So You Want to Start Splitboarding? A Few Extra Tips
Splitboarding can be rough. Though it is confirmed by the pow gods to be the most fun you can have on a powder day, you can easily get stuck far behind your skier friends going up on the skin track. So after seasons of being a bum and learning the ropes the hard way, here are some of the things I wish someone had shared with me long ago:
Before You Go
How To Not Get Your Gear Stolen Out of Your Car:
- Create a ghillie suit of trash: your burglar will never know that thousands of dollars worth of gear is hidden below the empty beer cans, Mcdonalds breakfast wrappers, sticky GU packets, and surprisingly stiff socks..
- Lay a trap: place your rusty old crampons and ice axes with points facing up while making sure that they look extra rusty. Always remember that the only thing burglars fear more than jail is tetanus.
- Park next to a Tesla.
What is the real difference between a GU packet and a pack of Sour Patch Kids?
- Breakfast: Preparing a salty breakfast helps you consume more food throughout the day. With a sugary breakfast you have less of an appetite, making it a bit more difficult to consume the necessary calories throughout the day.
- Energy Gels: Just make sure your choice of gel or gummy agrees with your stomach and you don’t get sick of them. We can be honest and say that most of the time you are not setting a speed record so bring some snacks.
- Snacks: Lots of them.
On the Hill
Personally, I think people overthink their clothing. There is a certain amount of suffering involved in being in the backcountry and it might take a second to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is easy to fall into a consumerist mindset and buy the latest and greatest gear when really you just need a couple of solid staple clothing items.
- Layering: I used to think vests were dumb. Now, one of the biggest parts of my kit is a synthetic vest with a decent amount of stretch. I do not sweat very much so a synthetic base layer with a hood and a vest is usually perfect when it’s cold. If you run warm, consider not using tights under your snow pants.
- Down vs. Synthetic: It depends on the area you are skiing in, the moisture of the snow, and how many days you are spending splitboarding. For places with wet snow like the PNW I will trend more towards synthetic or some hydrophobic down. While for the cold snow in the Rockies I would use down because my layers aren’t going to get very wet. For sleeping bag choice, I will usually take a synthetic bag if space permits, because nothing is worse than getting into a cold tent at night and having a frozen sleeping bag. Especially during the night when condensation is building on the ceiling of your tent and dripping, you do not want your sleeping bag to become unusable. However, with hydrophobic down technology, the gap between synthetic and organic is closing.
- Multiple gloves: Take a couple pairs of gloves ranging from super warm mittens to some pretty light leather/Gore-tex gloves. Try to keep them out of the snow whenever possible and while you might be a little bit slower transitioning, wearing gloves while transitioning on cold days will save your fingers. Also try ice climbing gloves, there are a lot of good options here!
- Layering in Springtime: A base layer t-shirt with a flannel is all you need if the weather is warm enough. You will look stylish – and as long as you are not rolling around in the snow, you will be protected from the sun and most of the wind.
- Layering in Wintertime: A good breathable hardshell or a softshell is perfect for cold mornings or when it’s lightly snowing. The trick is to keep from sweating too much and having your sweat cool your skin down, which can also bring your core temperature down.
When coming to a sharp turn in the skin track a kick-turn is crucial for making it up the hill. It allows you to make a turn without having to jump or lose any elevation.
The length of a splitboard is usually a bit shorter than its ski equivalent which allows you to be able to pivot your ‘ski’ around more easily. Below are some tips on how to perfect your kick-turn.
- Plant your poles: having both your poles solidly planted so that you could balance all your body weight on the two poles makes your kick-turns a little bit more forgiving.
- Flick your ski: When making the first pivot fully extend your leg and flick the tip of your ski up. It’ll make it easier to avoid nailing the side of the skin track with your ski and falling. Don’t be afraid to lift the tip up with your pole if you mess up swinging over.
- Bend your knee to the side: it might be a little bit funky feeling, especially if you have torn an ACL, but by doing a little move with your knee the ski will not move around as much making it a bit easier to bring it around.
- Climbing skins: It might get a bit confusing between buying climbing skins or glide skins (or general skins!) but for most of the skinning you’ll be doing, you are going uphill 80% of the time. Go with climbing skins.
Edging on Traverses Going Up Hill
Splitboarder’s mortal enemy: traversing a steep slope with icy conditions. It can be disheartening watching your skier friends use that big, effective edge and chug up the hill in their stiff boots. You are left wondering if you’re going to just casually slide off the mountain.
The effective edge on a splitboard is shorter than on skis, and combined with softboots, makes it pretty difficult to really edge into the side of the skintrack and feel stable. While the simplest and most expensive solution is to use hardboots such as PhantomIndustries Slippers or Dynafit TLT’s but there are some cheaper options and techniques to stay upright.
- Kick to the side: A lot of skin tracks are made by skiers and are just a little bit too narrow for most splitboards. But by taking your ski on the uphill side and kicking HARD to the side, focusing on breaking through where your binding is at, you can usually break that icy crust and gain purchase to keep stepping on up.
- Forge a new path: Make a lower angle skin track. You won’t get the sexiest pics of a crisp skin track, but at least you’ll make it up the hill. If it’s really bad you can just boot up the hill – if the snow is choppy and the corners of the skin track are broken down, you’ll probably make it up the hill faster.
- Do some core work: You’ll build some strong abs and you won’t slide off of the skin track as often. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but it doesn’t matter how much beer you drink if you are still doing abs while drinking. If you can be stable while on one leg, it’ll keep you upright when you might be losing friction on the other ski.
- Pistol Squats: It’s crazy how many times you make a pistol squat motion on a crappy skin track, especially if the snow is bad. Practice off the skin track and you’ll be prepared when the situation inevitably arises.
- How Much to Bring: I normally take a liter of water when touring (even on longer tours). The only time I change that is when it’s a stormy or very cloudy day and I won’t be able to use the sun to melt snow. Then I’ll usually opt to just take a stove like a Jet Boil. Bringing a light stove with a small canister of fuel weighs less than a liter of water and takes minutes to melt snow. So just take a bottle and keep filling it. As a bonus, you have a warm drink to keep you comfortable in low temperatures.
- Things to add to water: Bringing lightly caffeinated tea is a game changer. It gives you a little boost and tastes delicious.
- Tape a water bottle and hang it off the side of your bag in the sun with some snow in it and it will melt out throughout the day giving you a bit more extra water.
- Always take spare parts: A big advantage of splitboard bindings over ski bindings is you can fix them on the go.
- Roll your skins: Much better than folding them or using a skin saver
- Bring friends.
- Straight line everything.
- Practice transitioning!
A Few Final Tips
I don’t know if music helps you get up that hill, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Vaping On The Job – Dougie Poole
- Sports – Viagra Boys
- I’ve Seen Footage – Death Grips
- Damaged Goods – Idles
- Mutterschiff 308 – Iguana Death Cult
Overall, splitboarding is a pretty sweet way to see the mountains, shred some of the best powder, and hang out with your friends. I wish I had read more articles when I first started splitboarding instead of just learning by being a little bit more miserable and cold.
About the Gear Tester
Albert is a climber and splitboarder who feels as much at home on a portaledge as on an icy belay. When he’s not getting dehydrated in the mountains, he works as a photographer and attempts to fix his old Jeep.