While snowboarding at resorts is fun, pushing yourself and exploring new frontiers is even more fun. Backcountry splitboarding is one of the fastest-growing facets of snowboarding – it’s a great workout, it’s fun, and it lets you experience the mountains in an entirely new way. In fact, many ski resorts are opening up to human-powered snowboarding inbounds, so that you can skin a few laps before or after work, without riding the chairlift. That said, the backcountry can be dangerous, presenting a whole new set of challenges. In this article, we’ll go over some of the gear and education you’ll need to get into splitboarding.
Sounds good, right?
But what exactly is splitboarding?
Splitboarding is the most efficient way to access backcountry snowboarding terrain. Special snowboards split in half to allow you to essentially ski. Combine these boards with special bindings and sticky “climbing skins” and you can climb peaks and ride the lines of your dreams.
- Splitboarding terminology
- Splitboarding education and safety
- Essential splitboarding gear
- Clothing for splitboarding
Before we go any further, here’s some lingo you’ll need to know:
- Backcountry:Any mountains that are not part of a ski resort. The backcountry does not have ski patrol, and is not avalanche controlled. Every time you enter the backcountry you are responsible for your safety.
- Sidecountry / Slackcountry: Backcountry areas accessed from the gates of a ski resort. Often you can ride a lift to these areas, but will need to hike back from the bottom of your run. Just because they are accessed from a patrolled, avalanche-controlled area does not make them any safer than backcountry areas, they should be treated with the same respect.
- Skins:Sticky sheets of Nylon or Mohair that go on the bottom of your board, allowing you to climb with it.
- Skintrack: The up-track that you skin on to get back to the top.
- Avy gear: Avalanche safety gear – at the minimum this consists of a transceiver, a shovel, and probe. We’ll dive into how to choose these later on.
- Touring: Hiking on your snowboard, split on the way up, solid on the way down.
Splitboarding education and safety
Education – An avalanche safety class
Backcountry splitboarding and skiing is inherently dangerous. The snowpack is not controlled like it is in a resort, and it’s unpredictable. Before ever heading into the backcountry we recommend taking an AIARE Level 1 class. The ability to evaluate the snowpack, recognise hazards, and perform companion rescue is essential to any form of backcountry, or sidecountry travel.
Avalanche safety gear
Any time you’re headed out to ride outside of a patrolled and controlled resort, you need to have at the very least an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe in your pack, with the knowledge and practice of how to use them.
Look for a shovel that’s made mostly out of metal, with a “D” handle grip. This grip shape is easier to use, and allows you to dig faster. If there’s an emergency you need to be able to trust your shovel, and know that it can hold up to the task. Plastic shovels are not suitable for backcountry use.
An avalanche probe helps to pinpoint people who may have been buried in an avalanche. Talk to local experts and find out how long of a probe you need for your area’s average snowpack. And remember, no one has ever died because their partner was carrying too long of a probe.
Finally, get a good avalanche beacon and learn how to use it. Make sure you’re always wearing it and that it’s turned on every time you enter the backcountry. Practice using it often so that it becomes second nature and there’s no chance you’ll become flustered or confused in an emergency.
Essential splitboarding gear
All your safety gear should live in a dedicated backcountry backpack. Make sure your backpack is big enough – it’s a bad idea to cram your pack so full that when you have to get something out, you’re not able to close the pack again. About 30 litres is a good daypack size. It’s a good idea to carry a small repair kit in your pack as well. You should have a multitool to tighten anything on your bindings, as well as some zip ties and duct tape. A few repair essentials can be the difference between a great powder day, and an emergency situation.
Now for the fun stuff. There are so many options for backcountry snowboards, from DIY kits to full custom boards. We recommend starting with something familiar though. Many brands, like Jones Snowboards or Arbor make split versions of their popular inbounds boards. If you can find a split version of your inbounds board it will make for a smooth transition. While you can snowshoe, and carry your board on your back, splitboarding makes backcountry travel far easier. You’ll also need a pair of climbing skins, as described above, that are trimmed to fit your splitboard.
You can either adapt your inbounds bindings to work on a splitboard with various kits, or buy touring specific bindings. We recommend the latter. Splitboard bindings allow you to transition from a solid board on the way down, to a pivoting touring binding on the up. Look for bindings that will fit your boots and have good durability ratings.
To start out you can just use your normal snowboard boots to tour in. They’ll work just fine. Once you’re more experienced you can figure out if backcountry-specific boots would work better for you.
Poles are just for skiers right? Well, yeah, right, but when your board is split, you’re basically a skier, so you’re going to need poles. Make sure you get splitboard specific poles, since they collapse down small enough to fit in your pack when you’re riding down.
Clothing for splitboarding
Splitboarding requires the same basic clothing as inbounds snowboarding: good waterproof shells, and intelligent layering. A Gore-Tex shell jacket and pants are a good place to start. Look for gear that has a slightly slimmer fit, and has big, easy to use vents. Brands like Patagonia and The North Face make backcountry-specific shells that work really well.
You’ll also want a warm puffy jacket that packs down small in your pack, as well as wicking wool base layers. And don’t forget the gloves. It’s a good idea to have thinner, liner gloves for when you’re skinning, and thicker shell gloves for the way down.
Finally, make sure you have a pair of good sunglasses that don’t fog easily to wear on the skin track – skinning in your goggles almost always leads to fogging.
So go get the gear, get educated, and discover the magic of backcountry splitboarding!