What Is Splitboarding?
First off, a splitboard is a type of snowboard. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s go deeper. Splitboards exist for the same reason ski touring gear exists: to ascend snowy slopes and to ride back down. A splitboard is simply a snowboard that splits in half lengthwise. When it’s assembled as a snowboard, you might not even know it’s a splitboard, except for the additional binding and structural hardware on the top, and the horizontal metal line down the middle where the two “ski” edges meet to form the snowboard. You can ride a splitboard just like any other snowboard, except it’s heavier due to the additional hardware and edges. And for that reason, it’s not ideal as an everyday snowboard for resort riding.
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The splitboard is “split” into ski mode to go up the slope. Picture yourself at the bottom of a slope, you simply take off the splitboard-specific bindings, which slide or click right off (you don’t need to unscrew them), undo the hinges or fasteners on the top of the splitboard, and separate the board in half—now you have two skis! This is the part where you go from snowboard mode to ski touring mode. You’re now able to re-attach the bindings at the toe so that the rider is front facing on the skis in touring mode. Your heel is detached, so you can kick and glide your skis forward. In order to achieve the kick and glide movement, you also need climbing skins. These strips of material are sticky on one side with a directional coarse fur-like texture on the base (skins are called skins because they resemble sealskin, from which the first ski skins were made). And finally, you need a pair of collapsible ski poles. The poles are essential to make your way uphill. You’ll find yourself bracing on them with each uphill stride and relying on them for making tight kickturns on the skin track. It’s important that your ski poles collapse because once you get to the top and revert back into snowboard mode, you’ll want to stow your poles out of the way, inside of, or strapped onto your backpack.
Once at the top of the slope, you unstrap from your bindings. Take the bindings off the board, remove the skins, and carefully stow them away, reassemble the splitboard, put the bindings back on in snowboard mode, collapse, and stow your poles. Put your pack back on, check for ice on the base of your board (due to the metal edge down the middle of splitboards, it’s always a good idea to check for ice buildup), strap into your snowboard, and get some fresh turns (YEW!). You earned them!
Splitboards and bindings are manufactured to work together, so you’ll want to make sure the board and binding are compatible if you’re not buying them as a package. There are countless snowboard brands making splitboards in a range of shapes from traditional directional snowboards to dramatic powder-specific shapes. There are about three splitboard binding companies that sell their own brand of bindings as well as branded bindings with other companies, including Spark, Karakoram, and Voile. Your normal snowboard boots will work just fine for splitboarding, although there are now also splitboard-specific boots available.
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Sometimes climbing skins are part of the package and other times they’re sold separately. Make sure the skins you buy are splitboard-specific skins (ski skins will not work). Splitboard skins have an asymmetrical tip, are usually wider, have a pre-cut straight edge, and usually include a tail connector.
•Practice the process of switching into split mode at home. There are approximately fifty different ways to get it wrong from putting the skins on backward (you’ll slide downhill), to putting the bindings on in reverse (the ratchets go on the outside), to just outright forgetting your ski poles. It’s more fun to make these mistakes at home than when you’re cold and feeling rushed.
•You’ll need to cut new climbing skins to fit your snowboard. There are plenty of video tutorials on how to do this online, just know you do not want to do it out on the slopes.
•Skin management is an art—your goal is to keep the glue side of your skins dry. This is easier said than done considering you’re standing in the snow. The G3 Love Glove Skin Bag is a handy storage bag that keeps them dry and, thanks to the clever design, easier to pull apart. You’ll also want to hang dry them at night.
•Safety is no accident: bring an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel and know how to use them. Take an avalanche education class to learn how to safely recreate in the backcountry.
•Follow skin track etiquette (basically don’t posthole or snowshoe in the track) and practice Leave No Trace guidelines when in the backcountry. To read more about Leave No Trace principles in general go here. To read more about backcountry touring etiquette go here. And if you are in the market for UnNew™ Snowboard gear explore here.
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com