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).

Riding with no-backs from Shayboarder on Vimeo.

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.

About the author


From the beginning of time, I was Shannon. From the beginning of snowboarding, I was Shay. From the beginning of online communities, I was Shayboarder. In the end, I’m the writer, photographer, editor, publisher, guru of sorts, product tester, curvy girl, and most importantly the snowboarder behind it all. Follow me on this journey through snowboarding, mountain biking, traveling and fun experiences!

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  1. Bob
    May 05, 2010

    Interesting, but take it from someone who’s busted their ankle on the board (shattered talus). Ankle support is important. I wouldn’t trust my boots alone (and I where super-stiff boots now) to protect my ankles. Granted it’s not going to feel as “natural” as riding with your ankles flexing, but I’d rather be riding than in a cast.

  2. May 05, 2010

    Have you ever tried base-less bindings? That’s something I’m dying to tryout, definitely must have more connection with what’s underfoot.

  3. May 05, 2010

    Hmm. I always look at people’s highbacks and their forward lean (or lack there of for the most part) as highbacks are essential for placing your hips over the center of your board (edge to edge). Without lean or highbacks you need to move your hips further over your heelside edge than you would with your highbacks. Anytime we displace our mass further away from the center of the board the harder it is going to be to maintain balance and the further your hips are going to need to travel to get the desired response over your toeside edge during your next turn.

    Sure, you can ride this way, but as soon as the terrain get steep or you find yourself in moguls, the extra time it takes your hips to move back to center and then over your toeside edge could be quite noticeable… in fact, generally people with no lean (or no highbacks at all) find themselves camped out on their heels in this terrain.

  4. May 05, 2010

    In theory you shouldn’t use your high backs. If you use you rely on your high backs you’re using them as a lever that puts you ‘inside the turn’ and more likely to fall on your backside with a change in snow. You should really be using your ankle and shin muscle rather than your highbacks. One of the reasons you see a lot of people sliding out on their ass on a heelside turn.

  5. Brek Leines
    May 05, 2010

    There was a guy at timberline a few weeks ago riding burton est binding with nobacks and took out the base (all the padding) so he was standing on his board with some support side to side, straps and a heel cup. very odd

  6. May 05, 2010

    You instructor types are funny. Forget all these theories, just take your highbacks off and give it a try.

  7. gags
    May 05, 2010

    I did ride thru the “lowback/noback” era with some semi baseless T9 bindings….I def used stiff boots then and a super low back. Still was able to carve but….. times, stance widths and angles change. Forward lean is a personal choice – some guys may thrive with nobacks. I gotta have some forward lean now or it does not feel right charging, but this sounds like it would be fun to try again and see if the body can adapt. Word up to you Shay for going at it.

    For the real surfing snow feeling, no boarding is the pure experience and one heck of a challenge! Linking turns on a no board is insane and well worth trying.

  8. MichaelG
    May 05, 2010

    I went to Ski Dubai and they had rental Burton gear. The bindings were the regular strap in bindings with no high backs. I was confused and felt cheated, lol.
    The board was very unresponsive, but it was also as thick as a 2×4 and complete junk in ever repsect.
    I imagine it would be a kinda cool setup on a rocker board though, to add to the loose-skatey feel.

  9. lisevolution
    May 06, 2010

    @ Christian…when I first started snowboarding baseless bindings were the hot item. I had a set of Morrows I believe on my first Snowboard which was a Nitro Phase IIRC… That might have been the second. Anyway baseless definitely had a more connected feel but it was punishing ob your feet ankles and knees. Definitely not something I’d go back to again. As for the no backs been through the whole lo-back no-back thing also and it does have a more skate influenced feel as you definitely use more of those small muscles to manipulate the board like you would skating. I think itd be interesting to try out on a real rockered deck for that super surfy type feeling. May have to give a run at that next season.

  10. andrew
    May 06, 2010

    I wanna try this out even more now. Should be fun on my horrorscope.

  11. May 06, 2010

    @lisevolution: I figured you would lose some of the shock absorption, I thought it might be cool to feel every little bump of the snow, and the flex of the board. I guess not so much.

