Splitboarding 101: Beginners Guide to Snowboarding in the Backcountry


Imagine a powder day with no tracks, no lines, no other people, and just the sound of nature and your footsteps. Enter: splitboarding. In this article, you will learn the basic gear necessary and some pro tips I have learned along the way. You will learn how you like to do things but this is a great place to start. 

Let’s Dive In

The best place to start would be with the gear basics. You will need the following:

  • Splitboard
  • Skins
  • Bindings
  • Boots
  • Poles
Send Mode

Splitboard

When choosing a splitboard, it is similar to choosing a solid board. You want a board that will give you optimal performance for the type of terrain you ride (steep vs. cruising), your ride style (freeride vs. freestyle), as well as your dimensions (height, weight, and boot size). 

A note on camber vs. rocker –  I prefer and recommend as beginners that you find a board with camber underfoot. This will help with edge traction going uphill. As you learn to dig your edges into hard-pack snow or ice, the camber helps with stability and confidence. 

You will also want to think about the weight of the board as you will be hauling this thing up the sides of mountains, so lighter weight is preferred. If you are between two sizes, sizing down could save you some weight. If you like a stiff board, carbon boards also tend to weigh less. 

On the subject of sizing, splitboard technology has come a long way since the beginning of the sport and splits are riding more similarly to solids every season. Keeping this in mind, my recommendation is to size your split pretty similar as you would your solid. For example, if you ride a Weston Hatchet 152, I recommend sticking with the Weston Hatchet Split 152 as well. The only reason I would recommend sizing up for a split is if you carry an abnormal amount of weight in your pack on a regular basis, such as camera gear. If your pack is around 10-20lbs for a day tour, no need to size up in my opinion. If you are not sure what size is best for your dimensions, ask one of our TMS team members and they will be happy to help you find the right size splitboard. Remember: Bring your boots (and bindings if you have them) into TMS with you to make sure you will not get any overhang or toe/heel drag. 

A quick breakdown of the Weston Split line offered at TMS:

  • Backwoods – Trees, Steeps + Open Bowls
  • Eclipse – Trees, Steeps + Open Bowls
  • Hatchet – Pillows, Trees + Freestyle Pow
  • Seeker – All Mountain Directional, Powder
  • Switchback – Open Bowls, Glades + All Mountain
  • Japow – Pow, Trees + Open Bowls
  • Carbon Backwoods – Trees, Steeps, Open Bowls + Long Tours

After you have bought your splitboard, become familiar with how it connects at each clip. There should be two clips in the middle and one at each the tail and nose. On most splitboards, you can tighten or loosen these to your preference. You will want the gap in the middle to be as tight as possible. The industry standard is 0-3mm apart. I suggest practicing going from ride mode to touring mode a few times at home before you take it out to the slopes. 

Split Mode with Doggo

Skins

Tahoe Mountain Sports carries a few different types of skins including the Black Diamond Acension, Black Diamond Glidelite Splitboard Mix, and the Pomoca Climb 2.0. The differences in skins and pricing includes % of mohair combination, overall weight, and waterproofing. 

Splitboard skins

Your skins will need to be trimmed to fit your specific splitboard. Skins should fit the length of your effective edge (from contact point to contact point). You can do this yourself or have TMS do it for $20. If you are trimming your skins yourself, check out this DIY video: 

Once your skins are trimmed, maintenance care is the most important part to make them last as long as possible. The glue on skins is very touchy, so it is important to take care of them. I have found the following to be the most helpful to keep these like new:

  1. Use your skins savers EVERY time – at the top of the run and at home. 
  2. Do not stick your skins together. Everytime you pull them apart, you are pulling glue off the skin. 
  3. If you did not follow the above suggestion and do need to pull apart, do NOT pull by tail and nose clip. Pull them apart by holding the skin section and use your knees to spread. Pulling my nose and tail clips can break these parts. 
  4. Hang dry your skins after EVERY use at room temperature. Do not dry near a fireplace or anywhere that gets really hot or really cold.
  5. After dried, store in skin bag.
  6. Store at room temperature. If stored too hot, the glue can melt and will then come off on your board, making the ride down no fun at all.
  7. Keep Goo-Gone in your pack as a backup plan.
  8. Try not to get dirt or hair in them. It is not fun and nearly impossible to get off. 

Bindings

This is a commonly asked question, but a lot of riders new to splitboarding always wonder if regular snowboard bindings can be used for splitboarding. The answer is No. Splitboard bindings are unique in the sense that they can transition to release your heel for tour mode and slide on to pucks for ride mode. You will need to purchase splitboard specific bindings, but you are in luck because TMS sells some of the best brands. The Spark R&D Arcs are an all-mountain, mid flex binding. They also have the option to go lighter weight with the Pro. These are my favorite split bindings because they are quick on the transition with just one click. As splitboarders, we all know the quicker the transition, the less annoyed our skier friends are and the warmer our fingers. TMS also offers the Voile – Light Speed, which have changed from a pin system to a similar click in system as Spark R&D. I have not personally used the new Voile Quick-Lock touring bracket but I imagine it is a game changer. The pin system was tough in the cold weather with the precision needed. Sounds like a huge upgrade!

