One of the best ways to see the wilderness during snow season is by skis or splitboard. Skip the resort lifts and head for the untouched snow of the backcountry using specialized gear designed with flexible bindings so you can easily switch between climbing, touring and downhill modes. Don’t have access to big mountains? Hills and town parks are great places to play in a pinch, and the best part is no lift lines!
What’s the Difference Between Ski Touring and Splitboarding?
Also known as alpine touring, or randonnée, ski touring uses specialized skis with heel-raising bindings and removable climbing skins to ascend snowy terrain, but still allows for a full downhill experience. While any ski can be retrofitted with touring bindings, special skis exist that are lightweight with moderate width and flex, and early-rise/rocker tips (for float) plus skin attachment features for efficient mobility both up and down the hill. Touring boots aim to balance the needs of both uphill climbing and downhill skiing, designed for binding compatibility, including walking modes and lighter materials which is ideal for climbing.
Splitboarding offers the best of both worlds, magically transforming from uphill skis to a downhill board in a literal snap. While using the same climbing skin technology as touring skis, the board itself splits in half or latches together as one, with bindings rotated to function like skis during ascent and locked in place for snowboarding during descent. While any board can be retrofitted as a splitboard (with kits), a dedicated splitboard makes the process seamless, with lightweight materials focused on strength, ease of use, and mobility for uphill and downhill. Like ski touring, regular snowboard boots can be used, or specialized splitboarding boots that incorporate features improving both the ascent and descent experience, like walking modes and increased tread.
Both splitboarding and ski touring offer awe-inspiring accessibility to back country territory which would otherwise be inaccessible. They can also be used for lift-access resort riding, or swap the mountains for a leisurely stroll around your local park with a pair of the same skins, skipping downhill riding altogether. Regardless of the location you choose to explore, always take proper precautions and plan backcountry trips accordingly, especially in avalanche territory. Remember, climbing uphill is hard, so make sure to dress in layers, stay hydrated, fueled and adventure ready!
Backcountry Avalanche Safety
Avalanche safety education is crucial for anyone venturing into the backcountry during the winter. Numerous organizations offer excellent avalanche courses tailored for mountain enthusiasts, with fun curriculums combining classroom theory and hands-on fieldwork. The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and National Avalanche Center are two great US-based resources to start. AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2 and AIARE Avalanche Rescue education courses are offered nationwide and provide helpful baselines. Additional resources include Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) and European Avalanche Warning Services (EAWS).
In addition to avalanche education, ensure you have the right gear and know how to use it. Most hands-on avy education courses include the use of industry-standard gear, including an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, avalanche backpack and airbag and emergency rescue communication (satellite phones or radios). When it comes to avalanche gear, the ultimate goal is never having to use it at all, but practicing can be the difference between life and death. Exploring back country territory without standard avy gear is considered bad taste, and even irresponsible.
Even after training, regular practice with safety equipment and decision-making scenarios is crucial to maintain your backcountry skills. Plan your trip before you reach the trail by checking weather reports, avalanche forecasts, online route databases and guidebooks, and even hiring guides or leveraging local knowledge. Apps and technology can help, but seasoned backcountry riders will tell you nothing beats education, planning and good old fashioned observation. As you climb, always assess the snowpack dynamics, and respectfully err on the side of caution. Stick to known routes, and tell people where you’re going and when you will return.
Want some help preparing for your backcountry adventure? We offer Avalanche Training Courses and guided trips for enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Give us a call at 720.242.9828 or contact us to learn more.