
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Spicy climb up with the verts on. Certainly didn’t want failure here. Photo Zack Wilson (mountaindog)
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Another excellent thing is putting your ski’s (really splitboard in ski mode) on your pack. They go together very easily and you don’t have some silly bindings flopping around on the back. It’s just nice to not have slop.

Finishing a climb with the board on the back. Photo Zach Wilson (mountaindog)
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Changeovers
To me, there isn’t too much to report here. The system works well, and is pretty intuitive. As you tour up, you have your plates in you backpack, and then you take them out and put them together on your board. I am not terribly faster than my partners, nor am I slower at the changeover. I haven’t timed it, but it works for me. I have had a few minor issues which are:
• Icing needs to be accounted for. If you don’t have a scraper, you will have a bad day. Carry a scraper or credit card that you don’t care about. You will need to get the ice off your system first on all changeovers, just due to how tight the system is.
• Pin sticking. I have noticed that the pin sometimes won’t complete release when you flip it. It may get a bit iced up which causes this. With a multi-tool and quick pry, it comes out, adding approx. 5 seconds to a change over. No biggie to me here.

I do really like the bails, it is a solid connection to the boots every time, and I have never experience them coming off. Also, they are super easy to engage.

The changeover


Riding
This was really where I was most concerned going into hard-boots. I had never been on hard-boots before, and they just look silly, right? By the end of the season, all my fears are dissipated, these things rock. I had these bindings on all types of conditions. Everything from early season low tide, a resort day on bumps, big powder fields, deep powder in trees, pillows (in BC), firm snow, everything I can throw at it, it excelled. After 3-4 days of riding, I had no lack of confidence on riding on the system. I feel the main confidence booster for me was coming out a massive pillow line (10-10-15 footers) in BC standing upright. At no point did I think, “hmm, can I do this on my hard-boots?” I just sent it, and stomped it. That’s confidence.

First Powder day, shwing! Photo skatebananas
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Riding powder, Silverton Splitfest. Photo Zack Wilson (mountaindog)
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Riding variable snow, Silverton Splitfest 2014 Photo Ryan Irvin https://www.facebook.com/ryanirvinphotography?fref=photo
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The main feel differences riding on the system are the follows:
• Locked In – Your feet aren’t moving as much. So front to back board motions are a bit more limited. I didn’t feel this affected my riding style much, but I might have done more tomahawks than normal, or it could have just been my riding style accounting for that?
• Foot lean / toe side initiation – As you initiate a turn on a toe side turn, with a typical soft-boot system, it initiates a bit different. I like to think of it as “hitting a wall” with hard-boots instead of a progressive flex (more linear) of a traditional soft-boot. While a bit different, you get used to it and I don’t notice it really now.

What would I improve? Probably the front to back of board flex somehow to be a bit more like a soft-boot flex. A lot of this I feel is on the boot, which unfortunately nobody is making a splitboard specific boot these days, maybe some-day they will and this would help. Now, most of these things could probably be solved by some boot modification, but like I said before, I like things to work from the start, and cutting up $700 boots is crazy! (In my defense, I paid $450 on sale).

I will say that for resort riding, I still prefer the soft-boots. For me, this is mostly due to comfort. I’ve found after about 15,000ft+ of riding, my feet start to get a bit cramped in ski boots, so soft-boots feel a bit better when pounding out hard pack.

Overall Summary
For anyone who is serious about backcountry touring and being efficient, this is the best system you can get. The price ($850 for the full kit) may throw you off at first, but based on the benefits over every other system out there, I believe it is worth it if you can afford it. The cost is around 40% more than upgrading to the next closest hardboot system, and you get upgraded to the Speed Superlight opposed to the Speed Radical, also a really solid upgrade for the heel risers. Even if you are primarily riding powder, not mountaineering, you will enjoy the added benefits touring to have a better day. While I don’t feel that the beginning splitboarding crew will adopt this system, if you are serious about larger tours, this is the system for you. I will never go back to soft-boots for touring, this to me is the way to go from now on.

Big thanks to John for being extremely devoted to this sport, being an innovator and advancing a system for hard-boot bindings. With companies now like Spark introducing a hard-boot system, I believe it goes to show hard-boots are here to stay. And Phantom is certainly at the forefront of the market and the leader.

For anyone interested in Phantoms, check out http://www.phantomsnow.com/. John only makes a limited amount per season, so make sure to get on it as soon as possible to ensure you get the bindings in the year.


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 12:29 pm 
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Somewhere Barrows is reading this with a bottle of Jergens.


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 1:35 pm 
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That's a hell of a review. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I picked up a used pair from someone on the site and can't wait to take them for a spin.

