Ski artifacts: Homemade splitboard and the do-it-yourself backcountry movement
September 1, 2017
Editor's note: The following is part of a series of articles compiled by the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame that will take a closer look at some of the artifacts and stories contained in the museum's archives. The Colorado Snowsports Museum, located in the Vail Transportation Center, is currently undergoing a $2.4 million privately funded transformation that will refurbish the 24-year-old facility, add new exhibit space and modernize exhibits with interactive technology.
Skiing and the 10th Mountain Division are the cornerstones of Vail's history and success, which the museum preserves and celebrates year-round. The museum has been a favorite family-friendly visitor attraction in Vail for 41 years and, with these improvements, will become the most comprehensive ski museum in the world.
VAIL — The Colorado Snowsports Museum features the world's most important and comprehensive historical information and artifacts on snowboarding. With early boards from brands such as Sims and Burton, this collection captures the birth of a global movement and is a complete history of the formative roots of the sport. Within the framework of this history, the museum is dedicated to communicating and preserving the history of backcountry snowboarding and the invention and evolution of splitboards.
One item from the collection of particular interest is a Sims Chaos snowboard that was used as a ski-snowboard hybrid circa 2011. This hybrid board was converted into what we now commonly refer to as a splitboard.
A splitboard is a snowboard that can be separated into two ski-like parts that are used with climbing skins to ascend slopes the same way alpine touring skis are used. The two halves can then be connected to create a regular snowboard for descent.
Splitboarding was created in the mid-1990s and has grown in popularity over the years. In 1991, Brett "Kowboy" Kobernik brought a rough prototype of the first splitboard to Mark "Wally" Wariakois, the founder of Voile. At that point in time, Wariakois' focus was on creating innovative new backcountry ski and telemark binding designs, but he saw the future of backcountry snowboarding in Kobernik's prototype design.
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Kobernik and Wariakois refined this idea and, in 1994, released the first do-it-yourself Voile Split Kit to help aspiring backcountry riders create their own splitboards. With this kit, a customer would cut his or her board in half and drill out the insert patterns. Pucks, clips, touring brackets and climbing wires would then be mounted.
This was the beginning of the splitboard revolution. For the first time, riders had an innovative and easier way to access backcountry powder. Although major brand splitboards are available at most retailers today, the DIY kit can still be found.
The homemade splitboard in the Museum's collection was built following the guidance of Voile's Split-Decision Kit. The board's creator is Dirk Long, and the project involved a number of his friends who were either backcountry enthusiasts or machinists. The board took about a month to design and build.
Long spent most of his leisure time hiking, mountaineering, fly-fishing, mountain biking and backcountry snowboarding. With his move to Colorado in 2009, he was eager to continue these pursuits, and this splitboard was a natural part of that process.
Long says that he "decided to make the board as an experiment for a trip to Jackal Hut in January of 2011." He researched various designs and decided to copy a design that had good reviews and seemed easiest to make.
He goes on to explain that the snowboard splits down the center and divides into two pieces. The bindings swivel and allow the two pieces to be used as skis, similar to a telemark setup, which relies on synthetic "skins" that stick to the bottom surface, allowing the skier to climb uphill. At the top, the board is reconnected via latches and used as a snowboard.
The metal components are all 6061 aluminum that was recycled from a Lexmark printer factory that went out of business in Denver, with Long machining the components on a 3-axis manual milling machine. The plastic components are all high-grade Delrin, which is known for its toughness and slipperiness, while the nuts and bolts were all from Home Depot.
Bump in popularity
Today, splitboarding and backcountry snowsports have exploded in popularity. Professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones, known for big-mountain freeriding, is constantly pushing the boundaries to ride unexplored territories. He shares these adventures in several popular films and is on a quest to build splitboards that perform equally well as solid boards.
Over the past six years, the evolution in technology and gear has greatly impacted backcountry snowboarding. Now, there are specific splitboard bindings, and pins have been eliminated. Splitboard bindings used to attach to the board using a pin-and-cable system that would hold the binding in place when riding and act as the pivot mechanism while touring.
Today, riders have a choice between Karakoram's system, which uses levers on the binding and board, and the Spark's Tesla system, which simply snaps shut and locks the binding into place. These systems save the rider time when transitioning and are easier to use.
Splitboards have found their way into every major brand on the market and reflect each manufacturer's individuality in creating these boards. Like present-day snowboards, splitboards also have rocker profiles, hybrid profiles, twin shapes, tapered shapes and even fishtail shapes.