Apr 11 2012

Review: Spark R&D resurrects Verts™

Alex Kutches shows the side profile of Ramer Assault Snowshoes. They didn't weigh much either.

When you’re earning your turns with a big fat single plank, you want an efficient way to climb without resorting to a splitboard, or wasting energy with floppy snowshoes, or ugh, simply post holing. If you’re lucky the snow is firm enough for crampons, but I’d only do that on a board knowing it would soften by the descent.

So what other way is there? What if you could set up a staircase using a type of snowshoe that stomps out a platform with every step? Well, you can and that’s exactly what Verts™ let you do.

Back before splitboards there were only two options, crampons on firm snow or snowshoes. Snowshoes work by keeping you from post holing, but they suck in deep snow compared to skis or a splitboard. Besides being unable to glide you can’t climb very steep straight up with them and they don’t hold an edge well on a traverse.

Ramer’s Assault Snowshoe
So it was a revolutionary moment when Paul Ramer sent me a pair of his Assault Snowshoes – an oval shaped platter of stamped aluminum with cookie cutter edges. As usual I thought it was a kooky idea, but as with his Ramer Classic alpine touring bindings, their beauty was only visible after experiencing their performance. The Ramer Assault Snowshoe gave sufficient flotation to minimize the posthole effect, but more importantly, they held an edge on a traverse and could go straight up a slope like nobody’s business. Besides that, they were light, and thin, so they took up very little room in or on a pack. In short, they stole the show in the very first snowshoe review ever done by le Chronicle du Couloir.

Ramer's Assault Snowshoe had no problem holding an edge - whether traversing or front pointing.  (pink was hot, BITD)

As with many other Ramer ideas, it was just too far ahead of its time. They were too different from the snowshoe paradigm to be understood; so they weren’t and our recommendation fell on deaf ears. Except for one plastics manufacturer name Pete Carney. He knew all too well how badly snowshoes sucked. Fortunately for us he knew about Ramer’s Assault Snowshoe and how superior they were for climbing snow.

By the mid-90s Ramer had pretty much given up on hardware and was focused on promoting Zardoz NotWax. So Carney decided to make a plastic version of the Assault Snowshoe which he called Verts™. When he sent them to Couloir for review in the late 90s I knew exactly what they were. The Barta brothers figured ‘em out pretty quick too.

Verts™ – Plastic Ascent Tool

Verts™ with a universal strap binding.

Because of their unitary construction with turned down edges Verts™ provide a solid edge for traversing or climbing straight up. Their cupped shaped tends to give them more flotation than their small size (18¾” x 8½”) would suggest. Those ingredients combine to allow them to climb up a slope of soft snow with a speed and agility similar to crampons on firm snow. You have to experience it to fully grasp that, but the few who have tried will agree, they’re like crampons for powder, leaving a packed staircase for a trail that is easily followed by more Verts™, and in some cases, small snowshoes. They are the only tool that can out climb skins, even on a steep track, which makes them especially useful, even for skiers, on steep couloirs of soft snow.

The only problem is, Pete Carney gave up on promoting ‘em too. They were still too far ahead of their time, and may still be, but for those who know that there needs to be something other than splitboards or crampons for efficient ascents Verts™ are the solution you’ve been looking for.

The good news is Spark R&D sees their value so they’ve been made ‘em available again.

Actually there was another problem with Verts™ – the binding. The universal binding they came with worked, but required a lot of fidgeting. I replaced mine with a Clicker™ binding which was pretty trick. Ramer’s original used a crampon style toe loop and heel latch, but those don’t work with fat, soft, weltless snowboard boots.

Spark R&D adds pucks to Verts™ so you can slide a splitboard binding on.

Snowboard bindings work with snowboard boots so Spark R&D offers Verts™ with a pair of pucks that a splitboard plate binding can slide on to. Sweet! It is definitely heavier than a Clicker™ system but Clicker™ systems are woefully hard to find. Splitboard rigs are multiplying like rabbits and there are times a splitboard is not the best tool for the ascent. That’s were Verts™ usually fit the bill. I’ve even used them walking flats where, despite their lack of a pivot, they still walked pretty well.

Verts™ aren’t the best ascent solution for every situation. On deep powder days splitboards make more sense, or when touring with skiers. However, there are a lot of days that splitboards are a compromise while Verts™ and a solid board simply rule.

Spark R&D
Price: $85
Weight: 2½ lbs. (1.13 kg)/pair

© 2012