Written by James Tilley - The Splitboard Collective
Anyone new to splitboarding will undoubtedly suffer some level of abuse from their ski touring friends. Difficulty navigating flat terrain, sketchy heel-edge traverses and longer transition times are a few of the classic issues when learning to snowboard in the backcountry. But despite the steeper learning curve, there is no reason why you cannot learn to travel as efficiently as someone on skis.
Below I have listed five essential skills that have greatly improved my splitboarding. With a little time and effort you too can master these skills and become a more efficient backcountry traveller.
Collapsible poles are a splitboarder’s best friend. Not only do they help you on the ascent, but having your poles ready to go when riding will make life much easier. They allow you to quickly pole across a small bench, poke around in the snow to feel for layers or simply shave a minute or two off your transition time. Get used to riding with your poles in your hand, trust me you will be glad you did!
The key to becoming efficient at anything is to have a system and use it every time. It doesn’t really matter what order you do things in, just find what works for you and stick to it. Generally speaking when you get to the top of the skin track the first thing is to put on some more layers so you don’t get cold. Next I like to drop my pack and collapse my poles before unstrapping from my board. Don’t spend half your transition bent over with a heavy pack riding up your back; it’s annoying and a waste of energy.
Practicing transitioning with gloves on is a must. The second you touch anything metal with bare skin you lose so much heat. Build your board and attach your bindings before removing your gloves to eat and drink. Don’t bother with skin savers, they waste time, blow away in the wind and don’t offer any advantages over folding your skins glue to glue.
Nobody wants to embarrass themselves by face planting every time there is a small downhill skin. But you will, unless you practice split-skiing. Try with and without skins; the latter being much more difficult but much faster on long mellow descents that aren’t worth snowboarding. Don’t worry if you can’t lock your heels, just channel your inner telemarker and go for it. If you are worried about going too fast simply avoid the skin track. It’s much easier to control your speed in softer snow.
There are a number of reasons why heel side traverses are difficult. You don’t have the control attributed to the ankle flexion available when on your toe edge. You also have more binding and boot sticking out over your heel edge. When starting out you will notice this most as you struggle to stay high on a long traverse, constantly falling off the track and losing height and momentum. As you progress into steeper terrain, you will feel much less secure on your heel edge and at times it can be pretty scary.
So if the toe edge is so superior, why don’t we just use it all the time? Practicing switch riding is never a bad idea, but when it comes to traversing, it is essential. Every chance you get, try and traverse switch on your toe edge. It will be frustrating at first, but once you get it down you will never look back.
Much like poles, crampons are a tool that we can use to level the playing field. Two of the places where snowboarders struggle are on firm, traversing skin tracks and steep, icy bootpacks. Luckily, crampons can solve both of these issues. Throwing on a pair of board crampons will hugely increase your lateral grip in firm conditions and save you a lot of energy and frustration.
Boot crampons are invaluable if you plan on bootpacking a line in soft snowboard boots. There is nothing worse than feeling insecure on a steep slope in firm conditions. I have backed off more lines than I can count, because I didn’t pack my boot crampons. Buy a pair that are light enough for you to actually pack and don’t be afraid to use them.
If you'd prefer some professional tuition on how to up your splitboarding game then get in touch with Corvus Snowboarding. A rad team of seasoned splitboard guides, they offer a range of courses and private guiding for all things splitboarding in Whistler, BC.
James is an Apprentice Splitboard Guide with the AMGA and founder of the Splitboard Collective. He is currently guiding in Whistler, BC. To learn more check out their website www.thesplitboardcollective.com