Backcountry touring tools
As resort riding becomes more and more popular and ticket prices and packages make getting on the mountain more affordable, seasoned riders find themselves looking in tighter trees and more remote areas for the untracked snow and serenity many riders can’t live without.
When the above requirements are set forth it doesn’t take long to realize it is much easier and the ratio of success much higher when you take your expectations into the backcountry. Snowmobiles, snowshoes and split boards are all popular modes for the snowboarder to get into deep, untracked backcountry turns. Free from lift lines, crowds and tourists, the backcountry experience does not come without trade offs. Avalanche beacons, probe poles and proper training are essential in every backcountry outing.
Choosing the mode of travel is the next big decision. Snowmobiles are expensive and require plenty of maintenance. Snowshoes are light weight and fairly inexpensive. Both require you to carry your board while climbing. With a snowmobile weight is not a factor, snowshoes are another story. Although snow shoes are cool and versatile, for me the way to go is a splitboard.
There are a few different options on the market. Burton and Voile are the two most well known manufacturers. Kits can also be purchased online for the industrious soul interested in converting an old board into a backcountry tool.
I recently demoed Voile Split Decision 166cm. They run around $650 – $700+ The Voile has got everything I need. Climbing with skins is amazing. It takes about 15 – 20 minutes to convert to downhill mode – but you get faster the more you do it. I didn’t have any problems with the hardware, although the initial set up can be a little bit of a pain and if you ride a little duck footed in your stance when you convert to the ski mode one foot (or both depending on the stance) can be slightly crooked with the ski. This isn’t something you’d want to change in the backcountry. I ride pretty ducked out and it never really bothers me. Sometimes other people notice it but I’ve didn’t have any problems, it just takes a little getting used to. The sketchiest part is when you approach a smaller downhill or saddle which isn’t worth taking the time to convert the board to downhill mode. If you don’t ski well and can’t tele this can get you really twisted up and out of control in a hurry – talk about feeling like a beginner. I would practice somewhere before getting into a situation with consequences. Split boards are a lot heavier due to the extra hardware involved and the board flex is totally different. They are harder to butter and have a different flex pattern due to the two pieces. When you’re in the deep stuff you can’t really tell the difference – it rocks!
Riding groomed or icy terrain is different. The board isn’t designed for that and you can definitely tell. But the point is to get into the soft stuff where it excels. Boards are faster in the real deep powder than skis and the changeover time from skins to board is not that bad. I think if you ride and you want to tour the backcountry a split board is the way to go. They also make hardware kits so you can make your own split board by cutting an old deck in half and drilling holes for the hardware. I have a friend who did this and he loves it. One challenge is cutting the board straight, depending on the core material this may or may not be difficult. Definitely use a table saw and make a fence and a template. The other challenge is getting a clean, well bonded epoxy layer on the newly exposed edges from the fresh cut. Otherwise is just drilling holes and screwing down the hardware. You can buy kits online for around 200 – 300 bucks depending. If you’re good with stuff like this give it a shot, otherwise save yourself a lot of hassle and drop the cash. I would recommend getting a longer board than you usually ride. I rode a 166 but think if I got a new split board I’d get a 173. If you’re carrying a heavy pack the extra length helps keep you on top in the real deep snow.
Every year great advances are made in snowboard technology. As the popularity of the sport increases and skier numbers continue to grow look for more options on the market and lower pricing.
For more information on backcountry travel visit backcountry.com or huts.org. Kent Roberg can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.