Splitboarding for Beginners - The Ultimate Guide
Ever looked up the hill and thought, “wow, it would be such a cool experience to hike up and ride down; away from the crowds, in the backcountry”? Us too! That’s why we got to thinking about splitboarding. It’s a pretty awesome way to get around on the mountain, utilise your skills, build your confidence and ride the lines the tourists would never find. So for you, and for us, we have put together a beginners guide to splitboarding!
For the uninitiated, splitboarding allows snowboarders to explore terrain away from the lifts and pistes of a resort. A splitboard is basically a snowboard which has been split in two vertically and has a special binding system. This allows for it to be used as two ‘skis’ to hike uphill and then be joined back together to create a snowboard for the downhill.
Before the invention of the splitboard, snowboarders who wanted to tour the backcountry would need to use snowshoes to travel uphill while carrying a board on their rucksack. Snowshoes were inefficient and cumbersome and the additional weight to carry meant that snowboarders were slower and used more energy – meaning they couldn’t cover as much ground as skiers.
The splitboard has leveled the playing field and advances in the technology which goes into them means that they now ride very similarly to normal boards. It might seem like an awful lot of effort to go to for a few fresh lines but you’ll soon come to realise that (to use a cliché) it’s the journey not the destination when it comes to splitboarding.
Splitboarding For Beginners
Quick Find Navigation
Things To Consider Before Going On Your First Adventure
Planning your adventure is a big part of the splitboarding trip; we are referring to all the research, planning and training that should go into the pre-trip stage. Reading this article is an excellent first step, but additional points should be thought about.
- Prepare a packing list and practice packing for your adventure a few times. Hardshell snowboard jackets and snowboard pants are usually your best options for a splitboarding tour.
- Extra reading, we recommend these 2 articles about avalanche safety and about the protective equipment for freeride skiing.
- Fitness training, Youtube has plenty of resources.
- Speak to your friends, make sure they brush up on training, reading etc, to ensure you are all comfortable and trust one another.
Start small with your splitboarding trips. It’s a process that should be enjoyable. It should be a wonderful thing that helps you gradually build confidence, skills and technique. Therefore we recommend you steer clear of doing a 4 day camping splitboard trip right away. Start small and consider mapping your adventures a few hours at a time. Where there is an intermediate level hike for a couple of hours with a fun and easy ride down. Build to the couloirs and extended camping trips.
What Is Splitboarding?
Cutting out the confusion, splitboarding is essentially a standard snowboard split into two halves. These halves transform into skis for touring uphill. Of course, this is a super simplistic explanation! The equipment itself is extremely sophisticated and revolutionary, but at least now we know!
Adhesive-backed skins’ are attached to the base of the skis (the board split into two) to provide traction on the snow allowing you to tour uphill. When you get to the peak, the rider removes the skins, stores them and then reassembles the snowboard. Now you are ready to shred the pow!
How Does A Splitboard Work?
A splitboard combines the features of touring skis with a traditional snowboard. Before a climb the board needs to be split into two halves by first removing the bindings (there are several different binding systems which all work in slightly different ways), then unhooking the clips on the nose and tail of the board. At this point the splitboard will be in two pieces and the bindings can be reattached onto each ‘ski’ in the uphill position – remember that you need to turn both pieces of the board so that the longer edge that was in the middle of the splitboard is on the outside.
Skins can then be attached to the underside of each ski which gives grip to move uphill. Once you’ve reached the top of whichever perfect line you’re going to conquer the steps are reversed to put the board back into one piece and in downhill mode.
The first splitboards to come onto the market lacked rigidity which was apparent when using them as a snowboard. But technology has improved and modern splitboards have more torsional stiffness and better support making them more responsive and comparable to a traditional snowboard in terms of ride quality.
Before splitboards were commercially available, backcountry snowboarders wanting to explore further created their own at home. Today you can buy kits which will allow you to DIY a traditional snowboard into a splitboard using various tools. While this is an option and might appeal to someone who already has a snowboard that they enjoy riding, the process of sawing it in half may remove some of the properties which appealed in the first place, like torsional stiffness.
As well as getting to grips with new equipment you’ll also need to master a new technique known as ‘skinning’. Skinning is the gliding movement which allows you to move uphill on your ‘skis’. Splitboard bindings in uphill mode hold the toe of the boot in place, leaving the heel free which allows the user a range of movement similar to walking and lets them tackle steep terrain.
It feels like there is a massive hurdle or overcome when understanding all the technical splitboarding equipment. But don’t worry, no need to be overwhelmed. We have divided the article into the most critical and essential items and how to know what you need. Let’s dive right in and get learning!
How to Choose The Right Splitboard
Choosing a splitboard is very similar to choosing a traditional snowboard – you need to consider your weight, ability, riding style and the terrain you will be using it on.
As with traditional snowboards, splitboards are designed with different uses in mind and have different properties which lend themselves to particular styles and conditions – there’s lots of technical detail involved with various shapes, sizes and camber and rocker profiles available. There are also women’s splitboards on the market, so girls don’t feel that your only option is to buy a smaller men’s board.
