How to Choose a Snowboard for the Backcountry

Snowboard Expert Tanner Thibert goes over the different kinds of backcountry snowboards and splitboards to help you decide which one is the best choice for you!

A snowboarder in deep snow.

Heavy powder day in the backcountry! Photo by Tanner Thibert

Choosing the proper board to use in the backcountry can be a challenge, but I am here to shed some light on the subject and lead you in the right direction to finding the perfect board for you to take to the bigger terrain.

My name is Tanner. I am a Curated Snowboard expert with over 10 years of experience in snowboarding and a professional photographer documenting riding, specifically in the backcountry. I am passionate about giving others the advice they need to get out there and experience a beautiful aspect of the mountain safely!

What Is a Backcountry Board?

A van is parked in a snowy area with a snowboard next to it.

Pre Backcountry Day. Photo by Tanner Thibert

A backcountry board is designed to handle unmarked wilderness areas from “out of bounds terrain,” which can range from your local snowed-in area to big alpine mountains around the world only accessible by foot “splitboarding” or by other methods such as helicopter or snowmobile. Due to the technicality and potential safety hazards, choosing a board equipt to take on the backcountry is extremely important.

There are two main types of snowboards suitable to use in the backcountry.

  • Splitboard
  • Traditional all-mountain shape

Separately from this article, you should always look into avalanche safety gear. The backcountry terrain is a notoriously dangerous area due to its variable conditions and various terrain hazards. Therefore, you should always check local resources, such as avalanche forecasts, and come with all the proper safety gear. Some safety gear setups include a shovel, probe, and avalanche beacon signal.

What Should You Consider When Buying a Backcountry Board?

When deciding what to get for your next backcountry board, it is important to consider a few following details:

  • What terrain do I want to access?
  • What is my current skill level?
  • How will I be accessing the desired terrain?

To answer these questions, let's look into the snowboards suitable for the backcountry.

Splitboards

What is a splitboard?

Top down view of a splitboard.

Photo by Jeremy Collett

Splitboards are a type of snowboard designed with a split down the middle that can be detached and used as “skis” to climb/walk up terrain, then reattached into a snowboard to ride down.

How do you use a splitboard?

A splitboarder in uphill mode.

A splitboard in uphill mode. Photo by Hunter R.

On the surface, splitboards look like snowboards but have several latches running down the middle of the board and screw plates on the bindings. You remove the toe lever when ascending the mountain to release the bindings. Once they are off, you unlatch your board's levers that connect it. Lastly, you switch the two halves so the edges face outward and reattach to forward bindings.

What are skins?

Skins on the bottom of a pair of skis. Photo by Camron Zavell

Skins are used to be attached to the bottom of the two halves of the board to prevent sliding and grip snow when walking uphill into the backcountry.

What are the benefits of a splitboard?

Splitboards are a fantastic way of accessing the backcountry. This removes the machine element of the snowboarding experience and can get you away from the crowd. With this option, the sky's the limit for accessing terrain, and you can find routes anywhere that uphill travel is allowed.

Are there cons to splitboards?

Splitboards are great for doing what they do best: accessing the backcountry. However, it is not ideal for resort riding and isn't used for a versatile style of riding, such as the terrain park. Therefore, a splitboard should not be the only board in your quiver.

Traditional Shaped Boards

Aside from splitboards, it is possible to ride a more traditional style of snowboards in the backcountry. However, there are many attributes to be taken into consideration when choosing your board. Let's take a look at those options now.

What makes a good backcountry board?

The main things you want to consider when purchasing your next board for the backcountry are:

  • Flex
  • Shape
  • Size

Many snowboard brands specialize in manufacturing backcountry snowboards, and we will get into a few later on. You must keep a few things in mind if you go this route. How will you access the backcountry? Since you are limited to climbing up yourself without a splitboard, you need to take into account your mode of accessing the terrain. Some possibilities are taking a resort chairlift up and then riding into the backcountry, snowmobiles, and for the more extreme enthusiast: chartered helicopters.

It’s All About Flex, Shape, and Size

A backcountry snowboarder turns in the snow.

Photo by Tanner Thibert

Here are a few useful tips for finding the right specs:

Flex

For backcountry riding, it is typical to go for a medium to stiffer flex. This is because the terrain is typically variable and uneven, and if your board is too soft, that can cause issues with being unable to handle the roughness out there. You also want to have the maximum reactivity to the board because there are times when staying in the right place is critical to not getting stuck or worse.

Typically, you will want to go for a stiffer binding as well. This aids with the same attributes mentioned before. Stiffer bindings get you more control over the board, which can play a huge role in your success in the backcountry.

Shape

The shape of your board can offer various benefits to the type of conditions you hope to ride. Some examples of board shapes are:

  • True twin (and asymmetrical twin)
  • Directional twin
  • Swallowtail
  • Cambered rocker

It would take up a huge section to describe all of these to you, but take a good look into your desired board shape and see if those features will complement your riding.

Size

The snowboard size for the backcountry is the same as your normal resort board, but I recommend that it be on the larger side of the spectrum you usually use. This is because, unlike a park board which would typically be shorter so you have more maneuverability, a backcountry board should be larger so you can trudge through all types of variable snow conditions and keep as much composure as possible.

Graphic showing the pros/cons of split board vs regular board.

Graphic by Tanner Thibert

Notable Brands Offering Backcountry Snowboards

Many brands offer backcountry-style boards, but I will share some of my personal recommendations with you!

Jones Snowboards

The Jones Mountain Twin Snowboard (left) and the Jones Mountain Twin Splitboard (right).

The Jones Mountain Twin Snowboard (left) and the Jones Mountain Twin Splitboard (right)

Jones was founded by a backcountry alpine snowboarder Jeremy Jones. Jeremy is an absolute legend in the industry and has, in many ways, pioneered the discipline of backcountry snowboarding. Based on all that experience, he started a company with many high-quality backcountry and split options. Some examples are linked in the image above.

Lib Tech Snowboards

The Lib Tech Orca Snowboard (left) and the Lib Tech Ejack Knife (right).

The Lib Tech Orca Snowboard (left) and the Lib Tech Ejack Knife (right)

Lib Tech is a personal favorite brand based in the Pacific Northwest. They have many hard-charging backcountry riders on their team, such as Travis Rice and Eric Jackson, who have both designed awesome backcountry models.

In Summary

A man on a snowboard jumping off a cliff.

Photo by Tanner Thibert

Exploring the backcountry is an awesome way to experience nature and hit some amazing unridden lines. However, it does come with some inherent risks because you need to learn many things about safely accessing the backcountry. Hopefully, this guide gave you an idea of where to start when looking for your first or new backcountry board! If you have any further questions regarding your back country board search, please reach out to a Curated Snowboard Expert to get personalized recommendations and find the perfect board for you!

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Written By
Tanner Thibert
Tanner Thibert
Snowboard Expert
I have over 5 years of experience working at Summit at Snoqualmie ski resort in Washington State, both as a lifty, and on their marketing team. I also have over 8 years of experience as a professional photographer working in the outdoor sports industry, shooting with world renowned riders and compan...
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