If you wanted to join a backcountry tour as a snowboarder a few years ago you’d have found yourself snowshoeing along in the wake of your ski buddies, struggling with your board on your back.
Fast forward to right now and the Dawn Of The Age Of Splitboarding. With a snowboard that splits in half enabling you to walk, skins on the bottom to give you grip while ascending a slope, touring bindings with heel steps and extendable poles, finally snowboarders can easily access all the same stunning backcountry skiers have had to themselves for so long.
It’s only in the last 5 years that the technology has developed to make split boarding so accessible that now tours and courses are springing up at a rate of knotts too.
Corinne Mayhew, one of the highest qualified female snowboarding instructor and Tignes Spirit’s resident gear expert, told us: “The technology is now developing so quickly – we’re now seeing the same technology used in backcountry snowboards used in splitboards. It’s so much easier. Previously you were trying to keep up with touring skiers, while carrying your snowboard on your back and using snowshoes – that’s knackering! With a splitboard a lot more places are accessible and it takes you much less time to get there.”
The popularity of the sport has risen in parallel with a spike in the popularity of ski touring, which we wrote about in this previous article. The larger resorts are becoming tracked out so quickly after a fresh snowfall that everyone is going further afield to find new lines. Not only that, the sport is maturing along with its followers, Corinne says: “First generation snowboarders from the 90s now have kids and the park isn’t as appealing any more. They want to progress and have adventures – so splitboarding is perfect. It opens up a whole new world of snowboarding.”
The latest, easy-to-use bindings system is the Spark R&D. Previously, boots were attached by wires and pins but were hard to get off and on. The new models have a toe clip, which just slides on in the middle of the board and clips down really easily, plus has the advantage of stiffening the board. Hinges at each end of each board to lock them together and it’s easy to adjust the bindings while they’re on.
The skins are the same as those used for skis, cut just on the inside of the edge. Crampons slot into the bindings with teeth.
Splitboarding is actually safer on certain types of snow than using snowshoes, because you’re spreading your weight over a wider area and you can slide. Plus snowboard boots are easier than skis to walk in, giving it a massive advantage in the backcountry.
Corinne told us why she loves split boarding: “It opens a whole new world of snowboarding beyond the crowds and parks. I love the feeling of getting away from it all and really immersing yourself in nature. There’s no rush or competition, just a real appreciation and mutual respect for the beauty of the mountains and the animals that live there. The added treat of finding untouched powder with only your friends in sight is also an amazing bonus!
“I love heading off the beaten track, away from even the touring crowds. I’ve had some amazing days adventuring with different people all over Europe, who I probably wouldn’t have been snowboarding with normally. Spring is always the time when people have less work and are able to enjoy the warm sunny conditions, with amazing soft snow. Of course it’s always of ultimate importance to splitboard with people you trust to be safe and knowledgable in the backcountry as we all want to avoid an emergency in the middle of nowhere!”
So what do you need to be looking out for if you’re going to get involved in split boarding?
Corinne estimates you’ll need to spend about €1000 on a set up and looking second hand. Her advice is to spend the extra on a good brand and kit as “you’ve got to be confident in your equipment when you’re in the middle of nowhere!”
She adds: “Make sure you have the right size of splitboard (a little longer than your normal board but not too long!) and that the bindings are also the appropriate size for your boot. Make sure that the board and bindings are compatible before heading out and practise changing into the touring mode and back again before leaving home. This becomes alot more stressful if you’re doing it for the first time at the top of a mountain in the a bitterly cold wind! Women should look out for women-specific boards, which are made narrower, not as stiff and shorter.”
For women, Corinne recommends the Burton Family Tree Spliff 148 for the shorter length and S-rocker to give the ultimate surfy feel and a stiff tail for pow slashes.
Make sure the poles you take are of the ‘microscopic’ variety so that they will fold up super small and not hit you in the face when your’e riding down. Always take crampons and if in doubt, just put them in.. don’t wait til it’s too late and you’re stuck half way up a mountain unable to move!
Obviously, a guide is also a necessity on any trip.
Tignes Spirit have a great range of split boards and Corinne and her team are on hand to give their expert advice.
Who is split boarding for?
Corinne says she “would recommend splitboarding to any competent backcountry rider or rider who feels confident riding powder.”
She adds: “Always go with a guide and be very clear about your abilities before setting off so your guide will take you to an appropriate place for you skill level. Most splitboards are pretty stiff so longer boards will be more difficult to turn in the powder if you are less confident. However, they will charge through the more difficult, chopped up terrain where normal boards would not be stiff enough to do so. I would recommend a shorter board for less competent riders but all of the Burton range are great all-round splitboards suitable for all riders. When you’re on a tour you should always move at the pace of the slowest/least confident member of the group and make sure there is a strong rider at the back of the group.”
The first Ladies Spring Snowboard Camp takes place in Tignes from 25 April, with technical, freestyle, park coaching and split board guiding. Gear from Tignes Spirit, instruction by Corinne with Mayhew Snowboarding, accommodation from Mountain Sun at Chalet Melezes. The 3-day camp costs from £369 including coaching, accommodation, meals and transfers. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org.