As snowboarders, we are obligated to represent in the backcountry and out-of-bounds terrain. For too long, these areas have been dominated by our forward-facing friends!
But thanks to the invention of the splitboard, you can access terrain that was once only reachable by snowshoe, snowmobile, or helicopter.
Over the past few seasons I’ve therefore really immersed myself in the world of splitboarding. I’ve even taken courses and professional guiding sessions.
If you are ready to begin your own journey into the backcountry, my Splitboarding 101 Guide is the best place to start!
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Splitboarding
The barrier to entry for backcountry terrain entails skill level, physical conditioning, and knowledge, but also logistics.
While booking a cat or heli trip is possible, these means of accessing untouched territory aren’t economical for most riders. Certainly not every weekend!
Skiers, on the other hand, have never had this dilemma. Civilizations dating back over 4,000 years have used skins to travel uphill in snowy conditions. Alpine touring was ingrained into ski culture long before snowboarding was even invented.
But as snowboarding gained popularity in the 1980s, the only option for riders was to snowshoe in the backcountry or carry their board up the mountain and ride down.
Thankfully, in the mid-1990s, the first DIY Voile Split Kit was released, unlocking access to terrain all over the world. However, availability was still limited.
Splitboarding would take years to catch on and has only truly seen substantial support in the last decade.
Your splitboarding gear is the foundation of the sport. Without the proper equipment, we’re just snowboarding.
As a result, it’s essential to understand each component and how it allows you to transcend the restrictions of a single plank.
A Splitboard is essentially a snowboard that can be split into two separate skis for climbing uphill. When assembled, it functions like a regular snowboard for descending.
Choosing the right size and style of splitboard is crucial for optimizing your performance on both the ascent and the descent.
The Anatomy of a Splitboard
Here’s a brief explanation of each part of a splitboard:
1. Tail/Nose Clips: These clips are designed to keep the two halves of the splitboard securely together when in ride mode. They ensure a secure fit between the two halves so that the board feels and acts like a traditional snowboard on descent.
2. Pucks: Pucks are the mounting points on the board – where the bindings attach when in ride mode. They allow for quick transition between touring and riding configurations. The bindings slide onto these pucks and lock into place for downhill snowboarding.
3. Deck: This refers to the main body of the splitboard. It is essentially the snowboard itself, which can be split into two separate pieces for touring mode. The deck is constructed similarly to traditional snowboards, using a combination of wood, fiberglass, and other materials.
4. Nose/Tail Hooks: These are additional securing mechanisms, keeping the splitboard tightly together when in snowboard mode. While tail/nose clips ensure the ends of the board are aligned and connected, the hooks help maintain alignment and connection along the length of the board.
5. Heel Rest: In touring mode, the heel of your snowboard boots is free, much like in cross-country skiing. This allows for a natural walking or skinning motion. The heel rest provides a place for the boot heel to rest on, especially during flatter sections or when making kick turns.
6. Touring Bracket: This is where the toe of the binding attaches to the splitboard in touring mode. The touring bracket allows the binding to pivot, letting the rider lift their heel while skinning uphill.
How To Choose a Splitboard
When purchasing your first splitboard, look for a design that suits your riding style and the terrain you plan to explore.
I recommend choosing the length of your splitboard based on weight (or our splitboard size calculator).
The process should otherwise be the same as picking out a traditional board. I won’t lecture you too much about the various specs, as I’m sure you’re familiar with snowboard tech.
- Camber and rocker profile
- Budget (these bad boys ain’t cheap!)
2. Splitboard Bindings
Bindings are pivotal in splitboarding (literally), enabling smooth transitions between touring and riding modes. These specialized bindings offer flexibility and ergonomic design, allowing your feet to pivot while ascending and lock down for descents.
Splitboard bindings are grouped into puck-based (passive) bindings or the Karakoram system, also known as active bindings.
With puck bindings, pins or another type of locking system secures the bindings to the pucks. An active system uses a locking mechanism found in the baseplate. Both mounting systems work great.
Generally, if you are looking for the top-of-the-line option, you’d choose the active or Karakoram system, and if you want a reliable yet more affordable setup, we’d recommend pucks.
3. Splitboard Boots
Ready for the good news?
You can use your regular snowboard boots for splitboarding!
Ideally, they’ll be reasonably supportive ones with a reasonable degree of support. If not, you can pick up another pair for splitboarding.
Specific splitboard boots are designed with a balance of stiffness and flexibility, catering to uphill climbs and downhill performance. Like ski boots, they often have a walk mode that allows articulation for comfortable hiking.
Proper fit and comfort are paramount, as you’ll spend extended time in these boots during ascents and descents. Invest in boots that provide ankle support, warmth, and compatibility with your chosen bindings.
