So the biggest new thing in winter sports is certainly not those pointless snow bikes but instead the much more exciting Splitboarding.
Essentially a splitboard is a snowboard that is ‘split’ or cut down the middle to make a pair of rather odd looking skis. Why do you need skis? Because you often have to ski uphill to find the best snow to glide back down and this is where the splitboard comes into its own. With your split ‘skis’ you can turn around the bindings, add grippy skins and just glide uphill on the snow, which makes touring uphill in search of fresh pow effortless compared to snow shoes….. OK I lie it’s still a lot of hard work!
After my experience of 5 winter seasons on various splitboards, what are the main pros and cons of splitboarding and should you rush out to buy one?
1. Compared to snow shoeing for powder turns you have no weight on your back, neither a snow board for the uphill nor the snow shoes on the down hill. With ‘skiing’ or skinning uphill compared to snow shoeing you don’t lift the weight of the shoes, rather you slide the board and glide uphill. This means a lot less effort and way easier than sinking into deeper light snow. With ‘skis’ on your feet you can quickly navigate up and down those small undulations that you always encounter while on a tour, sliding downhill on splitboard ‘skis’ is a skill but clearly quicker and easier than walking down.
2. Glacier travel on a splitboard is much, much safer than on snow shoes, (but not quite as safe as on skis still) in Europe a lot of resorts like, Verbier, Zermatt and Chamonix access excellent glaciated off piste and touring routes. Glaciers mean crevasses and in winter snow bridges cover up these crevasses, splitboard ‘skis’ are therefore similar to normal skis and spread your weight better than walking. This greatly reduces the chance of falling through the snow bridge into a crevasse and that’s a pretty good thing! However you don’t have the same control as with standard skis due to the assymetrical shape and you can’t ski away from potential danger as easily as touring skiers might due to a looser free heel.
3. Splitboarding is maybe better than ski touring for one simple reason: Snowboard boots are way more comfortable than any ski boots for touring in! At the end of a tour I feel like I am in comfy hiking boots and have no desire to take them off in a hurry, I try not to be too smug but how many skiers can say that! You do need stiff snowboard boots though, so don’t go using park boots or you’ll have little side control when skinning.
4. A splitboard is normally wider under foot, therefore it has more ‘seal skin’ in contact with the snow which means more grip, and more grip means you can go straight up steeper stuff. So no need for that ridiculous French style skier set zig-zagging skin track uphill! The camber profile of a split makes a difference to grip too, I’d always go for a board with a decent amount of traditional camber under foot rather than reverse camber or hybrid camber – this is because I more often have icy climbs than deep powder in Europe.
5. Splitboards genuinely ride like normal boards on powder, so at the top of that deep fresh slope you worked hard to summit, you now get to surf down on a snowboard, and that is always more fun than on skis 🙂
1. Firstly is the price difference over snow shoes, all you need to snow shoe tour is a €50 set of snow shoes and using your normal board off you go (with avy kit too). To contrast that with a splitboard set up which starts at about €1,000, that’s a decent difference! However it does equate to a good quality ski touring package.
2. There are some limitations to splitboard ‘skis’ as I touched on above, firstly they are fatter so they don’t fit in a lot of skier set skin tracks which can be a problem on steep cross slope tracks in hard snow. Unfortunately one foot is normally up-slope above the set skin track and the other lower and that’s a right pain. The other side effect is that the splitboard ‘skis’ curved edge just doesn’t grip the side of a hill like a normal ski does, it has too much side cut and too short, therefore icy traverses can be ‘interesting’ lets say (less interesting than on snow shoes!)
3. Splitboards aren’t super light, they are heavier than a lightweight ski touring set up. Don’t get me wrong they’re not crazy heavy and the better board and bindings can be lighter than an all rounder ski touring set-up i.e. with fat skis and Marker type bindings. The added weight of a splitboard is also the only notable difference going downhill. Splitboards don’t ride or flex particularly differently because they’re split, but models tend to be made stiffer due to the fact they will see most use in big mountain terrain. So stiffness is needed for both up and downhill use. They are exceptions that you can buy but generally the weight and profile means splitboards are less good for playing or jibbing than a standard board.
4.Icing is your enemy, this issue also affects quite a few ski bindings; because in springtime you might start your tour in warm wet snow, as you gain height the temperature falls and that wet snow has transformed into solid ice all over your board. This covers all the sliding interface parts that convert the ‘skis’ back into a solid board (some systems are better than others). It can be quite an effort scrapping and sliding, but saying that I have had to wait for people with certain ski touring bindings to clear even more ice out. Dynafit ski bindings or snow shoers don’t have the same issues!
So there you have it a few things to think about before taking the plunge and getting into Splitboarding. Next have a read of this practical guide:
The key benefit of a splitboard for snowboarders is that while it might be a bit less efficient than a high end ski touring set up, it means you get to go snowboarding in the back country more easily and not have to learn how to ski!
Remember that buying the equipment should always be followed by taking an avalanche awareness course and slowly gaining experience in the back country with knowledgeable people.