This Saturday was the first time this season I used my splitboard. Normally the splitboard is reserved for trips up north, where the snow is deep and the runs are long. But with the recent massive snowfall we have had lately, I could not resist breaking it out. I have been the proud owner of a Burton S Series splitboard for three seasons now, and after those three seasons I have found some serious advantages and some serious disadvantages to the splitboard. One thing about the splitboard is that given the right conditions it is a great weapon to have in your backcountry arsenal.
The most important thing to know about the splitboard is that snow is required…and we are not talking about just a little snow. The splitboard craves powder, and lots of it; the softer and fluffier the snow, the more the board opens up and shows its true performance. The splitboard lives for blasting through fresh pow, and devours open runs where you point it down hill and let it ride. As well as excelling in big open runs, the splitboard is more than capable of carving in the trees and handling narrow chutes.
In addition to being a blast in the pow, I was surprised by the performance the splitboard delivered on the uphill. I remember from seasons past the splitboard being heavy and a little clunky to skin with. My concern over the board’s uphill performance was enhanced by the large amount of skinning I have been doing on my telemark gear this season. Despite the board’s significant weight disadvantage to my tele gear, I never felt as if the board’s weight was slowing me down. If you are careful and make sure that all the buckles and hardware are facing the right direction, the board is easy and effortless to skin with. In fact, the large size of the board coupled with Voile’s Splitboard Climbing Skins made skinning up steep and icy lines fairly easy.
Not only was I impressed by how well the splitboard skinned, I was also amazed by how much fresher my body felt at the end of the day. It is incredible what removing the weight from your back does to your overall energy and disposition. Under normal circumstances, I find myself beginning to feel fatigued by the third run at ‘The Stash,’ but after five runs with my splitboard I never even felt myself fading. I am giving skinning over carrying your board on your back a huge advantage.
Now, sadly, for the negatives. The splitboard is not great in variable snow, and even worse in icy conditions. The board loves pow but gets beaten up by harder and icier snow. Because the board is capable of breaking down into two skis, it lacks the rigidity of a conventional snowboard and is susceptible to chatter produced by icy conditions. If it is icy enough, or you are going fast enough, that chatter can cause the ends of the board to separate, making the board hard to control.
Breaking down the board from ski to snowboard can be both time consuming and a little confusing. Having spent a lot of time focusing on my transitioning from uphill to downhill and vice versa over the last few years, I do not think the splitboard has any advantages here. I would say that the time spent swapping it over is roughly the same as snowshoeing or booting up the mountain. These transitions are much more significant at a place like ‘The Stash’ where we will transition upward of ten times when compared to going up north where we would transition very little.
The splitboard also requires a careful and attentive eye when disassembling and reassembling it. If you are tired or not paying attention, it is very easy to mount the bindings incorrectly. Incorrectly mounting the bindings can force you to either disassemble the board and start from the beginning, or leave you with some clunky and careful skinning. Either way, making a mistake starts to close the advantage you have on conventional snowboarders.
In conclusion, the splitboard is a great weapon to have in your backcountry quiver. While it is limited in its application, if brought out at the right time, the right day, or on the right trip, it is guaranteed to reward you with a day of excellent runs. I believe that the quintessential element to using a splitboard is knowing the right time to use it because when the time is right, it aims to please.