Backcountry snowboarding—splitboarding—is like regular snowboarding, but a thousand times better. The physical challenge is greater. The terrain is virtually endless. The crowds are all but nonexistent. And the snow—Ullr the Snow God willing—is bottomless.
So what’s the catch?
First, jumping into the world of splitboarding requires a hefty investment in new gear. You can use some of your regular snowboarding gear (e.g., helmet, goggles, and base layers), but you’ll have to pick up some key new pieces, too. Since your ability to enjoy the sport will depend on your comfort and safety, there’s not much room to cut corners.
Second, heading into the backcountry requires education (see below) and experience. After you’ve completed your avalanche safety course, find a crew of trusty splitboarding friends who know the area well and share your level of risk tolerance—and, ideally, your level of stoke.
An avalanche safety course
The most important splitboarding tool is located between your two ears. Your brain—more specifically, the knowledge inside of it—will be the thing that keeps you alive in the backcountry. No avalanche airbag can replace an understanding of avalanche conditions, rescue techniques, and appropriate prevention.
Gather up the rest of the items on this list, and before you even think about taking your first turn, register for an avalanche safety course at your local mountain. Book one early in the season so that you have plenty of time to practice what you learned.
Set this Goal: $400 for a Level 1 course
Not quite skis, not quite a snowboard, your splitboard is the vehicle that will allow you both to climb up mountains (when split into two separate planks) and to shred down them (when assembled into one single plank).
Splitboards come in almost as many varieties as regular snowboards do, so talk to a pro at the shop to determine which board is best suited to your skills and riding style.
The mechanism that allows you to switch your splitboard from “skis” for the uphill touring portion to a snowboard for the downhill riding is called the interface.
The two most common interface systems are the Voile puck and the Karakoram. The Voile puck system works with a few different brands of splitboard bindings, whereas the Karakoram only works with Karakoram bindings. When you buy Karakoram bindings, the interface is included, so you can skip this line in the budget—though you’ll have to inflate your binding budget accordingly.
Both systems have avid supporters, so do your research to determine which is best for you.
While most people treat their regular snowboard bindings as a “set it and forget it” kind of tool, you’ll be interacting significantly more with your touring bindings. You’ll have to switch them around every time you change your setup from touring to riding mode, and you’ll be adjusting them up and down depending on the steepness of the terrain you’re climbing.
Prices for touring bindings range quite considerably. For instance, add another $400-$500 to the figure below if you prefer carbon bindings.
These sticky strips of fabric adhere to the bottom of your board on the uphills; the grain of the hairy fabric will help you move forward, not slide backward. Don’t lose the mesh backings that come with them—separating stuck-together skins is the bane of every splitboarder’s existence.
A tool is included with your skins that allows you to trim them down to fit your board perfectly.
So this is what it feels like to ski! Poles are essential for propelling yourself uphill on touring missions. Collapsible ones can be stashed in your pack so that you’re free to enjoy the ride down, snowboarder style.
Beacon, probe, and shovel
Never leave for a splitboarding session without your beacon, your probe, and your shovel.
The beacon (also called the transceiver) is a gadget that you wear strapped to your body. If you get buried in an avalanche, it helps others find you by way of a radio signal. If somebody else gets buried in an avalanche, you can switch your beacon to search mode to locate them. Choose a digital beacon and always, always pop fresh batteries in before you head out.
The probe looks a bit like a tent pole. When assembled, it forms a long stick that is used to help find a person buried under the snow.
You already know what a shovel is. An avalanche shovel is a small, collapsible version of the thing you use to clear your driveway of snow. It is instrumental in digging out an avalanche victim.
(Note: This equipment is essentially useless if you don’t know how to use it; see the first item on this list.)
You’ll need a place to stash your avalanche gear, extra layers, food, and water. The right size depends on whether you plan on making day trips exclusively (in which case, you only need a smaller pack) or if overnighters are in the books (and, if so, how long your trips will be).
Main photo credit: ©istockphoto/frontpoint
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