For those just starting out it’s probably best to go for a versatile board to begin with, while you figure out what will suit you best.
Recent innovations in splitboard bindings have made them lighter, easier to use and more efficient. The most commonly used are strap bindings – these work in a similar way to traditional snowboard bindings but are stronger and more lightweight and can be mounted in both a snowboard stance and touring stance.
Manufacturers have developed different binding interfaces so as always you need to check that all your gear is compatible. The most common system uses pucks which are mounted on the board for the bindings to slide onto in downhill mode and a hinge binding for touring which secures the toe leaving the heel free, but there are other options including bindings which clamp or twist onto the board.
Most splitboard bindings have a relatively hard flex compared to snowboard bindings – this gives more control on steep terrain and deep snow (both of which you’re likely to encounter when touring) but there are different flex options available depending on your riding style.
All splitboard bindings have heel risers which make it easier to skin up steep slopes by changing the angle that the heel of your boot meets the binding – usually they’ll be two different height options. Look out for bindings which have heel risers which are easy to move into position, you want to be able to use your pole rather than having to bend down. It is possible to use snowboard bindings on a splitboard but you’ll need to adapt them using a One Binding system mount.
Whatever binding interface you choose, make sure that you are comfortable with how to convert it from uphill to downhill before you hit the mountain – you don’t want to be holding your group up struggling with clips and fastenings when there’s lines to be ridden.
Splitboard Climbing Skins
Climbing skins attach to the base of your splitboard and their dense pack of fibres give you the grip required to move uphill. They get their name from the seal skin which was originally used to make them, but fear not, modern skins are constructed from a mixture of Nylon and Mohair. Manufacturers combine these two particular fibres to get the best properties from each – Nylon is cheap and hard wearing but wetter snow can ball up under it whereas Mohair (made from Angora goat skin) gives better glide underfoot but wears out more quickly.
The underside of skins are covered in a strong adhesive, which is what secures them to the ski. Before attaching skins, your splitboard needs to be broken into its two pieces. Then the skin can be clipped onto the nose of each ski and aligned before being pressed firmly onto its length. You can buy skins which need to be cut to fit your splitboard but increasingly manufacturers are producing skins which perfectly fit their most popular splitboard models.
Your skins need looking after properly to protect the glue and get the most uses out of them. Once you’ve finished for the day they should be hung and dried in a dust free area away from direct heat then stuck together with the glue on the inside so it’s not exposed to the air.
If you’re going to be taking your skins on and off several times during a day of touring, keep them in your jacket pocket so your body heat will keep them warm while you’re not using them. It’s a good idea to practice attaching and removing your skins at home before your first tour – you want to be confident you know exactly what you’re doing before you attempt it in the elements on the side of a mountain.
Using poles will often be a new experience to snowboarders but they’re an essential piece of kit when splitboarding. They help you balance while skinning and allow you to push with your arms on flat terrain. Splitboard poles are designed to be light and collapsible so they can be packed away into your rucksack for the downhill.
Crampons are a piece of metal which attaches to your binding and sits under your boot giving you extra grip on icy or steep terrain. They have teeth which bite down as you press your foot into the binding and a hinge which allows them to lift out of the snow as your heel comes up. You shouldn’t need to use them often but it’s a good idea to keep them in your rucksack as you can guarantee that the one day you leave them at home you’ll come across some hard packed ice and wish you had them with you.
Be aware that each set of crampons are not compatible with every make and model of splitboard so you need to check that whichever ones you buy will work with your setup. Crampons are a useful piece of kit, however because they allow you to access challenging terrain and snow conditions, if you’re new to splitboarding it’s important to think about your ability rather than setting out on that tricky line just because using crampons allows you to.
Splitboarding is a sport of temperature extremes – you will find that you heat up quickly while skinning even in low temperatures and then cool down rapidly when you stop to change your equipment and board down. In this respect it’s more of an mountaineering activity than an alpine sport so it’s useful to bear this in mind when planning what to wear.
When riding in resort and spending the day getting on and off chilly lifts, insulation is key, but this means that you’ll find that your existing snowboard jacket is too warm and bulky to use when splitboarding. Opt instead for a hard or soft shell jacket without padding that you can wear as a top layer when necessary to protect you from wind and snow. Which you choose is personal preference – soft shells will be more breathable and give greater freedom of movement whereas hard shells offer better protection from wind and water. Either way you’ll want something with good technical features that’s light and easy to roll up and store in your rucksack while you’re skinning.
Again your resort snowboard pants won’t be suitable to splitboard in due to their weight and padding. You’ll be more comfortable in a pair of hard or soft shell regular fit pants with useful pockets and zip ventilation. You can wear a thin base layer underneath as necessary to give you a bit of insulation but you won’t want too much bulk that will make them uncomfortable to skin in.
Layers on Layers
Layers are your best friend when dressing for a day of backcountry exploration. They’re the easiest way for you to regulate your temperature and deal with hot and sweaty hikes and chilly descents. To get you started look for a variety of light layers preferably in natural fabrics which will wick sweat and that you can add or remove as you need to.
