Getting Started with Splitboarding
Thinking of taking up splitboarding for your next trip into the backcountry? Snowboard expert Isaac C. tells you everything you need to know.
Splitboarding is a great tool for escaping the lift lines at a ski resort, finding untracked lines and exploring the vast winter backcountry. While splitboarding offers ultimate freedom for snowboarders, there is further preparation required to go splitboarding and return home safely. To get started exploring the backcountry, be sure to acquire the right gear and the necessary training to return safely.
Splitboarding requires its own unique set of gear, from a new splitboard to avalanche safety gear. The four essentials of gear are a splitboard setup and the trinity of required safety gear: beacon, shovel, and probe. Never leave the trailhead without safety gear.
What is a splitboard? Splits are just like a normal snowboard, except they can easily be split into a pair of skis. Having a pair of skis allows for the use of skins to move around the backcountry, eliminating the need to carry heavy and inefficient snowshoes. Splitboards began as crude homemade planks that started life as a solid snowboard before being cut in half. Now, most manufacturers of snowboards create dedicated splitboards which are torsionally stiffer than a DIY board, better connected, and ride more like a solid board. While a DIY board can be a good budget option, the best splitboarding experience will be had with a dedicated split. Manufacturers are now creating splitboards for all riding styles and all choices of terrain. Most common splitboard types are all-mountain, freeride or powder splitboards.
It is recommended to use splitboard specific bindings that are built to be lightweight, provide a toe pivot point in tour mode, and then hold the board together and provide torsional stiffness in ride mode.There are fewer options for splitboard bindings, with Spark R&D and Karakoram being the two main contenders. Other brands such as Union and Voile also produce good splitboard options, but these are less widespread.
Skins are the thin pieces of fabric used to tour in ski mode. Skins have glue on one side to stick to the base of the ski and have a single direction fabric on the other side. These provide the traction to go uphill and may be the single most important piece of kit. A bad pair of skins means a miserable uphill that leaves you exhausted at the top of the run. There are many options for skins from manufacturers such as G3, Voile, and others. Splitboard specific skins have attachment points that are specific to the nose and tail shapes of splitboard skis, and provide full coverage of a splitboard. Most skins will need to be cut to fit the specific board they are being used on. Some manufacturers of boards, such as Jones, have skins that are sized for their boards which require no cutting, and also have brand-specific tail clips that are easier to use and lighter weight.
Never leave the trailhead without safety gear. A three-antenna avalanche transceiver, sturdy collapsible shovel, and a probe that is at least 260cm long are necessary items for partner recovery in the case of an avalanche. Additional safety gear includes avalanche airbags and avalungs. Airbags are backpacks that contain a large inflatable bag that helps a rider float in case of an avalanche. Airbags are not guaranteed to prevent burial but can help.
Backcountry riding can be dangerous, and avalanches are a major threat. Without proper safety gear, lives will be lost in the backcountry.
Some additional gear that makes life more enjoyable while splitboarding are poles and a good backpack.
A good pair of collapsible poles will allow for more stability while skinning and can be helpful while skinning through tricky spots.
A good backpack with specific pockets for shovels and a probe is another important item for touring. A backpack will make carrying safety gear, water and any other gear much more comfortable and will also allow for easy access to rescue equipment. Backpacks can also come equipped with an avalanche airbag in some cases.
Splitboarding in the backcountry can be dangerous and required training and knowledge are necessary to ensure safe travel. Be sure to be educated on route-finding, avalanche conditions and partner rescue.
Take an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) level one class or equivalent. Every person that travels in the backcountry needs to have this education. This course teaches the basics of traveling in avalanche terrain, analysis of snowpack and avalanche danger, and partner rescue techniques in case of an accident.
Tips for Your First Tour
After acquiring the right gear and taking an avalanche course, it’s time for your first tour. Grab a partner or two and get out there! Skinning up a mountain has a sharp learning curve, so be prepared to learn lots of techniques to get up the mountain. Try your best to not take the skis off and posthole through tough sections. Use trees, bushes or anything you can to get up the skin track. When you get to the top, put on warm layers and put your board back in ride mode. This is easier after practicing at home instead of on a windy mountain top. Finally, enjoy the freedom, enjoy the fresh snow and enjoy the lack of lift lines.
Backcountry snowboarding may mean fewer runs overall but allows for a more pure experience. Mosey up and rip turns down. They may be the best turns of your life.