What Is a Splitboard and How Do You Use It?
Snowboard Expert André Santos explains the hype, mechanics, and gear behind splitboarding. He also gives an example gear list for a new splitboarder!
With a growing interest in outdoor recreation among the general public, the amount of people picking up skiing or snowboarding in the last few years has increased dramatically. And as resorts get more crowded and expensive, many snowboard enthusiasts have been turning to backcountry travel and splitboards as a means of shredding sweet lines without the crowds.
What Is Splitboarding?
In essence, splitboarding is exactly the same as snowboarding. Technically speaking, there are many differences, but one main difference stands apart. While a splitboard may look and feel the same as a snowboard on the way down, splitboards have a special design that allows you to use them for traveling up the hill too. While going uphill, splitboards resemble either two skis or a snowboard that has been cut in half. This gives your legs free reign to walk up the hill, and once you're at the top you can lock the two halves back together with a few locking mechanisms and bam - a snowboard!
A little confusing? Let me break it down. I ride a Jones Solution deck. When it's all put together, I am pretty much ripping runs like any other snowboard, but when I go ahead and put it in full touring mode (two skis plus skins), it allows me greater access to the real experience I'm looking for when heading into the mountains. A little bit about the Jones Solution splitboard setup—I use Union Explorer Bindings with a basic pair of K2 Raider boots. The bindings in tour mode allow your boots to stay locked in, but your heel to move freely up and down enabling you to walk. When I get the top, I utilize the Karakoram hooks on the deck to lock the two skis together. Reattaching the bindings is as simple as twisting and locking, with an extra metal key to keep things secure.
Though splitboarding is a bit newer, manufacturers have been taking notice of the growing popularity of the sport. The first few trials of split boards were a little rough but they have really dialed in the process a bit more these last few years and made splitboards both better designed and more easily available. Every year they get a little better and given the popularity, it's been easier than ever to give helpful feedback to the manufacturers and I'm hopeful for the improvements we'll see in the industry over the next few years.
One thing we do know for sure is that splitboarding is a lot better than flopping up the mountain with snowshoes or trying to figure out the best way to attach a snowboard to your back. So, if you’re someone who is craving off-the-beaten-path runs, dying to get away from resort lines and upsells, and generally has a love and passion for spending moments on the trail, a splitboard may be the best decision and investment you ever make for your outdoor recreation.
If you want to learn more about the sport, there are lots of ways you can gather valuable first-hand information. For example, you can start a chat with one of our Snowboard Experts here at Curated or you can look at groups and online communities that have been gaining traction to see what all the hype is truly about! I feel lucky here in Vermont because there is a great splitboarding community (Splitboard Vermont) full of passionate outdoorsy people who are dedicated to sharing information and enjoying the woods all throughout the state! So a warm shoutout to Splitboard Vermont on that one! I’m sure there are more communities out there if you know where to look.
What Do You Need to Get into Splitboarding?
- Splitboard and skins.
- Touring snowboard bindings (splitboard-specific bindings).
- Snowboarding boots (some are more touring-friendly than others).
- Collapsible poles — don't cheap out on these, a solid pair will last you for years.
- Touring backpack with relevant backcountry gear (varies based on the location of your turns).
Example Splitboard Setup
This example setup I’m going to explain is geared toward a snowboarder who wants to get started with touring. There's still a lot of room for improvement in split setups, and there's a variety of ways that manufacturers and DIYers will engineer and implement bindings and touring setups. Some prefer to focus more on the touring efficiency, while others would rather have a more true and traditional ride down. There’s no one right way to build your setup, so reach out to one of our Winter Sports Experts to find out what would be best for you!
Here is my example setup that features a splitboard, skins, poles, bindings, and boots:
The Arbor Coda is a directional twin with a rocker end setup. It will excel in powder-like conditions but also allow you to handle all-mountain runs. I love Arbor as a company; it has been in the snowboard industry for a while and its commitment to the environment does not go unnoticed. Arbor is one of the most sustainable board-makers in the market, with its recycled-steel sourcing for setting edges and the use of bio-resin that can be locally sourced and sustained. This deck comes with Karakoram clips, which are some of the highest-rated splitboard hardware options out there right now.
Splitboard skins connect to the bottom of your board in uphill mode to give you enough traction to walk up the hill. Jones Nomad and Nomad Pro climbing skins are both made with a blend of 70% natural mohair fiber and 30% synthetic nylon. The best materials for skins can vary a bit depending on the type of snow you tend to get where you live. Though this one is a pretty good all-around option for any kind of snow, be sure to ask an Expert which skin material would be best for you! The mohair provides glide and a soft skin feel, while the nylon improves grip and water repellency. The Jones tail clip is also nice and lightweight! Jones skins are treated with Ever Dry anti-glopping treatment. This coating keeps the skins from absorbing moisture and prevents snow and ice from building up under the skin.
