Who needs bindings? Snowboarders take sport to new heights

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
David GilletteScott Banjac noboards through powder while jumping from his board and releasing his rope, also known as "no roping it."

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – There’s a small community of local snowboarders who are doing something many skiers and riders could never imagine doing – they’re riding big mountains and deep powder without bindings.

The sport, called noboarding, has been around since 1998 when its inventor Greg Todd decided he was getting bored with snowboarding and wanted to take it to another level.

Todd, from British Columbia, decided to get rid of his bindings, use a rubber traction pad on the stance area of a snowboard, and use a hand-held rope that’s attached to the board, just in front of the front foot and just behind the back foot, to keep an attachment with the board.

Todd, who died in an avalanche in 2005, co-founded Noboard Inc. with Cholo Burns, also of British Columbia, and the company is now back on its own after a couple of years working with Burton Snowboards.

While the sport has a loyal following up in Canada, it has only become popular in the Vail area within the last few years.

Noboarding is prohibited at most ski resorts, including Vail and Beaver Creek.

Mike Whitfield, 37, of Eagle-Vail, started noboarding about three years ago and said starting out it was a humbling experience. Whitfield, who has been snowboarding for 20 years, said he went from being able to force a snowboard to do anything he wanted to being at the mercy of his own balance on the noboard.

“You have to stay really fluid. If the board is making directional changes, you have to be centered,” Whitfield said.

The hand-held strap, which is the closest thing to a binding on a noboard, is especially helpful for people just getting into the sport, he said.

The guys who noboard locally compare the feeling to that of riding a skateboard or a surfboard. The lack of bindings means you have to stay connected to the board by using the mechanics of your body more, said Scott Banjac, 31, of Eagle-Vail.

Banjac started noboarding last year and said his first day definitely had its learning pains, but now he’s noboarding on just about every powder day.

“When it snows, it’s definitely time to pull the noboards out and go surfing around,” Banjac said.

For Kurt Olesek, of Avon, noboarding is all about going back to the roots. He said noboarding has brought a lot of freedom back into snowboarding.

“When I first stepped on it, I was just like, ‘Wow, it feels so natural,'” Olesek said. “It feels like standing on a skateboard – you have the freedom to move your feet around.”

Olesek thinks snowboarding has always been about freedom. With skiing, there’s just too much equipment involved, he said.

Olesek want to take it even further this season by trying to noboard barefoot.

The sport is all about freedom and challenges, he said.

Those who get comfortable enough to drop the rope on a noboard, called “no roping it” according to Snowboarder Magazine, can take the sport to an even higher level, according to Burns.

Many sports enthusiasts find a connection with their respected sports so much so that it’s like an addiction.

Progression within that sport also becomes addicting.

Whitfield said noboarding is like taking the training wheels off a bike. When you take those bindings away from the board, it’s like stripping off the limits of what a snowboarder is capable of doing on the mountain.

Whitfield said the sport has literally brought him back in time.

“It makes me feel like a little kid every time I jump on it,” Whitfield said. “And at 37, I have to work hard to feel like that on a snowboard. That’s why we all got into these sports in the first place.”

Justin McCarty, 28, is another local who is fully addicted to noboarding. McCarty rides Powder Padz, which are similar to the grip pads on a noboard but more surf-inspired.

McCarty picked up the sport last season and got about 50 days in – enough time to know that he’s hooked.

McCarty already has a small crew of friends he goes out with, and he said everybody’s hooked.

“There’s about 10 people who are way addicted now,” McCarty said.

After 15 years snowboarding, it was time to step it up, he said.

“Try dropping 10-foot cliffs without bindings – it’s a whole new world,” McCarty said.