The last signs of winter are subtly slipping away, as days become longer and snow turns to rain at lower elevations. For many, the end of winter signals the end of the snowboard season, as resorts look to transition into summer operations. However, for those that live for linking turns all year spring signifies the beginning of touring season.
Splitboarding, or touring, has exploded in popularity in the last several years, with snow enthusiasts looking to expand their skills in the backcountry, spring, and even summer, touring offers a way for dedicated snowboarders to enjoy the mountains all year. While splitboarding in the spring and summer generally offers safer snow conditions, the mountains are always variable, and everything from slides to services can be hazards, even when the snow seems relatively stable.
It’s imperative that you have adequate education, experience, and gear when traveling into the backcountry and for anyone that is interested in splitboarding I’ve curated a collection of essentials that will help keep you stay safe, and stoked when embarking on your first tour. If you are craving some awe-inspiring turns in the spring’s freshest corn, these pieces of gear can help.
One of the most essential pieces of gear is a pair of proper splitboard bindings. Can you use a pair of regular bindings for splitboarding? Yes. However, splitboard bindings are specifically engineered and manufactured to enhance the experience. From functionality to performance, a proper split binding can elevate the experience. The Union Expedition FC is a great choice for splitboard enthusiasts as it’s lightweight, easy to use and doesn’t sacrifice said performance when in ride mode.
GPS locators are becoming a must for avid backcountry riders. The systems are designed to send out an SOS to emergency rescue teams in case the shit hits the fan. Most locators are one button alerts. So as when your grandmother falls down in the shower you can hit it and wait for the rescue team. Jeremy Jones recently put his stamp of approval on the Somewear Labs GPS locator, which not only allows for one-touch emergency response but also doubles as a global hotspot for cell service so you can also hit some Tinder matches while in the field. Don’t let a GPS locator lull you into the backcountry without proper training, it can takes several hours to days to get rescued, so the GPS locator should be seen as a way to assist your rescue efforts if things go south. A developed skill set and proper education to venture into unpatrolled terrain is still required.
If you don’t already know that you should always be riding with avy gear, regardless of the season, than unpack and go take an Avy 1 course. If you don’t own sufficient gear buy some now. You can find awesome package deals on the three rescue essentials (shovel, beacon, probe). BCA offers great packages that are easy to use and affordable for more budget conscious boarders.
An ice axe can seem like a tool reserved for mountaineers and serious alpine shredders like the aforementioned Mr. Jones. However, in spring and summer conditions can be variable and snow can go from easy stick to slick in a matter of feet. It’s important when doing any type of snow touring that you have something that can give you purchase. Many backcountry riders have found themselves precariously perched above some exposure with nothing but bulletproof ice under edge, an ice axe can help you navigate dicey conditions with more confidence.
If you’re going on long single or multi-day tours than having some portable power can be a lifesaver. Keeping electronics charged can help save the day if there is any kind of emergency. It can also help you keep your camera gear charged, because if you can Instagram the tour it probably didn’t happen. Goal Zero makes some rugged and lightweight portable chargers that are a breeze to pack.
From falling into cravacess to pieces of rock tumbling down a face towards your relatively-soft dome, having a helmet is a must when touring. Some backcountry enthusiasts prefer the lightweight alpine or climbing helmets, but for spring conditions when everything from avalanches to covered rocks pose a serious threat, a snowboard or ski helmet is encouraged. The Smith Variance is a great choice for touring as it’s lightweight and breathable but offers the full protection of a snow helmet.
Yes, poles are for skiers, and it can feel awkward to carry poles for the first time as a snowboarder. But the majority of splitboarding is done in ski mode so you need to get used to the feeling of holding onto poles. Some people ride with their poles in their hands, but you’re an actual snowboarder so collapse your poles, stick them in your pack, and use your hands to style out those crusty corn surf turns.
Guess what happens when you don’t have a lift shuttling you to the top of every run? You get hot, and quickly. While layers are important in every aspect of mountain sports, there is an extreme shift in body temperature when transitioning from ski mode to ride mode, so a complete layer system should be part of your split kit.
One of the more common mistakes novice splitboarders make is underestimating ice. It’s important to maximize efficiency when touring as having adequate energy for safe ascents and descents is critical (slipping on ice sucks the energy out of you like nothing else). Most people are familiar with traditional crampons, which will also be necessary for many technical alpine routes, but a pair of split crampons that actually attach to your board when in ski mode will help you skin up more difficult pitches while minimizing slippage.
Getting pinned down at 13,000 feet by a freak storm or getting lost in the woods during a whiteout is a serious situation regardless of season, so being prepared is essential. While you should always have the ten essentials which include items like emergency blankets and a fire starter, it’s also wise to have extra food and a way to safely source water. As was mentioned previously even with the aid of a GPS locater it can take multiple days to safely carry out a rescue effort, so make sure you are able to dig in for a bit if things go sideways. I love this emergency bivy from SOL.