Interesting fun fact on skins: the term comes from way back in the day when various indigenous groups living in the Arctic region used sealskin to help them travel!
The Black Diamond Trail Explorer trekking poles offer a simple solution to your backcountry needs. They are durable, highly adjustable, and comfortable to use.
Union Explorers are split bindings that are incredibly durable and comfortable. You'll feel like you're in a set of normal bindings for trees, park, groomers, and all-mountain runs. Union combines the standard pin system with the Split System baseplate to strengthen the connection between board and binding. Just one pin changes the mode and locks it into place. For touring, the binding slides into the climbing cradle and is locked into place with the pin. For riding, the binding slides onto the baseplate, which rotates over the center of the board, and the pin slides through the middle of the baseplate for maximum connection.
A favorite of park purists and those who prioritize comfort in touring, the traditional lacing of the DC Mutiny boots give you the best adjustability and ensures total heel control when going up and down the mountain. The combination of EVA memory foam and high rebound heat-moldable liners ensures that you will get the perfect fit in these boots, reducing any chance of heel lift but giving the toebox plenty of space to breathe and stay warm.
This lightweight, multi-layer liner is equipped with a 360-degree power strap for extra ankle support while anatomical latex J-bars offer superior heel hold (an absolute dream for backcountry applications). On top of that, DC has also been keeping an eye on the environment and is on board with the Save Our Snow initiative, using 100% recycled materials for its liners and footbeds.
NOTE: You should also have a solid ski/snowboard backpack, avalanche safety gear such as the beacon, shovel, and probe listed in the example setup, and avalanche safety knowledge before heading out there. Other gear you need could be extra food, water, a first-aid kit, navigation, or headlamps. I won't get too much into the safety gear here but below are some resources if you are interested in learning more.
- American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
- American Avalanche Association
- Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center
- Avalanche Canada
How Does the Splitboard Actually Work?
There are a few different variations and styles of splitboard out there today, but one thing they all share in common is that they all start out as a normal snowboard with an extra metal edge down the middle. This edge is used to turn the board into two skis. Once split in half, split boards will have a few features that differentiate them from a regular riding setup.
The board will have two sets of hooks, two sets of tips, and touring bindings that allow for uphill travel mode and ride mode. The two hooks are usually made out of steel and are placed strategically between the riding bindings and the ends of the board. When in tour mode, these clips can be pushed back so they do not interfere with the middle edge of the skis.
The two tip clips are mostly found at the very tail end (tail clips) and the very nose of the board (nose clips). They usually have a plastic hook that can tension down once it's secured with a metal anchor on the other side of the board. The touring bracket will allow you to face both bindings to the nose of the board and easily switch from ride mode to touring mode with one steel key or pin attachment.
Climbing skins should be cut so that you have no overhang — you'll have one that will go to each respective ski. When removing them, ensure that you either have a plastic roll-up (like the one Black Diamond gives you) or you are folding them in half. Bringing along the rollup will help the glue on your skin last longer, as they won’t be adhering to as much surface area when stored this way.
Other things that may go on your board are split pucks. Some bindings will offer these and others will provide more of a glide system, as Voile does.
Personally, I'd go for the pucks, as you'll be able to utilize your touring bindings with a regular deck setup if you want to, and you’ll get better flexibility when adjusting your freedom of degrees. So in essence, a puck system may allow you to get the benefits of both splitboarding and regular snowboard bindings — I'd check out the Union Explorers!
Before You Head Out!
Let’s say you just got yourself a sweet new split setup and you're ready to slap on your splitboard boots and rip some backcountry terrain. There’s nothing like rocker-camber-rocker underfoot for a stance in some fresh deep powder!
If you want to have a safe and fun journey, you'll want to practice your transition from touring mode to ride mode — know your equipment! You can do this at home before you ever take your gear out on the mountain. That way, you're not learning on the fly in the cold snow, trying to figure out how you're gonna make it down.
For me, I like to put my setup in touring mode before I get it into the car — that means I unclip hooks and tips and set up my splitboard bindings to face the nose. I line up my skins to their respective skis, pulling them down tight and making sure they don't overlap off the edges while the entire adhesive surface is touching. I grab my small 26-liter Gregory daypack for most trips because it has enough volume that I can pack a probe or shovels but still maintain my grip and balance when heading downhill.
After skins are on, layers are packed, and bindings are set, I'm ready to show up to a track, turn my avalanche beacon on, click my boots in, and start my ascent. There is no better feeling than skipping the lift lines and earning your turns!
Any unanswered questions about splitboarding? Hit up one of our Snowboard Experts and we'd be happy to chat through them!