Most people would be lying if seven or so years ago they told you that splitboarding had a future anywhere similar to the one it is experiencing today — most people with the obvious exception of Jeremy Jones. My first impression was purely technical, as was my first task: build a premium splitboard in our Nidecker factory in Switzerland. But over time, my impression, the mountain community’s impression, and the splitboards themselves have evolved to signal a real, significant development in the mountain space.
Splitboarding is not only about the board, but the whole package. The board is important, but the bindings are equally so, as are the skins and how they ultimately all come together. Even if a splitboard is similar to a snowboard — and there are undeniable similarities when latched together to go downhill — the development and key manufacturing processes that go into building them is different. And in those complexities I lost myself throughout the ideation and creation, as my family and I had in winter for decades spanning from over a century before.
Winter products and manufacturing is part of my family history. My great grandfather founded Nidecker in 1887. The company originally built wheels but began manufacturing skis in 1912 as he was an expert in bending wood. Since then, our family has continuously manufactured winter products. It wasn’t until 1984 that my father entered into the snowboard manufacturing. As for myself? I was practically born in the factory, making my first snowboard at the age of 13 and working there every weekend on the machines, all to to make a little money to go snowboarding in the winter. I was the first son to take to snowboarding — I was about three years old when I first rode a snowboard — and have a love and passion for design and products, so my father enjoyed teaching me all of the tricks.
When I joined the Nidecker team nine years ago, there was only Nidecker Snowboard. We were manufacturing all different types: rental, kids, all mountain, race, freestyle, freeride, women’s, etc. My father is a master of composite materials and the development was focused on durability, lighter snowboards and 3D snowboards, such as the Nidecker Ultralight. We were primarily focused on technologies and materials, but also produced kiteboards and wakeboards. Fortunately, most of our parterns we work with — Romain Di Marchi, JP Solberg and DCP at Yes!; Jeremy Jones at Jones Snowboards; and Gigi Rüf at Slash — ride over 100 days a year, and they all bring an amazing amount of their own personal experiences to our design meetings, having tested snowboards in the most difficult terrains and conditions.
With that in mind, in 2009, we joined forces with Jones in developing his eponymous Jones Snowboards. I’ve helped Jones since the beginning, generally behind the scenes, toiling away with the Nidecker engineers as I still had other brands to take care of at that time as well. But my relationship with Jeremy strengthened over time as we share the same view of a snowboards/splitboards and I quickly immersed myself more and more in Jones projects until I finally came on to work full time with the brand. And who better to further design and develop with than Jeremy Jones? Working with him was eye opening.
From his experiences hiking backcountry and riding where many people haven’t even dreamed of, he introduced a lot of knowledge that we would have otherwise missed out on. Generally our development — again, because of Jeremy and my joined experiences — is focused on durability, lightness, and ecology. Durability is a major thing because splitboards endure a lot of stress, going both uphill and downhill. And as splitboarders are very passionate people who who ride most days of the season, and in dangerous places with serious concerns about snow conditions, avalanches, and rocks, they need to trust their board 100 percent. For example, when hiking or changing your skins, you often thump the two skis together which cause quickly de-laminations or chipping. Therefore we had to use different materials and manufacturing process, focusing on the ski aspects as much as the snowboard one. With years of producing both, it was interesting to combining the lessons we had learned over the years.
Jeremy had began focusing on not using lifts and snowmobiles and helicopters, so making sure that the skis were prime for hiking (even beyond de-laminations and chipping) was another major focus. In fact, we were the first to bring magne-traction (waves on the sidecut) into the inside edge of a splitboard. Having the inside-edge straight, or the way they were being produced by most companies at the time, is rather simple. But having waves on the inside edge which had to match perfectly when you attach it as a snowboard was a huge challenge for us, especially in that if you make even the smallest mistake during the manufacturing process, there is no way to correct it — you have to start back from square one.
The second evolution we brought to the hiking or ski aspect was the weight. The desired outcome is easy enough to understand: having a lighter board lets you do more laps in a day. But weight is something very difficult to work on as it affects all aspects of the splitboard, including durability.
Getting splitboards lighter but maintaining its durability is a constant development that we’re continually going through even today. This development brought about a whole new interpretation of snowboard design.
For one, we don’t use tip-to-tail materials anymore on our high-end models as some sections were over-built. The best example would be the Ultracraft Split or the Ultra Aviator snowboard. On those two, we’ve completely taken out the woodcore on the nose, reducing the weight by 70 percent in that particular section, using only seven ultra-light layers of different fiberglass and carbon. The materials really depend on what sort of performance we need out of the board, as well as the environmental impact. The first splitboard we made weighed 8.8 pounds. Today, the Ultracraft is 5.9 pounds. A basic snowboard you can find on the market weighs about seven pounds; the Ultra Aviator, five.
We’re excited about how far we have come, but there is still a lot of ways we might be able to experiment and evolve splitboard (and snowboard) design. But it has been a great journey this far, and the biggest smile is seeing people riding and enjoying our boards.
For more information on Xavier Nidecker’s splitboard and snowboard designs, be sure to visit JonesSnowboards.com.