Could you talk a little more about the icing issue w/ the cleats? One of my main riding partners and I were out in GTNP last March during a Pacific-esque storm cycle with loads of new dense snow and temps in the 20s (i.e. prime for icing along hardware). He had borderline unmanageable icing issues, to the point where he had to unscrew the cleats and change their position at the top of the skin track. We did have a Voile scraper between us and used it furiously to no real avail. Curious if you've had experiences like this, if anything can be done to mitigate them, etc...


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 2:17 pm 
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Damn Brooks, I have to be more careful where/when I read sb.com...just burst out laughing in a meeting :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 2:27 pm 
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Great review summersgone. I'll take a stab at the icing issues. The first gen were overbuilt as John wanted to make sure they held up to abuse, he also made the tolerances really tight for performance, meaning ice will interfere with putting the bindings on the board if it is in the contact areas. The three areas that need to be cleared are:

1. the base of the binding plate (the part that you carry in your pack). I usually lightly hit them together, then scrape them along the edge of my snowboard

2. the tabs that overlap the inside edge of the split. Ice can hang out under this lip, making it hard to put the board halves together (similar to karakoram clip issue). Clear this with the scraper.

3. the area of the deck around the board cleat where the binding base will go, as well as underneath the tabs on the board cleats that engage the binding (pin area), clear this with the scraper.

I will say I had some issues in the PNW with the first gen where we went from dry powder, to warm, then it got dark and shit froze up pretty good. That took me about ten minutes to clear, but normally its a process that took less than a minute.

The new gen bindings John reduced the tolerances ever so slightly that they are much easier to install with a little ice on them. Its a much better system. I have not had an icing issue that has taken less than a minute or two to clear on the new system. That is the true advantage of the Spark/voile system is that you can usually just jam them on the pucks. I use the swix brand handy scraper as it has both metal and plastic edges.

Image

Image

^^if you have these first gens, you can trim a little material off the edge of the ying/yang board cleat to add a little extra spae (red arrow on the right side)


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 2:29 pm 
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EDIT: Exactly what HFT said. Spot on.

nickstayner wrote:
Could you talk a little more about the icing issue w/ the cleats? ... He had borderline unmanageable icing issues, to the point where he had to unscrew the cleats and change their position at the top of the skin track. We did have a Voile scraper between us and used it furiously to no real avail. Curious if you've had experiences like this, if anything can be done to mitigate them, etc..
There was one other time in BC that was similar to what you explained. A few things happened if I recall. First, there was snow buildup on my inner edges, making the board a tad wider than normal. I didn't notice it built up under the board cleats, which I think ended up being the issue. So the plates didn't fit on when I tried. Second, I reefed on the puck to put it on, and it ended up re positioning the cleat a bit as well. So I had to do similar. So going forward, I made sure to have a scraper, clean the topsheet where the ice builds, and also clean the inside edges of the board (and under the voile hooks and board cleats) to make sure the board was properly aligned together.


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2014 2:11 am 
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Wow! Thanks for the great write up !!!

Cant wait to get my hands on the ordered Phantoms! :headbang:


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Fri Oct 24, 2014 3:07 pm 
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HikeforTurns wrote:

Image



Wow, good call on this scraper thing! That's exactly what I envisioned that I needed for my Phantoms in my mind, but never knew existed till I saw this photo just now. Even better, bc.com just sent me an email bugging me that I had a $20 credit expiring soon, so I ordered 3 of these for free! :thumpsup: :thumpsup: :thumpsup:

Thanks mucho HFT!

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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Sat Nov 01, 2014 1:36 pm 
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Great review! The new bindings look really slick.

I have the first version, and yes they seem to be a bit more prone to icing than for example sparks. I had a couple of tours in Norway where we started in very wet snow/snowfall/rain at sea level and ended up in quite cold temps higher up.

I usually use the binding plate itself as scraper, quickly scraping the board edge, especially where the board cleats hang over, the top of the board where the binding goes and then I stick a corner of the binding plate in underneath the board cleat to get the Ice away from there. Since the binding plate is exactly the same thickness in the outer corner, it will precisely take away as much ice as is needed to get the plates on. That seems to work for me at least.

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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Sat Nov 22, 2014 2:40 pm 
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Great review. I picked up some used TLT5s to try out a hardboot system. Now I just need to get my hands on some bindings. The ability to set cant angle entices me because I have a wide stance (24") and was worried I would be forced into a sort of sumo squat to keep my soft boot stance.

But just to be clear you are talking about lateral cant, similar to the new Voile pucks, right?


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 Post subject: Re: Phantom Splitboard Bindings Detailed Review
PostPosted: Sun Nov 23, 2014 6:41 am 
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Whitepine, yes, lateral cant. There are 4 contact points between the bail block and plate, and you can place cant blocks in there. So my cant brings my knees together 5 more degrees on the front foot.

And for reference, I have a 22.5" wide stance, at 5' 7".


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