get the gear: choosing the best splitboard set-up for you
Choosing your first split
If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve been snowboarding for at least a few years now. You know what you like in a solid board, so you figure you might as well get something similar in a split version. Makes sense, right? Well, not so fast…
If you’re only going to own one splitboard, you want to make sure you pick something versatile. Conditions in the backcountry can be highly variable - you’ll need plenty of float for the deep snow we’re usually seeking, but also need to make sure that you can confidently hold an edge when conditions aren’t so friendly.
The ideal do-it-all splitboard should have the following...
(Photo: Carly Finke)
A setback stance
if you're used to cruising park and groomers, size up!
camber under foot
For most riders - medium flex feels about right
if you have big feet, consider getting a wide splitboard
10/10 riders agree!
pro recommendation: What do you ride and why?
I ride the Weston Backwoods Carbon 163, every day, regardless of conditions. It’s incredibly versatile, floats beautifully in powder, and has enough of a tail to feel solid when stomping big landings. It’s stiff enough to break trail well and charge downhill with confidence, but still retains enough flex to feel playful and sporty. Edge hold and skin contact is awesome thanks to the cambered profile, and its incredibly low weight makes it a great choice for the biggest, most challenging days of splitboard mountaineering. Really, it seems like there’s nothing this board can’t do!
Spark R&D and Karakoram are the main options for bindings on the market today, both make a great product and I’d recommend either. Union and Voile also make split bindings and there are some other smaller companies coming into the market like Plum out of France. I ride the Spark Surge - it’s a bit stiffer than the Spark Arc and allows immediate power transmission in ride mode. It is a fantastic binding that will last many, many years and well worth the price. Karakoram makes a really cool cross over binding too - the Prime Connect - that can be both a great resort binding AND a great splitboard binding. Both companies make amazing bindings and it is hard to choose one over the other, what you can get your hands on might be the deciding factor.
do i need splitboard specific boots?
Many splitboarders do just fine with whatever boots they already own for the resort. However, if you’re in the market for a splitboard-specific soft boot, you’ll want to keep an eye out for features like heel welts for semi-automatic crampons, vibram soles, and protective toe caps - especially if you intend to spend a lot of your time chasing ski mountaineering objectives. ThirtyTwo, K2, Deeluxe, and Fitwell all offer splitboard specific boots. More than anything though, focus on just picking boots that fit your foot and suit your downhill riding style. Personal preferences vary a lot.
what are the best skins for splitboarding?
types of skins - nylon, synthetic or mix?
In a perfect world, your skins would be frictionless as they move forward along the snow during each step forward, and grip like hell once engaged - but in reality, you have no choice but to strike a balance between these two characteristics. There are two materials that the plush material on climbing skins can be made from: nylon and mohair. Nylon provides more grip, less glide, and is heavier. Mohair isn’t as grippy, but glides better and weighs less. It’s also possible to get skins that are made from a combination of the two (my personal favorite).
There are very high traction skins available made out of thick nylon but I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone. The extra grip may serve as a useful crutch when you’re first learning to splitboard, but you’ll outgrow them very quickly. They’re also extra awkward to slide downhill with, which has to be done from time to time. Skins made out of thinner nylon are a nice middle-of-the-road option for beginner skiers that aren’t completely dialed with their skinning technique. The skins I use are made out of 70% mohair and 30% nylon, and are a great choice for users with at least an intermediate level of touring skill.
Jeff Kepler caught in transition. (Photo: Jacob J Photography).
how to trim your skins and care for them in the backcountry
Trim your skins so that when it’s on your ski, you can just barely see the entirety of the metal edge on both sides. In the field, you don’t need to bother using “cheat sheets” when you fold your skins up, nor do you need to place them in the bag they came with - these are just extra items to carry and steps to take that don’t really serve a purpose. If your skins are hard to separate, you can put them between your legs and use your lower body to assist you, or you can use the rigidity of one of your skis as something to pull against. When taking your skins on and off, try not to get snow on the glue - this will prevent it from sticking well. If your glue does get a bunch of snow on it, you can scrape it off using the edge of one of your skis or a dry pant leg.
If you’re traveling through snow that’s especially wet and soft (ie. hot pow baking in the sun on a spring day), it will probably start to stick to the bottom of your skins and make travel difficult. To combat this, you can rub skin wax onto the plush side of your skins - it’s not perfect, but it certainly helps. If the snow continues to stick, I’ll pick up my foot and whack my ski with my pole every so often as I walk, and maybe start swearing a little.