Since the coronavirus is still raging as we head out for the winter, I decided not to buy a pass to my local mountain this year. I avoid crowds at all costs, but that doesn’t mean I’m hanging out on a snowboard during the season. I thought it was finally time to learn about the hustle of off-field tours, and I know I won’t be the only rookie entering the split board in search of a relentless pow and a new form of cardio.
Backcountry participation is on the rise, according to equipment manufacturers and educators. According to owner Leo TSUO, split board maker Weston had its biggest month in September, even before the season started. Other brands sell quickly without inventory, both online and in stores. And many avalanche education courses are already booked until spring.
If you’re among the splitboarders avoiding elevators for the first time this year, here’s what several professional athletes and mountain guides recommend in terms of safety courses, gear, and planning your first trip.
Certification and education
On the field, no one prepares races on perfect corduroy lanes or destroys avalanche hazards. It’s just you, your friends, and the snow. That’s the beauty of it, but it’s also the danger. Last season, 23 people were killed in avalanches in the United States, four of whom were skiing and riding on the borders, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Before you even venture into the pristine dust, it’s important to get certified in avalanche safety and hone your fundamental outdoor skills, says Izzy Lazarus, a professional mountain guide and avalanche educator in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Your life and the lives of your friends depend on whether you know how to respond in the event of an emergency. Your off-road partners are crucial to your own survival, so find a team of people you know who take safety seriously and who will push you to develop your mountain sense through the right educational channels and lots of practice.
The American Avalanche Institute for Research and Education, better known as AIARE, is the gold standard for training skiers and riders in the United States, Europe, and South America, largely because of its well-known and widely available programming, says Lazarus. (Avalanche Canada is our neighbor in the North’s premier organization.) The nonprofit provides a research-based curriculum to guides and course providers across the country, who then offer multiple study weekends for between $ 250 and $ 500 throughout the winter.
The initial course, AIARE Level 1, consists of 24 hours of lectures and time in the field, usually three days. This year, AIARE teamed up with Weston to offer several course-priced scholarships for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ +people. In this cornerstone class, you will learn how to assess avalanche hazards, make informed decisions, and save someone in the event of a burial. Avalanche Rescue and AIARE Level 2, upcoming courses in sequence, cover the rescue companion and risk assessment in more detail. Find air courses in your area, or those offered by other certified providers, at Avalanche.org.
In preparation for the season, various organizations and brands (including 57hours, Mammut, and) Weston hosts online avalanche awareness sessions for the public. You can also access online classes through a program called Saber before you go. Until my home in Flagstaff, Arizona, gets more snow, I’m taking notes on these online classes to prepare for the avy comespring course. These are not replacements, but supplements; the more you know, the safer you and your partners are off the track.
Any off-road traveler will tell you that the Beacon, probe, and shovel are the three most important avy Gear parts in your kit. These are your rescue devices, and the avalanche safety course (and subsequent practice) will introduce you to their functions. Every time you go out in the field, or even on big dusty days at the resort, make sure your security team leaves. Adam ZOCK, Revelinstoke Management, Columbia recommends wearing a 30-to-40-liter package to fit all your gears and layers.
If you’re not planning on a starter pack or snowshoeing on a mountain (which is doable, but requires more effort and gear), you’ll need a split snowboard, a snowboard that can be split vertically and used as a ski for walking uphill. The first of the splitboard was cardboard cut in half, but the technology has come a long way. Burton, Jones, K2, and Westonare are some of the leading splitboard manufacturers. A board with a lot of camber under your mounts is your friend on the rise, Lazarus says. It’s easier than a rocker profile to smooth out when weighing, and more contact with the snow makes it easier to travel uphill, she says.
Skins or strips of fabric made of directional nylon or mohair fibers are also required. Strapped to the bottom of each board, the skins are designed to grip the surface of the snow as you go uphill, these directional fibers do not allow you to slide backwards, but slide as you move forward. Like skiers, you’ll also need multiple poles to help with stabilization and efficiency as you head up the mountain. Choose a pair that collapses or folds, like the Black Diamond Expedition 2 Pro ($120) or the Leki Tour Stick Vario Carbon ($200), so you can store them in your descent pack.
Some of the splitboard-offs are best for a select few, like the THIRTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD TM-2 XLT boots ($350) or the Hi-Country and Hell-Bound boots ($330), but the best shoes are the ones you already own. ZOK says regular resort boots will work for splitboarding, but keep in mind that walking will wear them faster than just wearing them for riding at the resort. However, the mounts will need a new special split board that faces the nose of your board on the way up, and then switches to the preferred position for the way down. Karakoram Free Ranger ($400) and Spark R & D Arc ($385) are popular options. For some mounts, you will also need discs that are sold separately. Check with the manufacturers about which links and boards are most compatible, as you will need links that will not interfere with the connection system that blocks the halves of your board.
Finally, as with any day in the mountains, don’t forget to wear a helmet, gloves, and capes. Your body temperature will work warmer as you move more, so choose layers that breathe and remove moisture. But for your safety, make sure your clothes are insulated and waterproof, because there are no public warming huts in the countryside.
Planning a trip
Once you’re ready for your first day in the countryside, there are several ways to organize your trip. Rob Copollilo, a mountain guide from Chamonix, France, suggests staying away from avalanche rains for the first year so you can get used to the gear and off-road conditions. It even suggests getting used to your new team divided into low-risk areas before you get certified. Guides, maps, and friends can point out low-angle slopes (less than 30 degrees) that pose little risk. It is also advisable to check with local avalanche centers, which often publish daily bulletins of snow reports.
The easiest way to get used to your gear is on the track of your local ski resort. A space created to race in the mountain, which is available free of charge or available at a reduced price. In Colorado, riders and skiers can learn the basics on the 1,200-acre Bluebird Backcountry just uphill. Ski patrol cars are available to reduce avalanche risks, and guides are available to navigate.
You can also hire a guide through your local outfitter or 57hours, which connects clients with professionals. However, go outside, make the most of your first trip by going into the woods with a team of reliable, safe friends who have similar goals for the day.