For skiers, seeing a mountain you want to ski down but no chairlift isn’t a problem. If you have the right boots, you attach sticky, grippy “skins” to the bottom of your skis and ski your way up. It’s called ski touring, and it has been around for about as long as skis have. Snowboarders in similar circumstances, however, were traditionally out of luck. In a sport where even going across a flat area on a snowboard can be exhausting, traveling uphill wasn’t an option.
But splitboarding lets you do just that. You can walk up a mountain, even over deep powder, before snowboarding down. Not only is it a great way to skip the lift lines, it’s great exercise and it’ll let you snowboard in more remote areas. “If you like hiking in the summer and riding powder in the winter, you’re going to love splitboarding,” says Leo Tsuo, owner of Weston Snowboards.
Splitboards are pretty much what they sound like: snowboards split lengthwise in the middle. A series of locking mechanisms secure the two halves firmly together when you’re boarding and release — even with cold, gloved hands — when you want to climb. At the bottom of the mountain, you flip your bindings to allow your heel lift off the board, then stride forward, kind of like classic cross-country skiers, to head uphill. At the top, just reattach the board, switch your bindings back to snowboard mode, and shred.
In terms of gear, “all the soft goods transfer over really well,” says Izzy Lazarus, a professional splitboarder who also leads climbers on trips in the Grand Tetons for the Mountain Guides. “The difference is, resort clothing tends to be a bit heavier,” she says. And that weight can really hold you back when you’re climbing. According to Justin Ibarra, founder of Colorado Snowboard Guides, you’ll also need a splitboard, bindings, skins, and poles. “You can wear your own snowboard boot,” he says. “That’s one of the few things that transfers from the resort to backcountry.”
To help prepare you for your first splitboarding adventure, we talked to Lazarus, Ibarra, and three more experts about how to dress and what to bring for the perfect trip up — and down — the mountain. Here are their recommendations.
Clothing, helmets, and goggles
Since you’ll be putting a lot of effort into walking uphill, be sure you have clothing that can be easily layered and vented. (We’ve written about our favorite ski and snowboard jackets, along with expert-recommended snow pants, in the past.) You’ll also need a helmet and goggles (for some great ski and snowboard helmet options, click here), but if you already have those from other snow sports, you can wear the same ones, says Tom Johnson, a splitboarder and the global marketing manager for K2.
Ibarra calls the Weston Backwoods a “really versatile board.” Because you will likely be carrying more gear, like food, water, and safety equipment, than at the resort, you’ll be putting more weight on your board, so consider going slightly larger in size. Tsuo says Weston’s “rule of thumb is to size up 3-5 cm.” But with all of the variables involved, he says it’s worth a visit to a local shop to talk to someone in person. In fact, if you’re unsure about new gear, our experts said that many shops offer rental or test programs — and some will even offer classes to help show you techniques.
Morgan Tilton, a Colorado-born adventure journalist who’s been snowboarding, skiing, and splitboarding down the state’s snowy slopes for years, says this all-terrain splitboard has proven “impervious to major damage” year after year, thanks to its durable wood core. “Regardless of the snow conditions in high-alpine terrain, I’ve found that the Solution grips ice and floats through fresh turns, thanks to its hybrid rocker-camber-rocker construction — the cambered center rises off the ground, while the tip and tail curve upward — and directional shape with a nose that’s wider, longer, and more upturned.”
Editor’s note: The splitboard is in limited stock at both retailers; CampSaver allows shoppers to place back orders for styles that are currently out of stock.
Splitboard bindings are unique in that they allow you to snowboard normally, but then when you split the board to climb, the bindings twist to position your feet in line with the board. “Hands down, Spark R&D has the best binding interface,” Ibarra says. Lazarus agrees: “Spark R&D is a great company. They’re super-reliable.” At 2 pounds, 7 ounces, Arc Pro bindings are extremely light, thanks to their carbon and aluminum construction. They also include a two-setting heel riser. If you’re going across flat terrain, your boot can sit level with the ski, but heel risers lift your heel to limit strain to your calf when you’re climbing steep terrain. They make it so your boot heel rests an inch or so above your actual ski. This means you can stand flat footed, even if the hill you’re standing on is sloped. You’ll also need special hardware called pucks, which mount the binding to your board. To ensure compatibility, get them from the same brand that makes your bindings.
Tilton also uses Spark R&D bindings, albeit a slightly different pair. These, she says, make it easy to transition from splitboarding to skiing, “thanks to their efficient Tesla T1 System, which allows them to slide sideways into a bracket on each half of a splitboard and lock into place with a toe ramp that snaps down seamlessly.” Although some folks say getting your pucks and bindings from the same brand is best practice, Tilton has found Voile pucks work well for her and are compatible with her bindings.
Editor’s note: Both types of Arc bindings are currently out of stock at Spark R&D, but the company suggests contacting any of the authorized dealers it works with about remaining stock they may have and has published a helpful explainer about why its bindings are harder to find this year.
Skins give the bottom of your board grip, allowing them to stick to the snow so you actually move up the mountain as you hike. They’re usually made of directional nylon or mohair that slides forward in your stride but grips the snow for traction when you push back for your next step. They stick easily to the bottom of the board and peel off just as easily when it’s time to ride down. “I have been using Pomoca skins for the last four years,” says Lazarus. “I really like them. They’re lightweight, and the ratio of glide to grip is pretty awesome.” Johnson points out that some brands, including K2, will even sell their splitboards in a kit that includes skins, saving you a bit of money.
For beginners, Tilton suggests the G3 Universal skins, which are made of nylon. “Nylon is grippier than mohair (another material used to make skins), making it a better material for beginners, because it helps prevent you from sliding backward downhill as you hone your technique.”
Poles help you keep your balance and push uphill. Plus, Lazarus says, “if you fall in deep powder or sit down without them, it can be superhard to stand up.” Collapsible options aren’t quite as strong as unibody poles, but they can be stored in your bag if you decide you don’t need them. The Expedition 3 is what Lazarus uses, and Ibarra suggests them, too.
If you plan to bounce between splitboarding and skiing, Tilton recommends these poles. Like the Black Diamond poles above, Voile’s are collapsible, making them easy to store when you don