Climbing skins are essential for ascending slopes without sliding backward. These adhesive strips attach to the base of your splitboard, providing a grip against the snow.
Good skins offer efficient glide and traction and should be tailored to fit your splitboard’s dimensions. Practice attaching and detaching skins before heading out to ensure a smooth touring experience.
Adjustable poles are indispensable for splitboarding. They aid balance, help conserve energy on uphill climbs, and provide a source of momentum on flats.
Look for lightweight and collapsible poles with comfortable grips and wrist straps. Make sure the poles are the correct length for climbing and riding (if applicable), and consider models with snow baskets for optimal performance in deep snow.
6. Avalanche Safety Gear
If you’re reading splitboarding guides, I’d assume you already know about avalanche safety gear. The bare minimum is of course a transceiver, shovel and probe.
You might also consider an avalanche airbag and I always recommend wearing a helmet.
A backpack designed for splitboarding carries your essential gear and provides efficient organization. Opt for a pack with dedicated compartments for safety equipment, snacks, hydration, and extra layers.
Look for features like straps for carrying your splitboard during steep ascents, and ensure the backpack fits comfortably and securely, allowing freedom of movement while riding.
Splitboarding terrain is divided into backcountry, in-bounds, and out-of-bounds. Your skins allow you to expand your access to terrain, whether you are at a resort or miles from indoor plumbing.
The splitboard was designed to give snowboarders access to the backcountry without getting dropped off by helicopter. Thanks to this incredible invention, skiers no longer have the advantage of touring.
While access to the backcountry is a transformative achievement for snowboarders, it comes with great responsibility and deserves respect. Just because you can skin uphill to remote terrain doesn’t mean you should.
The backcountry can be an unforgiving and hostile environment, so ensure you are adequately prepared to step out of the comfort of the resort.
2. In-Bounds Splitboarding
As ticket prices skyrocket, making snowboarding an even more expensive sport than ever, uphill traffic is on the rise.
Once you have the gear and are comfortable using it, you never have to purchase a lift ticket! Check the uphill route on your trail map to ensure you are touring the resort safely.
Resorts also serve as gateways to the backcountry. You can take a lift, drop a side or back bowl, and skin back to the resort side of the mountain.
If you use the resort to access the backcountry, you must exercise caution and respect for the terrain. While the resort is nearby, you don’t have the luxury of ski patrol to get you out of trouble.
Before you go off-grid, it’s a good idea to get in some practice touring. You want to be comfortable putting your skins on and off, touring, skinning up steep hills, and riding downhill.
1. How to Set Up a Splitboard
Setting up a splitboard involves transitioning it between touring (ascent) and riding (descent) configurations.
To set up for the ascent on a splitboard:
- Start by separating the two halves of the splitboard for touring mode.
- Attach the climbing skins to the base of each half for uphill traction.
- Rotate your bindings to face forward and secure them to the touring brackets, ensuring your heels can lift freely for walking.
For descending, remove the skins and connect the board halves using the nose and tail clips, as well as the side hooks. Attach the bindings over the pucks in a typical snowboard stance. Ensure all of the clips and hooks are securely fastened, and your board is ready for downhill riding.
Here are some great videos from the guys over at Whitelines:
I highly recommend putting on your skins and taking them off until you can do so without any issues. You don’t want to be figuring out how skins work on the side of a mountain.
Then, get some practice laps on a mellow cross-country ski trail with a low elevation change. This will get you comfortable with your gear and touring.
One of the biggest mistakes beginning splitboarders makes is not practicing touring on flat and downhill. You want to get your transitions down and be comfortable with the wind in your back before heading into the backcountry.
I also recommend riding your board downhill as practice. The edges feel a little different to your traditional snowboard and can take some getting used to.
3. Touring On Flat
As a new splitboarder, you will likely struggle to tour. So don’t overdo it. Recognize that your body isn’t used to the motions of cross-country skiing and plan accordingly.
Once you’re in the snow, you want to find a rhythm. Be conscious of your posture and stand up as straight as possible, keeping your weight centered.
Most beginners rely too much on their poles for trajectory. You must find a consistent rhythm that drives you forward to maximize output.
4. Uphill Technique
You’ll quickly find that touring on flat is pretty easy, but once you get an incline, there’s far more demand for technique and cardiovascular output.
On steep hills, you’ll need to flip up your climbing bars. These pieces of metal are integrated into your bindings so your feet have less distance to move up and down (which will save your calves).
Try not to lean forward too much by maintaining pressure on your heels on the way up. If your weight is too far ahead of your feet, you’ll slip out, potentially falling face-first into the hillside.