Start with a base layer in a breathable fabric, a midlayer which will provide some insulation and a lightweight winter jacket with down or synthetic padding that will roll up to be stored in your rucksack when not in use. Everyone deals with temperature differently and it may take some trial and error before you find a combination which works well for you.
Keeping your hands and feet warm is important too. A good quality pair of comfortable ski socks are a must, as well as a pair of thin liner gloves to wear while skinning and a pair of snowboarding gloves or mittens for the downhills.
Splitboarding Safety & Safety Equipment
It’s important to remember that although being out on the mountain exploring new terrain with your friends is a great thing to experience, you’re also putting yourself into a dangerous environment. Situations can change rapidly in the backcountry and if you’re not equipped to deal with them you can easily find yourself in serious trouble.
Before you head too far out of resort, taking an avalanche safety course will give you vital skills and knowledge so that you’re able to assess snow conditions and avalanche risks and know what to do in an emergency. Also, if you’re new to a resort you can hire a guide for the day who will be able to show you which areas are safe to splitboard.
In Your Backpack …
Firstly, the rucksack itself will need to be an appropriate size for what you’re planning for the day. There are lots on the market depending on what your needs are but whatever model you choose should be big enough to fit everything you’re taking comfortably (you don’t want an overstuffed bag exploding with kit everytime you need to get something out of it), have a snowboard carrying system and easy to access outer pockets to put kit you might need to get to in a hurry. If you’re planning long tours deep into the backcountry a rucksack with a built in avalanche airbag should be considered.
Transceiver, Shovel and Probe
A transceiver, shovel and probe make up the basic avalanche safety equipment you should always have on you in the backcountry. Transceivers should be switched on and worn at all times and your shovel needs to be sturdy enough to move heavy snow efficiently. You need to be able to assemble your probe quickly and most likely wearing gloves so make sure you know your way around it.
Practice using your safety equipment regularly so that you’re confident with it – the people you ride with need to be able to trust your ability in an emergency. If you’re new to splitboarding you may be able to rent safety equipment from a hire shop in resort before you invest in your own.
First Aid Kit
Accidents happen, especially on the mountain, so a compact first aid kit is a vital piece of kit to have in your rucksack. Check it regularly to make sure that anything that has been used is replaced and everything is within expiry date.
Pen Knife Or Multi-Tool
Invaluable if a binding comes loose and needs attending to and can also be used to knock ice off your interface when switching from touring to downhill. It’s a good idea to carry some extra screws for your bindings with you in case any of them work their way out and need replacing. Cable ties and duct tape can also be useful for emergency repairs.
You’ll expend energy quickly when skinning so pack some calorie dense snacks and a bottle of water to keep you hydrated – you might find yourself out on the mountain for longer than you expected. Also, everybody loves snacks.
Best Places To Go Splitboarding
Lofoten Island, Norway
Lofoten is a world-class splitboarding destination for many reasons. Firstly, it emerges majestically from the land where it meets the sea; there is always something ethereal and haunting about riding where sea and snow merge. Nestled on the arctic coast, the unique maritime conditions make for stunning conditions- do watch out for the storms, though. This is undoubtedly a destination for the intermediate to experienced splitboarder. If you are a beginner, make sure you plan your routes really well to ensure stable terrain.
Now we head to a real secret spot, Dalvik, Iceland. This awe-inspiring splitboarding destination can be pitted against i’s Nordic counters and come our fighting! With massive snowfalls and peaks rising from sea level up to 1400 meters, the breathtaking Troll Peninsula on the northern tip is a stunning place to put your splitboarding skills to the test. Dalvik has varied terrain, to say the least, but the priority is on the thrill of the climb and less on the downhill. Be sure to gear up, do your research and plan effectively as this is a big adventure location.
Chamonix is an OG splitboarding destination, the home of freeride us course also home to sensational splitboaring routes. The beauty of Chamonix is you can have your pick between easy routes that take only a matter of hours or more challenging destinations around the Valle Blanche and towards the Italian border. Head towards the top lift at Grands Montets, which provides access to big lines in the Argentiere Basin; these BIG lines deserve the effort, away from the crowds, just you and the French mountains. Earn your turns.
Gressoney and the Monte Rosa are in general, holds a place very close to our hearts. This stunning valley and Gressoney in particular, is the perfect destination for splitboarding as a beginner. Many of the higher routes are easily accessible by lifts, which drop you off at stunning backcountry basins. Gressoney is the ideal location to practice your set up, hiking for an hour or so, get your splitboard legs then enjoy a sick run down. They also have more challenging terrain for as you build your confidence.
We love the Valais area- that’s on record. The 4 Vallées boasts some of the most epic off-piste terrain available in the Alps. It is unrivalled in the diversity and challenges of its landscape. It’s no wonder that this gem of the valley, Nendaz is a top resort for splitboarding. With plenty of awesome slack country and boot packing lines, you can also skin up and explore the area where you don’t have to fight all the hipster freeriders to get freshies. Armed with a terrain map, you can explore the backcountry in Nendaz as a beginner splitboarder and enjoy the fruits of your labour!