A lot of my blog posts relate to Splitboarding adventures although I guess many people probably don’t know what exactly splitboarding is and how one works! So hopefully this post explains it in a bit more detail.
Put simply a splitboard is a snowboard that splits into two skis allowing you to slide uphill in order to ride downhill. It lets you escape the world of chairlifts and crowds and explore the true mountains. For me snowboarding, was not about the jumps in the park, or the pisted slopes but instead about being away in the mountains searching for places to draw lines in fresh powder. I happily accept that some days I might only having one 45 second descent that takes 7 hours to climb up, but if it is a good one, then I’m happy and that’s the ethos behind splitboarding.
Skis were originally created as a means of transportation because they allow skiers to go cross country through deep snow in flat areas (nordic skiing), bur more recently it is all about downhill skiing in resorts, but the third and growing option is that with the addition of sticky (faux) seal skins you can go both uphill and downhill for ski touring or ski mountaineering.
When exploring the wintery backcountry, skis are the most practical solution. They are lighter, less faff and hold an edge well when climbing across a slope, however if you’re addicted to surfing powder on quiet slopes on a snowboard, then a splitboard is your best option.
A splitboard is a snowboard that splits into two parts to create touring skis, these can be used to glide uphill with skins on like a skier can. At the top of the hill the two skis are latched together with hooks and a metal latch and the bindings slide across to stiffen the board and allow you to ride downhill on the snowboard. In order to allow climbing they have a free heel, pivoting at the toe and that attaches to become a fixed binding like a standard snowboard for the descent. The only other option for snowboarders are snowshoes, these don’t allow you to glide as you’re moving so require a lot more effort. On my previous experience touring with snowshoers the splitboarders are about 50% faster/less effort on gentle powder slopes on steeper slopes it is closer.
Most days when I use ski lifts with the splitboard attached I get asked the same question, how does it feel riding downhill? Everyone assumes it rides awfully, but I really can’t tell much difference. I have the Jones Solution split and Jones Flagship standard, they are essentially the same board and I can’t really tell the difference when riding one or the other. The splitboard is a bit heavier and that is noticeable initially, however the biggest difference is the heavier backpack you will have to be carrying when touring! I am just as happy ripping fast down a piste on the splitboard too, it can carve and handle speed perfectly well.
The various parts needed to get started are listed and explained below they are sadly not cheap. The minimum parts needed are; Skins €150, Board €400 to €1000, Interface kit €100 to €150, optional Splitboard specific bindings €300 to €700, collapsible poles €50 to €150 so a total of about 1400 for mid range package. Look for second hand options because lots of people get lazy and end up selling their kit or love it and upgrade!
Skins are no longer made from seal’s skin but the principle is the same. Think of a cute seal on ice, it can slide uphill out of the water but doesn’t slide back down. Their fur is slick one way and provides friction the other way. Ski and splitboard skins are the same, made from mohair and nylon but they glide forwards and stick backwards, so you can slide uphill and not back down the hill! They can hold you stationary at surprisingly steep gradients. With their wider ‘skis’ splitboarders actually have more traction straight up slopes than skiers!
The skins normally have glue on the back to attach to the base of the skis. Gecko make glueless skins that use a silicone compound that can be washed clean and works well when wet. The down side of glue is that stuff you don’t want, sticks to it, like dirt and pine needles. As a result the skins then become less sticky and can fall off!
These are essentially a traditional snowboard cut in half length ways. The manufacturers add metal edges to the straight inside edges on the ‘skis’ to help give traction on the uphill, good boards also have metal in the tips to protect the edges from the extra abuse of climbing. The boards are also strengthened in vital places to prevent weakness but also to ensure the flex profile feels like a traditional board, often through the use of carbon fibre strips. Cutting your own board in half with a circular saw works ok too, using the Voile DIY kit. This kit contains templates for cutting and drilling as well as all the parts needed, but it is never going to ride as long or as well as a manufactured one. Interestingly some companies make splitboard halves separately like skis and stick them together while some cut a snowboard in half to ensure a tight fit so kind of like a DIY board!