*Do not forget to purchase pucks with these, as most split bindings do not come with them.

Once you have purchased a new pair of splitboard bindings, set up your stance and touring hardware on the split. Practice putting your bindings in tour mode vs. ride mode. Remember that when you are going uphill, your skis will be on opposite sides (inside edges of the board will face out) and your binding ratchets should be on the outside as well. 

Pro tip: Before you head out into the mountains, sit in front of the tv for one episode of New Girl and open and close your risers over and over to ensure smooth transitions while touring. They can be a bit stiff at first which is hard to put into place while your skis are on your feet. A major key to splitboarding is perfecting your transitions so they are quick and efficient, so your backcountry skier friends don’t leave without you. 

When climbing you will want your highback forward lean off but make sure to put it back into place when in ride mode. 

Boots

This is an easy one! You can use your own snowboard boots. There are split specific boots like the K2 Ascent that will release in the heel for more range of motion while climbing, but these are not necessary. 

Poles

Tahoe Mountain Sports has the Black Diamond Compactor and the Expedition 3 adjustable poles. These are both lightweight and the Expedition can fit easily on the outside of your pack, while the BD Compactor packs small enough to fit inside your pack. To fit your poles to your height, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when the pole basket hits the snow. 

Poles

Backpacks

Having a backcountry pack is super helpful. For a typical day tour, something in the range of 18L to 25L is a great size. For longer day tours a pack more in the range of 30L-35L. For overnighter trips, 40L+ will be great. You will be able to sinch down during the day after you drop all your belongings.

When sizing for a pack, it is important to measure your torso, from your shoulders to your hip shelf for proper fitting. My best recommendation is to go to Tahoe Mountain Sports and have our awesome team help you find the perfect fitting pack. 

Backcountry packs have specific pockets or straps for each item you will need such as your shovel, poles, etc. I prefer a pack with a back zip pocket for easier access. Also, make sure you can carry your board in ride mode and A-frame is helpful. Some have insulated shoulder straps so your water hose doesn’t freeze. There are tons of bells and whistles with different brands and different packs. 

Head down to TMS and find the Ortovox Tour Rider 28L and the ​​Scott Backcountry Patrol AP 30L. They also carry the Black Diamond Jet Force Pro 35L or the Jet Force Tour 26L. These are packs for the Jet Force Airbag System, which uses a fan rather than a cylinder. TMS also has some R.A.S (removable airbag system) packs by Mammut, including Mammut Ultralight Removable Airbag 3.0 20L.*

*See airbags below for more information. 

Backcountry Packs

Safety First

Although getting all the splitboard gear is important, getting your backcountry avalanche safety is just as important and cannot be a skipped step.

Gear Needed:

  • Beacon
  • Probe
  • Shovel
  • Optional but recommended: Airbag

Beacon, Shovel, Probe

These three items are just the beginning of backcountry safety gear and are needed before you head into the backcountry. These are not only for your safety but also for the safety of your crew. 

Beacons – Choosing a beacon can be tough but TMS did the research for you. Check out this blog comparing beacons. My top three recommendations are the Black Diamond Guide BT, Ortovox Diract, or the Mammut Barryvox. Beacon differences can be battery power, frequency range, Bluetooth ability, etc. They are constantly changing and updating new technologies so keeping up to date with upgrades each season is important. 

Practicing how to use your beacon with a crew of friends is a great way to stay fresh

Probes – Probes can be different lengths and different weights. Carbon probes are lighter weight. Some of my favorites include Ortovox Alu 240, Alu 240 light, and Alu 320+ or BCA Stealth 270 and Stealth 330.

Shovels – There are various types of shovels that also have lighter weight options, but a big difference in shovels is having the dozer option. This has been proven to move more snow quicker while recovering avalanche victims. This is my recommendation when choosing a backcountry shovel. Tahoe Mountain Sports has these shovels available: Ortovox Beast or Kodiak, BCA Dozer 1T and the Black Diamond Deploy.

Airbag – This is optional for backcountry safety but increases your chances of survival by a huge percentage. You can have a pack with the system built-in, or a R.A.S. compatible pack – Removable Airbag System. You will need a R.A.S. specific backpack if you plan to use this system, like the Mammut Flip or the Mammut Ultralight 20L.

Beacon

Last but certainly not least

Make sure to take your Avalanche Safety Course before heading into the backcountry! There are tons of classes and even scholarships to get avalanche safety certified in our area. Tahoe Mountain School is a great resource. Find out more here

Tahoe Mountain Sports also puts on an Avalanche Safety Series at Alibi Alehouse at the beginning of every season, including giveaways and experienced speakers. These are a great way to brush up on your avalanche knowledge and learn new things on how to keep yourself and your friends safe. 

Let’s Go Ride

It takes some time and money to acquire all your gear and avalanche safety knowledge, but once you are there, you are ready to ride! Grab your crew and hit the slopes! If you have any further questions, our team is always here to help. Head into the store to check out what gear they have today before it is gone!

Let's Ride

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