It may feel like spring on the East Coast right now, but there’s still some winter left — which means there’s still time to get into the sport of splitboarding (and to take advantage of great end-of-season sales).
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 two 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.
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.
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.
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.
Since splitboarding typically takes you away from resorts, you have to carry your own amenities with you. Bags are great for storing your layers, food, water, and safety equipment. The BCA Stash 30 has winter-sport-specific features, like a freeze-proof hydration sleeve and plenty of places to stash unused poles.
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