I should have expected this, but immediately after getting into snowboarding, I started craving solitude, not quite knowing how to achieve it. Trail running is all about solitude, one of the qualities of the sport I cherish most. As a newbie learning to snowboard, everything was new and exciting. However, as soon the terror of killing myself subsided and I was able to simply enjoy being on my board, I began a quest for isolated turns. I would hit the slopes before they opened, carrying my board on my back. I quickly realized I always had the wrong equipment with me: too warm when I was climbing and too cold coming down. Yet, I longed for something more rugged, something beyond the perfection of the groomed corduroy.
Someone mentioned the backcountry, a general term for anything that’s not in a resort, the great snowy outdoors where you can forge your own path up a mountain and search for your own descent. To me, the backcountry seemed unreachable. How could I forge through waist deep powder in snowboarding boots and carrying my board on my back? The reply: get a splitboard.
So I did. Along with the splitboard came new bindings, skins, and poles. The list goes on and keeps growing. I had to quickly come to terms with the fact that, unlike trail running, anything involving snow requires more equipment.
A splitboard is a modified snowboard which splits in half, right down the middle lengthwise to form two chunky, awkwardly shaped skis. They can’t really be used as skis, since they have only one edge, but the increased surface area allows you to climb uphill wearing all your equipment. Reaching the bottom of the mountain with your splitboard, separate the two halves, slide each binding into its ski position, attach the skins to the bottom of each half (skins are strips of what looks like carpet that grip the snow to prevent the board from sliding backward), and skate up the mountain like a pro. Once at the top, take the skins and binding off, put the board back together, slide the bindings back into the snowboarding position, and take off down uncharted slopes.
Splitboarding is exhilarating, mostly because of the solitude and effort involved in achieving your well-deserved turns. The backcountry demands a healthy dose of caution and respect. Te list of deadly dangers is longer than I can describe in this blog, requiring knowledge and preparation. I piggyback with friends who know what they’re doing and never go by myself, unless it’s during the early morning hours at a resort. However, the feeling of finding your path down a mountain in powder, avoiding stumps, trees and other unmovable objects is worth every uphill meter of effort.
Splitboarding tunes you to the mountain, allows you to read its flanks, search for the best route up and safest way down. You can read what the snow is telling you, where the wind is blowing from, understand how quickly conditions can change and how easy it is to lose your bearings in a blinding expanse of white. You learn to rely on others and to always come prepared. All lessons I could never learn in a resort, where everything is easy and the language of the mountain is stripped away in the lieu of safety.
Nothing, absolutely nothing beats the dazzling magic of a lonely sunny morning in the backcountry after a fresh snow, when the trees are covered in shimmering white puffs and the air filled with sparkle.