SMILEY PLATES

A WORD OF WARNING

Power tools and ski equipment are a good way to ruin things fast. The following describes how I modify my own ski boots for use with smiley plates. Attempting these modifications could destroy your boots or cause sudden failures of the boot, binding or both, which in turn could cause injury or even death. By performing or attempting to perform these modifications, you must accept all responsibilities for any damages and injuries that may result.

SMILEY PLATES

I believe that "smiley plates" are the secret for trouble free touring with 3-pin bindings. The smiley plates are curved metal plates that can be affixed to the boot sole over the pin holes. For many years, smiley plates were produced by Advanced Base Camp and thankfully are being produced by Voile. Smiley plates may be obtained directly from Voile here.

One of the most frequently mentioned problems with pins is their propensity to chew up and destroy the pins holes in the boot sole. Hard crashes wrench the pins around inside of the soft rubber holes. Worse, if you don't align the pins and holes exactly when putting the bindings on, it is easy to create a second set of holes in your boot sole. And third set. And so on.

The obvious benefit of the smiley plates is that metal is more durable than rubber. So it is a good way to prevent your pins holes from getting trashed or to repair a set of pin holes that are beat. One of the less obvious benefit though is that it makes getting into pins much easier.

Without the smile plates, the primary interface between the binding and the boots is 3 pointy metal pins and the soft rubber underside of the boot sole. Not surprisingly, as you slide your boot toe into the binding, the pins can hang up on the boot. Given the tight clearance in the bindings already, this means that getting in and out of the pins can be a clumsy affair.

The smiley plate corrects this problem and makes the boot/binding interface stronger to boot (ahem). Since the smiley plate is metal, you get metal pins rubbing against the metal plate when you are trying to put the bindings on. This metal to metal interface prevents the pins from digging into the boot sole as you hunt around for the pins and holes to align. When you do get the pins in the holes, it happens with a noticeable and positive feeling, assuring you that your boots are properly in the binding. I know this sounds like Iím making a big deal out of little thing but this really cures a significant point of frustration with pins.

In his classic book, "Cross-Country Downhill", Steve Barnett suggests counter-sinking the smiley plates. This is especially useful if you also plan on using the same boots with cable binding. It also prevents some degree of wear and tear on the smiley plate itself, since it is flush with the bottom of the boot sole and not protruding down.

I have done this surgery successfully several times. I trace the smiley plate with a pen, and use a careful hand with a Dremmel style power tool to carve out a divot in the shape of the plate. I use a square-edged grinding bit to outline the divot and a rounded tip augering bit for deepening the divot.

Once a suitable divot is created, I drill 4 pilot holes to make securing the 4 screws easier. On every boot I've done, the outer 2 pilot holes are very easy to drill and the only material I've encountered is the black rubber of the sole. The inner 2 pilots holes are tougher. On each boot I've done I've hit a hard reinforcement layer under the black rubber. I'm unclear if this is a soft metal or hard plastic. Regardless, I've been able to drill through it with a bit of careful work. I put a tape stopper on the drill bit to help ensure that I don't drill all the way through the Vibram rubber layer into the plastic shell or leather mid-sole of the boot. If this sounds too hard, note that I've been unable to get the inner 2 screws to seat without first having drilled the pilot holes. I suspect that you may be avoid drilling the pilot holes if you don't counter-sink the plates. But having used both, I strongly prefer having the plates counter-sunk.

After the divot has been created and the pilot holes are drilled, I secure the smiley plate with epoxy (actually, I use JB Weld) and the screws that are provided.


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Copyright 2004, 2005 by David Mann