The winter season is just around the corner (or even upon us if you got out in the early November storm) and you ponder to yourself, will I be as quick as I was last season with transitioning or are the skiers going to have to wait on me? I drank a lot of Alibi IPAs this summer on Donner Docks – will I have endurance to get to the top of that mountain? Did I properly store my skins through the summer or will they be stuck together forever once I find them somewhere in the garage? Should I take my splitboarding to the next level this year with a set of crampons? What even are crampons? AHHH!
Not to worry! These are all legit fears and questions that every winter athlete asks themselves the day before the first storm cycle hits the Tahoe basin.
If you have already made it through my Splitboarding 101: Beginners Guide to Snowboarding in the Backcountry blog and feel like you have mastered these skills and tips, then you, my friend, are ready to step it up this winter season! There are skills and tips I have personally learned or am still learning/perfecting that make each tour more effortless, safe, and fun.
Now that you have all the gear and the AIARE 1 training to get out in the backcountry safely, there are some skills that are necessary to practice while out there.
Mastering the Splitboarding Skills
Pole Hand Placement
This sounds pretty straightforward, and it is, but having the right poles as splitboarders is important. We want a 3 piece pole because we need them to go on our pack on the way down. If you can buy a pole that has the foam or cork grip that goes below the standard grip, this will help on steeper slopes. Grabbing your upside pole on the lower grip will help your stability when climbing. Easy tip, but I learned it on the tracks, and it has made my life just a little easier when earning my turns.
Splitboarding Specific Boots
There are boots that are made specifically for splitboarding as well. In my Splitboarding 101 blog, I mention that you can use your regular snowboarding boots for splitboarding. While that is still true, companies have now made boots that have specific tech geared for walking and riding in the backcountry. These boots have walking mode, are made crampon compatible (we will get more into crampons later), or have extra ventilation for sweaty feet. These boots are usually a little stiffer, so I recommend trying on before you buy!
The Kick Turn King
Another skill you should practice over and over and over and over… You get it… is the all elusive Kick Turn.
What the heck is a Kick Turn, you ask?
When the elevation of a mountain is too steep to go straight up and we want to splitboard at a lower angle (just like hiking to the top of a steep mountain) we will create our skin track with numerous switch backs. A kick turn is how you will make those sharp switch back turns with a long ski on each foot. The more you practice this skill, especially on steep slopes, icy slopes, or really deep powder days, the more comfortable you will get.
As a more experienced splitboarder you are no longer in the backcountry only on the most epic powder days. Your love for the backcountry and sufferfests finds you out on days that are windy and icy too. You are now a dawn patroller, getting the goods before everyone else.
Touring on ice can get tough on the body. You may slip and fall over and over and want to give up. On days like this, crampons will be your best friend. They will make that icy skin track that much easier, so you can climb longer using less effort.
There are boot crampons and ski crampons. Boot crampons are used while climbing slopes that are too steep for splitboarding (think: couloirs). They can also be used while descending if riding conditions require this. Boot crampons are used on the bottom of your boots, while your board is strapped to your pack. The Camp USA Universal, offered at TMS, has a deeper heel pocket designed to accommodate snowboard boots.
Ski crampons are used while climbing. They are placed under your binding and are sharper claws than just your splitboard edges, which help you get more grip on ice. Spark R&D makes the Ibex splitboard crampons that can also be purchased at Tahoe Mountain Sports and are compatible with the Arc and Surge Spark R&D bindings. If you do not have Spark R&D bindings, go to the company’s website to find a pair of crampons that are compatible with your bindings.
Using crampons when conditions are less than ideal will not only take your splitboarding to the next level, but you will enjoy the not so good weather days just as much. It’s the journey.
Caltopo is the ultimate mapping app for backcountry goers. There is unlimited learning to be had with Caltopo and mapping backcountry routes, so I am only going to go over some basics. Go to the Caltopo website and click “Start Mapping”. This is easier on a laptop, but you can download routes to the app on your mobile phone for when you are out in the wilderness.
Slope Angle Shading
There are lots of map overlays that CalTopo provides. One that comes in handy when planning out a route up and down is the Slope Angle Shading overlay. This shades the slope angles by color. You can make sure that the route up is not too steep or if it is an high avalanche danger day, you can plan routes by sticking to slopes under 30 degrees.
Sun Exposure Overlay
By choosing the sun exposure overlay, it shade the map to show which slopes are exposed by the sun at certain times. This can help by either showing where to avoid on a spring day or where will thaw first in the early mornings. This is also a benefit when planning routes with avalanche conditions affecting by solar input. You can even choose time of day to really hone in on the perfect route.
Add a Line
There are lots of things you can “Add” to your CalTopo map. You can add a point, a line, a sector, etc. To add a line is how you are going to plan out your route up and down using CalTopo.
- Click the orange “ADD+” button in the top left corner and choose Line.
- A pop up will appear in the bottom right corner. You can label your route, choose line color, and make notes about the route.
- Once you have set those, you can start mapping out your ascend, using the overlays as necessary to choose your route. You can zoom in and out while creating your route. You can also drag the map to better see the next area. If you do not like a section, you can hit delete to return to the last point. Once you feel good about your route, press “OK” in the pop up in the left bottom corner. This will set your route.
- Once you are done, you can hover over the line you created and see a quick stat at the top of route length (km & miles).
- Click on your line. From here, you can edit your route, check terrain stats, see mileage, modify, or copy.
- My favorite feature is the Terrain Stats. Click on this. This feature is the beauty of this app. CalTopo provides you with so much information about your route, including which slope aspect you will be traveling on, travel time, elevation gain and loss, slope angles, land cover, and tree cover.
- You can then save and download your route to the CalTopo app, so you have all the details with you while in the backcountry.
All of this information is SO helpful when traveling in the backcountry in avalanche terrain. It helps you to stay within your skill set by not descending slopes that are too steep. It can help when trying to find better snow on a NE facing slope. It can help your group choose what time of day will be best for this route. It will help you determine how many transitions you will need to make. The information is endless and this feature is just scraping the surface of what is possible on CalTopo. Play around with these features. Plan fake routes with your friends. Plan a backcountry day with your friends and see how your route turns out. The more practice using these features, the better you will become at planning safe and fun days in the backcountry.
I hope this blog has been helpful to you in taking your backcountry snowboarding to the next level. These are all tips and tricks I have learned along the way that have made my life just a little easier and pushed me a little farther.
Hope you all have an epic winter season. Don’t forget to pray for snow and get all your winter gear at Tahoe Mountain Sports!
A Truckee local who loves splitboarding, snowboarding, hiking, backpacking, running, mountain biking, you name it. Her dog, Chip the Rip, is her ultimate adventure buddy and fellow frother. Inspired by the outdoors, graphic designer, and marketing guru.