3. The uphill and downhill interface parts
The interface is the parts that allow the board to be used up hill and then reattached into a normal board. An American company in Utah called Voile make the most common and ‘Original’ system. Karakoram in the States too, make a rival system that uses the same standard screw holes on the board but the way the binding attaches is different. I haven’t used a Karokoram setup, so I can only comment on the more common, cheaper Voile system. The following are the parts needed for both;
Tip and tail clips. These clip together the tip and tail of the two halves for riding downhill, Voile and Karakorum make very similar ones.
Board clips -Voile use Chinese hooks that slot together below the tip and tail hooks to help align the two halves and attach them together to prevent flexing. Karakoram use a latch that clips rather than hooks but serves same purpose.
Voile Pucks – These are the 4 plastic ‘pucks’ or square blocks which have a notch at their base to allow the bindings to be slide across them, in downhill mode. This attaches the bindings to the board but also uses the binding base to create the main rigidity of the board in downhill mode. A pin then slides across the binding in front of the pucks to keep the binding secure and in place.
Toe pivots – For climbing uphill there are the toe pivots that allow the bindings to pivot for gliding along with a free heel. These are not interchangeable between Voile and Karokoram.
Behind the toe pivots are hell lifts that can be used to support your heel on steeper climbs, this prevents fatigue and makes skinning up easier. Voile and Karokoram are the same, however newer Spark bindings have these built in so one is not needed on the board separately.
Most boards come with just the chinese hooks/Karakorum latches and the tip and tail clips. Therefore you nearly always need to buy an interface kit. The Voile light kit has to be bought when using splitboard specific bindings from Voile or Spark and retails for an extra €100. The Voile universal kit comes with additional metal plates that allow any normal snowboard binding to be used and retails for €150. This is the cheaper option overall as you can use old bindings but with a far lesser performance.
The Voile DIY kit is for splitting your own board so avoid this, it is also the most expensive kit option too!
Otherwise the Karakorum bindings come with all the Karakorum interface you will need which is specific just to their bindings it cannot be used with Voile or Spark products.
These look the same as your normal snowboard binding with 2 straps and high back however the base differs to allow attachment to the splitboard interface just discussed. There are 4 main types of bindings available 3 are splitboard specific and the fourth is the universal kit mentioned above that means you can use standard board bindings. The down side is the extra weight and the binding sits noticeably higher for a less pleasant ride.
A stiffer binding is preferable as it helps make skinning uphill easier, lighter is also good as it means less effort on the way up!
Firstly the bindings that use the Voile interface;
Voile light Rail is a splitboard specific binding from voile that slides straight onto the pucks voile make.
Spark R&D make 2 bindings that are both splitboard specific and are machined from aluminium to slide onto the Voile pucks. Seen as stiffer and now lighter than the Voile light rail bindings. The more expensive option they make is stiffer and lighter.
Karakorum make a completely different binding system that needs their interface. The bindings were slightly heavier than Spark’s ones but super stiff and reliable to use. I have never used them but they look pretty good, they aren’t cheap by any stretch though! Although do factor into their higher cost that the interface is included with the binding so saving €100 over the voile compatible bindings.
K2 make their own new interface but it seems heavier and more complicated for no gain, so avoid.
5. Accessories needed
Firstly you need collapsible poles. These are vital for helping you climb uphill, they add stability and help propel you forward. They can then be collapsed and attached to your backpack for the ride back down.
Ski Crampons, these attach to the binds and with spikes dig into icey snow each time you slide the other foot forward, therefore they help provide bomber grip and added security, I rarely use mine but are a handy backup to carry.
Often the final slope is too steep to skin so a boot pack is needed, therefore a back pack to attach your board to is very useful.
If your going somewhere steep or Icy like a huge volcano in Chile, then an ice axe and Grivel G10 universal boot crampons can be life savers!
Avalanche kit, you will almost certainly be using you splitboard in avalanche terrain so remember to have probe shovel and transceiver.
As always I might have forgot something or if anyone has any questions please let me know!