The first few times I went touring on a splitboard I found the task of switching from tour to downhill mode a bit overwhelming. Take the skis off, remove the skins, fold them up and store them, remove the bindings, put the board together, put the bindings back on, collapse and store the poles, strap the board on…. and now I’m getting cold so put my shell on, put the sunglasses away, put the helmet and goggles on, change gloves…. Like many aspects of backcountry skiing, practice is required to achieve a good level of comfort.
I frequently go touring with skiers, perhaps more often than with other splitboarders. So in addition to fumbling with equipment, I would have to endure a ribbing from impatient group members. It’s funny how these “outdoorsy” skiers suddenly forget how to stand at the top of a hill and bask in the glory of the Rocky Mountains for an extra 3 minutes when they have a splitboarder in the group. But to their defense, no one wants to stand at the top of a great run and wait to go for it.
If there’s a downside to splitboarding it is the switchover between touring and riding. Here are a few things you might consider in order to make your transition as smooth as possible:
- First of all, practice, practice, practice. Don’t wait until you’re in the backcountry to figure out your gear. Spend some time practicing your transition at home. If muscle memory takes over during your switchover you should be able to carry on a conversation with your partners while doing what needs to be done.
- Splitboard bindings have come a long way. The traditional pin system works just fine, but it’s a little slower compared to some of the newer technologies. Spark R&D’s Tesla system has eliminated the pin while Karakoram has eliminated the need to even remove the binding from one’s foot. Updates like these are shaving time off of mountaintop transitions.
- While putting your board together, it is good practice to place your bindings in the snow upside-down. This keeps snow from getting stuck in the tracks in the bottom of the binding, which could cause you to struggle when trying to lock the bindings in place.
- Skin savers aren’t saving you time. Using them makes it a little easier to rip your skins apart when going into tour mode, but putting them on your skins before storing them in your pack at the top of the hill costs extra time. Ultimately, they are just one more thing to fidget with and there is no time savings in using them.
- Pick the right shell and avoid changing clothes while transitioning. A good breathable softshell will allow you to dump extra heat and sweat on the way uphill, but will also keep you dry and warm enough on the way downhill. Or if it’s really snowing you may need to go with GoreTex Pro which works well through intense cycles of work and rest while in snowy conditions. Your bulky resort coat probably isn’t going to cut it in the backcountry.
- Find a good touring glove. In order to avoid changing gloves along the way you need a glove that a) is breathable enough to be comfortable while skinning, b) does not inhibit dexterity so you can wear them with ski poles and while transitioning, and c) is warm and water resistant enough to drag through the snow.
- If you wear a helmet, consider one with good venting. Helmets can get hot so I tend to carry mine on my pack for a long tour into an area, but once it’s on my head I prefer not to keep taking it off and on again while making laps. Some helmets like the Smith Vantage have vents that can be opened and closed with the flip of a switch according to how much airflow you need.
- Have a quiver of snappy comebacks. If you’re out with skiers they will inevitably take the low road and make cliched remarks about waiting on splitboarders. Be prepared for this and take the opportunity to remind them how much more fun you have during your descent.
Overall, it is important to remember why we go into the backcountry in the first place; because we enjoy being outdoors and skiing without crowds. Don’t lose track of this because you are too focused on rushing through your transition.
If you’re interested in more tips and discussion on splitboarding, Bent Gate is hosting a Splitboarding 101 session at the shop on December 30 from 6-8pm. All abilities are welcome whether you’re a seasoned backcountry veteran or you’re considering buying your first board and you want to figure out if splitboarding is for you. Hope to see you there!