Getting the itch to explore a little further, away from endless crowds, and surrounded only by pristine backcountry? Your best option is to get a splitboard setup. This will help you get up any slope strewn with fresh, powder snow and carve you way down breathtaking natural beauty.
What is Splitboarding?
Splitboarding was born in the backcountry. It is making your way uphill to access untouched snow far from the usual ski tracks, and getting that perfect line on your way down. In this sense it resembles ski touring, but with a splitboard. If you’re one that seeks exhilaration in paths less travelled, then spiltboarding is for you. To that end, besides a splitboard, you’ll need a splitboard interface and bindings, snowboard boots, climbing skins and a pair of collapsible poles.
What is a Splitboard?
Splitboards are the latest breed of snowboards, and as the name suggests, ones that can be split in half (lengthwise) into two uphill skis, and then put back together. Though there’s the temptation of splitting old boards, or creating your own, nothing beats the performance and fun of a factory splitboard. These come with specially designed binding mounts to allow for walking uphill, and then reassembling the board for your trip down. If you enjoy the serenity of the backcountry, getting a splitboard backcountry is the way to go. But choosing what you want and need depends on other factors as well.
Choosing A Splitboard
What you end up with hinges on the type of terrain you choose, plus your riding style. Each will factor in different shapes and designs to tackle different kinds of snow cover, a range of materials, as well as suit you in terms of overall length and width. There are splitboards optimised for the varied snow in the backcountry, those that verge more on freeriding and freestyling, and even women’s splitboards.
If you intend on traversing powder snow up big peaks, and at considerable distances, you’ll want something lightweight, possibly in carbon fibre if your budget stretches that far, or fibreglass if it doesn’t. Profiles matter with every board. For a backcountry splitboard, look to directional boards, with a shorter tail and more pronounced and longer nose.
Tails are also stiffer to allow for better carving downhill, while noses are designed to be softer for better traction uphill. With more camber or midsection lift, the resulting board is not a comprise, but one that works best in different parts of the slopes and for the different techniques.
Where powder is present in more abundance, you’ll want a somewhat different splitboard. Either a directional or twin-directional board (or one that resembles a true freeride snowboard) with more rocker (concave shaping) in the nose to better handle the softer and deeper snow uphill and a bit wider up front than a typical splitboard backcountry.
The downside is that you lose a little control downhill with the tapered tail. For freeriding and freestyling, splitboards get a little stiffer, and can be directional for more control downhill, or twin-directional and with more camber to balance out the hike uphill when the snow starts to dig in.
Length and Width
This is like choosing a regular snowboard and the choice of splitboard you make should be in a similar size to your regular board. Your height and weight are determining factors here. Longer boards will provide better flotation in powder snow, while shorter boards will be easier to manoeuvre.
A general guide is to get a board hovering around 160cm for someone who weighs in at 70 kilos. Naturally, you’ll go for a longer board if you carry more weight, and a shorter board if you’re on the thinner side of the scale. However, this is not a strict rule and personal preferences also play a part. Some riders just want longer boards, whereas others prefer shorter boards.
As for widths, go with a splitboard that fits your snowboard boots just right. There are wider and narrower versions of a board in the same length, so choose what is most comfortable without sacrificing manoeuvrability.
Splitboard Attachments and Accessories
Since splitboards are a combination of both skis and snowboards, there are unique binding interfaces that are used with a particular pair of bindings. Interfaces connect the bindings differently; for uphill climbing the bindings are hinged like touring skis, whereas for downhill and with the board in one piece, the bindings lock into a snowboarding stance. Mounting interfaces come as either channel systems or inserts and require the right type of binding.
To connect the two parts together into a single board, hooks and tie clips at the nose, midsection and tail do the job of mimicking the rigidity of regular boards. With the board split, you’ll also need climbing skins. These are pieces of specially designed fabric strips that stick to the front of the two separate parts when climbing uphill. They need to provide adequate traction in thicker snow.
To help you on the way up, a pair of telescopic poles will give you much-needed balance. They’re also great because they retract to a size that fits in a backpack. The backcountry can have hidden pockets of ice under the powder snow, and a pair of crampons can help in intractable terrain. As for snowboard boots, you can use your regular pair, or purchase splitboarding boots for the best compatibility and control.