  12. Marcus
    May 07, 2010

    The no-back experience was a great one for me. I rode 4 days straight without hibacks and I will never turn back. I ride hard and really love to dig deep into turns and frankly I had no problems adjusting to the great, looser feel of having no hibacks. Unfortunately I had no opportunity of riding powder but I really look forward to trying it out next season.

    Being a devoted freerider I have always used a lot of forward lean to get the right response from the binding but taking the hibacks of is a totally different thing. The hell turn technique is obviously a bit different but when you have it dialed in you can carve just as good without hibacks as you can with them.

  13. May 08, 2010

    Wow interesting to hear all the different comments on the experience.

    My best piece of advice is try it, on a easy run and see for yourself. I ride with no highback forward lean so it was an easy transition for me since I prefer not having that feeling doing the work for me.

  14. So Awesome
    May 11, 2010

    Shay, your lazy style is not conducive to flowing with the board or terrain. The words match your style. Not flowing, man. Your words treat this subject as if it’s a new fad. Many of us rode with no bindings for a long time…..bungee binders or nothing at all, imagine that…..”no boarding” well over 20 years ago. Whoop Dee Doo. I’ve discussed this topic with Ranquet ad nauseum. I’m no lucky leaner and it’s not that tough or different to ride with no highbacks. Why do all of you want to “try” it in the powder? You can’t tell any difference in the powder and you can easily compensate for lack of high backs in most conditions. People are way too uptight about their equipment and style to just go for it. Make whatever equipment you have work for you. It’s the pilot, not the plane. I’m too old and lazy to ride with no highbacks. I like being a pussy and not forcing my muscles to do the work.
    Keep this in mind: there was a time when you needed to modify your snowboard in some way or you wouldn’t ride for very long. These days, people seem worried about changing color ways, forget about actual equipment changes or modifications. Admit it, it’s become a total pussy sport. Bunch of fucking cry babies looking for the right colors and steez, sideslipping their way to oblivion.

  15. May 13, 2010

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^like 🙂 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    pilot, airplane whatever man, im still getting some contrabands for next season

  16. PedroDelfuego
    August 15, 2010

    Hallelujah Sister!!

    I am late the thread, but early to the party. Its about comfort! The more comfortable you are, the better (and longer) you can ride. No-backs / Low-backs don’t change much when it comes to your riding. And the person who said you have to move your hips around doesn’t know what they are talking about (please reference where your “center” is with any martial artist or yogi). To turn without backs or w/ low-backs, you lean your shoulders back, not your hips. I have been riding this way for well over a decade. Inbounds, backcountry and anywhere in between. I currently rock Low-backs on all my boards including my split-board (see URL link). You are the pilot (thank you previous poster), and like Lance Armstrong says: “Its not about the bike.” The old guard of snowboarding did it all on very sketchy gear; try to ride a 20 year old board/binding/boot setup. They created the sport we love, and they did it without all the fancy bells and whistles.

    And for any clowns out there with an opinion on my riding… Bring it. I have been riding steeps, crud and pow for a very long time. I have introduced countless people to the sport. We live in Colorado and ride all terrain and big mountains like Silverton too.

    High-backs are a joke! Low-backs for life! Long live Ranquet!!!

  17. Lobackmemories
    November 23, 2010

    the only thing i would say is watch out for your knees. If I remember correctly, everyone back in the lo-back era had more knee problems. It’s easy to hyper extend your knee and land on it locked if you don’t have a high back. That being said, our boots were way looser back then too. The burton stumpy’s and all that were like sorels.

  18. HotCarl
    November 29, 2011

    Man i love snowboarding, but i cannot stand snowboarders.
    Take the highbacks off, try it once, do whatever you like, jeez.
    Quit overthinking everything.

  19. March 15, 2013

    I been riding without highbacks this season and I went a step further I cut my boots so they are almost shoes. The reason for all this is because I’m a surfer and HATE the cast-like feel of snowboard boots! I won’t be going back the highbacks of normal snowboots EVER. Sure I work my legs more but the feel is so my freer.