The no-back experience
05 May, 2010
It’s rare to see a snowboarder riding without highbacks on the mountain, so uncommon that if you try it you’ll get interesting glances by those who notice and the people you snowboard with might question your sanity. The concept of riding without highbacks has been around since the beginning of snowboarding but moved into the shadows once highbacks were invented in 1983. In the early 90’s Tarquin Robbins took his highbacks off and re-started the no-back revolution that Mike Ranquet would later be known for and write about in his theory of no highbacks in Transworld Snowboarding. Since then I’ve learned of other snowboarder following in the no-back footsteps like Signal’s Dave Lee and Brandbase’s Trent Bush. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that I was in the midst of a discussion about no-backs when I decided that to understand the concept of no-backs meant experiencing it first hand.
How often do you really look at a snowboarders highback on the mountain? I found out that after a couple runs with Mike from Signal in December that I rarely looked at another snowboarders highback. During the entire time we rode together, I didn’t notice the lack of highbacks until he pointed it out after riding. Soon after I made laps with Leslie who broke her highback during the day and we removed it so she could keep riding. It was the beginning of understanding that while I thought the highback was a key piece in a binding, it wasn’t a requirement. After discussing no-backs with the Signal guys I went home to contemplate the no-back theory and read more about it.
In January Trent Bush wanted me to experience it and I was ready to give it a try. The SIA on-snow demos provided the perfect place so after a couple laps with the Technine board and bindings we came back to the tent to remove the highback. I made sure the heelcup was secure around my boot and that it wouldn’t come off on the chairlift. Trent was kind enough to accompany me up the beginner chairlift (last thing I wanted was to be stuck on the mountain without an easy way down) and I strapped in both feet, instantly noticing a lack of highback. I ride Vans Veil boots which are a stiffer women’s boot which offered the support I still needed.
The closest thing it felt like was riding a snowskate but with both feet strapped in. I noticed right away that I didn’t have anything to lean into on heelside turns but I was still capable of making a heelside turn. My stiffer snowboard boot came in handy for allowing response from turn to turn and after one run, I had gotten a hang of this feeling. It was loose and skate feeling but I still felt connected to the board, even more connected than I expected. The conditions were hardpacked to icy groomers in spots, I didn’t get to enjoy the no-back experience in deep powder to get the full Ranquet love for it. I took a couple laps that day without the highback as Trent watched on and noticed my amazement in that I was still riding like my normal self but with more ankle flex and a different way to appreciate the ride. I noticed my body, every movement that created each turn and how my programmed body was now changing to adapt to the no-back style of riding. I switch back to highbacks (that were noticeably a pressure on my calf) and knew I needed to try this again but on video.
The Video has me doing a voiceover talking about it (in case you mute your sound).
Last month in Breckenridge, Trent and I reunited at Breckenridge where once again the highbacks came off and we headed up the main chairlift so I could ride laps on regular runs with no highbacks. This time I was prepared for the feeling and right away, got used to riding without the highback. It came easier, smoother and despite riding in a stiffer boot I was flexing my ankle to create initiation in each turn much more noticeable than with highbacks. My friend Zac rode near me and captured all of this on video, finally some footage of the no-back experience!
At the end of the runs without highback I noticed my ankle felt more worked than any other day on snow and that I used new muscles to ride that way. But I was able to get the no-back experience, despite being a non-pro snowboarder I could do it and appreciate it. I’d like to try no-backs on a powder day to get the full experience beyond the mountain groomers. No-back isn’t the future but it’s such a part of our past and something that some riders might enjoy as a different experience on the mountain.