The snow fell, the gear is packed, and the alarm is set for 5 am. The race for first chair has begun. Well, it turns out you and 200 other people had the same great idea and now you’re just waiting in lift lines and arm wrestling your buddies just to get a fresh line. 2 hours later, all the snow has been turned up and tracked out. Off in the distance, endless peaks of untouched powder taunt you because you have no way to access it. It’s two deep to hike, you don’t own a helicopter or a snowmobile, and you’re sick of lugging tons of extra gear like snowshoes. Good news bud, you’re not alone, about 15 years ago powder enthusiasts invented the splitboard by cutting their snowboards in half so they can easily traverse untouched terrain with way less gear.
A splitboard is pretty much what it sounds like, a snowboard that is split lengthwise down the center. This split creates two skis that allow you to glide above the snow and traverse long distances with little effort. Not only do these work like giant snowshoes, but you no longer have to carry your board on your back which will reduce weight when hiking.
When traveling uphill, you attach a “skin” to the bottom of each half of the board. Back in the day, Skins were made out of seal skin. Then the 21st century happened and companies decided that killing seals is no longer their thing, so they invented a synthetic version. The purpose of a skin is to create a smooth glide when moving forward, but when moving backwards the skin grips the snow so you don’t slide downhill. It’s sort of like petting a cat. When you stroke from front to back it feels smooth. When you pet the cat from back to front you are going against the natural flow of the fur and it feels grippy. If you need even more grip, you can attach a special splitboard crampon for accessing steeper and icier terrain.
You may be thinking, “if you cut a snowboard in half, how do you get it back together?” Once you reach your destination, you unstrap, take in the view, pick your line, and change your split from tour mode to riding mode. To do this, your board comes with special clips that are located on the nose and tail of your board. You simply put the board together and snap the clips. After the board is together, you rotate your bindings out of tour mode into your snowboard stance. The bindings help create a firm connection between both sides of the board providing stability. The combination of the clips and bindings unify the two split pieces reducing awkward flex patterns so your board will ride like a normal snowboard.
Accessing the backcountry can be incredibly rewarding and fun, but it’s important to do it safely. Outside of basic splitboard gear there are many accessories like shovels, backpacks poles, and avalanche safety gear such as beacons, probes, and airbags that are necessary for navigating the backcountry. It’s not just about owning the gear, it’s important to know how to use it and making sure that everybody in your crew is avalanche educated. You may end up having to save each other’s lives. No need to be scared, just be prepared.