On steep inclines, you want to take a low-angle approach (traverse diagonally). You’ll likely increase your total distance, but it’s much safer and less exhaustive, especially when learning.
When the terrain gets steep or you need to change direction, kick turns come to the rescue.
- Plant both poles on the side you’re turning towards.
- Lift the uphill ski and rotate it 180 degrees so it points in the opposite direction.
- Shift your weight, then swing your downhill ski around to match.
It might feel awkward at first, but with practice, it’ll become second nature!
Tips for Skinning Uphill
Skinning is the term for moving uphill with your splitboard in touring mode. Here’s how to master it:
- Stride, Don’t Shuffle: Lift your foot with each step instead of sliding it. This minimizes friction and preserves the skin’s grip.
- Keep Your Skis Flat: Aim for the maximum surface area of your ski to be in contact with the snow, offering better traction.
- Pole Position: Use poles for balance and propulsion. Plant them beside or slightly behind your feet for the best support.
5. Downhill Technique
I’m sure I don’t need to lecture you about this part. If you haven’t got your downhill riding perfected, stick to lift-accessed terrain for a couple more seasons.
Remember that splitboards are different than traditional snowboards, so there will be a slight learning curve, even for experienced riders.
The most significant difference is the edges and flex. You’ll still be able to enjoy snowboarding, but it’s a good idea to start slow to get dialed in.
Backcountry and Avalanche Safety Basics
Safety in the backcountry is an essential part of splitboarding. I highly advise you to spend adequate time researching, planning, and understanding the necessary equipment to experience snowboarding off-resort safely.
Know before you go is splitboarding 101. Haven’t got any experience in the backcountry or assessing unmarked terrain? Then you have no business being out there. Sorry!
The good news… you’re here, doing your own research and being a responsible rider!
The information below is a good starting point; however, I recommend seeking the help of a professional if you are new to backcountry snowboarding.
- Education and Training – Complete an Avalanche Safety Course to learn about avalanche formation, terrain assessment, rescue techniques, and how to use a beacon.
- Trip Planning – Research and plan your route. Review avalanche forecasts and share your itinerary with someone you trust.
- Essential Gear – Always carry an avalanche beacon (transceiver), probe, and collapsible shovel.
- Terrain Assessment – Avoid steep slopes, convex features, and recent avalanche activity. Watch for signs of instability, such as cracking or collapsing snow layers.
- Avalanche Awareness – Stay vigilant to changing weather and temperature patterns.
- Decision-Making – Prioritize conservative decision-making and group communication. Turn back or choose safer routes if conditions are questionable.
- Companion Rescue – Practice companion rescue drills regularly. Act swiftly using avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels in case of an avalanche.
- Continuous Learning – Stay updated with current avalanche forecasts. Continue learning about snow science and safety practices for evolving conditions.
I threw a lot of info at you there, sorry! Here’s a few easy to remember takeaways before heading out.
- Gear Up: Every member of the group must always carry an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel.
- First Aid: Have a small kit tailored to any potential mountain injuries.
- Communication: Consider walkie talkies – cell service might be spotty or non-existent.
- Practice: Regularly refresh your skills, especially with avalanche safety equipment. Do a trial run with the team.
Planning Your First Splitboard Trip
You should be thoroughly prepared before hitting the mountains for your first splitboard trip. This must include substantial backcountry training if you’re headed outside a resort or out of bounds.
In addition, I recommend getting in shape, understanding the terrain, and the appropriate layering for high-output snowboarding.
1. Be Ready Mentally
You need to be in the right headspace before heading out. One thing I learned from Jeremy Jones (legendary freeride snowboarder) is to never become mentally attached to a particular line.
Adopt the mindset that you’re heading out to “check out that line” rather than “hit that line”. The latter commits you to riding the route in question, even if conditions aren’t optimal.
Always be prepared to head home if something doesn’t feel right – that line or pitch will still be there tomorrow!
2. Be Ready Physically
Even if you are an avid snowboarder, touring will reveal muscles you didn’t know existed!
As a result, I recommend preparing with these exercises:
- Side lunges
- One-legged deadlifts
- Side planks
- Squats and split squats
Hiking, biking, and trail running will also build the leg and core muscles required in touring. However, regardless of how much you train, you will likely be sore after your first day!
3. Know the Terrain Inside Out
I recommend choosing a well-studied backcountry or cross-country trail for your first few times splitboarding. Other people will be around to offer guidance if necessary, and you can read up on the area online before your outing.
There’s no need to be breaking new ground on your first time out!
Do not go alone or to a remote area unless well-educated on backcountry and avalanche safety. Even then, it’s always sensible (and more fun) to bring a buddy.
