Gear

From Binding to Snow Shoe in 30 seconds

written by Mark Mckee

The development of ski and snowboard gear has been at a virtual standstill for the last decade. Each season seems content on bringing new sets of graphic designs to coats or shaving a few grams of weight off a board, but primarily the gear has followed established designs’ guidelines. Perhaps the closest thing to innovation in snowboarding is the splitboard in 1994. Almost three decades later, the snowboarding world finally got a new piece of gear; the Convert bindings from Ross Snow Tech.

The bindings work by converting from downhill snowboard bindings into 26-inch snowshoes in 30 seconds, all without taking your boot out of the binding. Conceptualized by Denver-based Alex Swaynie in his garage, the Convert bindings will change the way snowboarders get around mountain resorts and in the harder backcountry terrain.

Swaynie first thought up the Convert when he was boarding with a friend at Powderhorn Resort near Grand Junction, CO in 2011 before he graduated from Colorado Mesa University. His friend was stuck in loose powder, and in the time it took for him to get out, Swaynie kept wondering how both of their situations could be improved through better gear.

As a marketing and entrepreneurship major, Swaynie used that experience at Powderhorn to create a prototype binding and entered it into some elevator pitch competitions. Although he won fourth in the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization (CEO), the idea remained dormant for Swaynie until 2016. 

“These bindings were always in the back of my head. Every time I told someone about them, they’d say, ‘oh my god, that’s such a good idea.’ And I just got sick of hearing that,” Swaynie explained. So after interviewing a handful of local product development companies, he hired Link and made his idea a reality. “He does all the heavy-lifting on the project,” he mentioned humbly, standing amidst the different prototypes he’s made on his own in a little garage near the Art District on Santa Fe. But the truth is that Swaynie is a tinkerer, a first-time inventor, and a passionate entrepreneur. And with these bindings, he’s not only innovated the field of snowboard bindings, but he’s also reminding the entire industry that there is room to grow.

Part of the revolution of the binding is the ease and simplicity of the transition. Instead of taking boots out of the bindings to put on snowshoes, switching out your splitboard to two skis, or boot-packing, the Converts allow snowboarders to become mobile faster. This will not only improve individual safety and safety in groups (when a snowboarder is stuck in powder or on a traverse, for instance), it should also allow snowboarders to hold positions on mountain patrols and as emergency first responders. “Some resorts don’t allow snowboarders on their Ski Patrol,” Swaynie remarked, “so we anticipate these being huge for emergency personnel.”

Going from binding to snowshoe can be done in only four or five movements in a particular order. First, the high-back folds down and locks in place. Then, sash levers located on each side unfold and release the binding from the mounting bracket. Once the binding is separated from the board, the front piece folds beneath the foot and locks in place. And, voila, it’s a snowshoe. There’s also the option to add on crampons that require boot removal to insert, but the crampons would be for more serious terrain or hardpack, where it should be easier to take boots in and out of the bindings and board anyway.

The first time the industry saw Ross Snow Tech and the bindings was at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver at the beginning of 2019. “The main point was to get our name out there and use it as a marketing tool,” said Swaynie. He added, “we wanted to see if people liked it or if I was crazy for doing this for so long.” Of course, any person who invents something is bound by their own insecurities and self-doubt, but the response from Outdoor Retailer helped Swaynie realize his idea is worth something.

Swaynie’s belief in his product paid off, the bindings won Best In Show at the 2019 Outdoor Retailer + Snowshow and helped us become one of the Selected Brands at the 2020 ISPO Muchich outdoor trade show. While the bindings are currently showing as sold out on the company website, it promises more hitting the slopes this winter.