Your splitboarding outfit might be a little different to your resort wear.
Most backcountry riders wear breathable outer layers because the incline is so demanding. In addition, you want a mid-layer that will function as your outer layer if you get too hot in your jacket. while touring.
For more on layering wisdom, check out our post on how to layer for snowboarding.
Splitboarding Tips for Beginners
Having been riding (and instructing) for nearly two decades, here’s a few tips I wish I’d known at the start of my splitboarding journey:
- Nail Your Transitions – At first, switching your board from touring to riding mode (and vice versa) feels like assembling IKEA furniture. Practice at home first. The faster you can transition, the more time you’ll spend enjoying the slopes.
- Master Skinning – Find your rhythm, slide rather than lift your skis, and dial in your kick turns. Don’t try to “climb” steep slopes straight on. Zigzag or use a switchback pattern. It saves energy and will help you to maintain grip.
- Caring for Skins – After using your climbing skins, fold them glue-to-glue. I fold them in half around my knee, then roll them up.
- Keep it simple – Start with simple terrain and work your way up (pun intended).
- Play with Different Heel Positions – Experiment with your bindings on steep slopes. Your middle position will likely be your most used.
- Clip your board standing up – Don’t set your board in the snow whilst assembling it. Especially not the skins!
- Travel light – Keep your pack as light as possible while carrying all necessary gear. Snacks are a must.
- Enjoy and Respect Nature – The backcountry is beautiful but fragile. Pack out what you pack in!
- Go with a guide – Hire a professional guide or experienced friend with patience to assist you on your first couple of outings.
Gear Maintenance and Care
Your splitboard needs TLC to perform its best:
- Regular Checks: Look for any damage after outings.
- Cleaning Skins: After use, ensure they’re free from snow and ice. Dry them properly.
- Tuning Edges: Just like regular snowboards, keep your edges sharp.
- Waxing: Regularly wax your splitboard for optimal performance. Consider temperature-specific waxes.
- Storage: During off-season, store in a cool, dry place. Remove any residual moisture.
A great way to learn or refine skills, splitboarding schools offer guided tours, technique training, and safety courses.
- Beginners: These courses cover basics, from gear setup to initial touring techniques.
- Advanced: Dive into steeper terrains, avalanche safety, and multi-day expeditions.
I couldn’t possibly list all of the courses available, but I do know of a few highly recommended ones:
Advanced Topics (Optional)
Once you have a number of splitboarding ventures under your belt, you may be eyeing up bigger and bolder missions. Here are some advanced skills to master.
Route Planning and Navigation Tools
Effective route planning is crucial for safe and efficient backcountry travel. As above, beginners should always seek the advice (and company) of an experienced guide.
The following tools enable advanced splitboarders to plan new routes:
- Topographic Maps: Understand the terrain’s nuances.
- GPS Devices and Apps: Devices like smartphones or handheld GPS units can offer real-time location tracking.
- Compass: A trusty backup if electronic devices fail.
- Avalanche Forecasts: Always check these before heading out.
- Local Knowledge: Online forums, local guides, or splitboarding communities can offer invaluable insights.
Multi-day Splitboard Tours
Engaging in multi-day tours means being self-sufficient, super fit and super prepared. These are truly for experts only.
- Planning: Decide on your route, potential campsites, and water sources.
- Shelter: Know how to set up a winter camp or utilize mountain huts.
- Provisions: Pack food and cooking gear optimized for weight and nutrition.
Using Crampons and Ice Axes for Steep Terrain
In challenging terrains, basic splitboarding gear might not suffice.
Experts may use the following gear on big mountain terrain:
- Crampons: These metal spikes attach to your boots, providing grip on icy surfaces.
- Ice Axes: Useful for ascending steep, icy slopes and a critical safety tool in case of slips.
Is Splitboarding Worth It?
Splitboarding offers a unique opportunity to access and explore the backcountry, free from the confines of traditional ski resorts. By converting your board into skis for the ascent and reassembling it for the descent, you can truly immerse yourself in untouched terrain.
While the initial gear investment and the learning curve can be daunting, the freedom to roam off the beaten path makes splitboarding a thoroughly worthwhile pursuit!
Final Thoughts on Splitboarding 101
While reading will only get you so far, you are now in an excellent position to begin your splitboarding journey.
Understanding the gear, physical demand and backcountry safety will enable you to focus on technique and thrive on the mountain.
Remember to respect remote areas, exercise proper trail etiquette, and leave no trace when enjoying off-resort terrain.
If you’ve just successfully completed your first splitboard mission, I’d love to hear about it. Get in touch or drop a comment below.