If you already had a peek into our brand new issue, you will know that splitboarding is the hottest thing in the mountains right now – and for many, many good reasons. The Roxy girls already had a feeling two winter ago and decided to saw their snowboards in half, the vandals! Good for us though, as Snow Team Manager Lesley McKenna told the jist of it in our Dez/Jan issue 2011.
Words by Lesley McKenna, photos by Euan Baxter
For years off piste adventures and out of the way powder missions have been lapped up by skiers but a virtual no-go for snowboarders. Apart from those who were prepared to put in the toil to follow their skier friends for hours through thigh deep powder on some crummy snow shoes, always lagging behind and then too knackered to enjoy the down part of the route, the reason they’d put in all that graft in the first place. But that all changed last winter thanks to a simple cut of a board with a saw and the addition of a few extra bits and pieces to help turn bindings into touring tools. Last season it was all about the split board.
The Roxy girls, Margot Rozies, Aline Bock and I, had been eyeing up a backcountry mission all winter. We were hoping for a massive dump of snow and we had plans to take on the three-day tour from Tignes to Meribel through the Vanoise National Park but, like most people in the European Alps last season, our prayers to the snow-gods were going unanswered. But although the snow was proving difficult, we had been busy preparing our equipment so we would be ready to go as soon as conditions allowed. The idea was for each rider in the backcountry crew to make their own split board from scratch using the Volle split board kits ordered online, a saw and some epoxy resin filler.
Armed with my brand new Roxy Envy backcountry freeride board and Eminence bindings I was more than a little apprehensive when my boyfriend produced a saw and advanced menacingly towards me. It was pretty nerve wracking sawing a new board in half not and really knowing if it was going to turn out ok! This was a first for me (and my kind boyfriend helper) but we found a lot of very useful advice on the internet and once the board was split apart the “splitboard” came together pretty easily. With all the bits fully assembled I had a little try out in the living room before packing my bags for Chamonix.
Touring is a different sort of day out and it is best to be well prepared before you get on the mountain. Having done a bit of ski touring in my time as well as a lot of snowshoeing in pursuit of ski touring friends, I made sure I had all the bits I needed. Or I thought I did. I found out around 5pm the night before our tour that I had put the metal pins, essential to holding the bindings on to the split board, in a safe place somewhere at home. Luckily for me, Zero G shop in Chamonix, a mecca for split boarders and a haven for good advice on anything to do with splitboarding, came to the rescue with some replacement pins. The moral being always double and triple check you have everything you need and re check the night before just incase you need a last minute trip to Zero G!!
The next morning we set off on the first lift to the top of Flegere, where we would start the tour which would take us towards the Glacier du Mort, and eventually on to Vallorcine at the other end of the Chamonix/Argentiere Valley. We were lucky with the snow and weather and it looked like we would have great conditions for the tour. The only problem was that there were a lot of other eager tourers headed in the same direction who were equally happy about the weather and the snow conditions! Having ridden our newly made split boards on the piste I was happy to note that cutting the board in half had not rendered it completely useless at turning or holding an edge. I was relieved to have found this out early.
When it came to splitting the board and getting the skins on we proved just as fast as the ski tourers around us and we were soon on the way, striding strangely upwards on the slippy snow, casually chatting while we went and generally enjoying the progress. Touring on a split board in upwards mode is actually more comfortable that touring on skis as the boots are way more forgiving and the half board/ski highbred is just as effective as proper touring skis. The Volle binding mechanism works really well and is easy to change around from snowboard ride mode to ski touring mode. For those who are really smitten with splitboard touring you can go for a special “Sparks” binding which is made to go with the Volle split board kit. I found my Roxy bindings worked fine on the Volle binding mount and for comfort it was great to have my own bindings on.
One note of caution is to make sure you get yourself some proper long skins. You can buy these from Volle along with the split board kit or from any good ski touring shop. Do make sure you buy full length skins though as Margot got herself some half length skins and was having trouble when it got a bit steeper. All together our crew of myself, Margot, and Aline on boards all kept up with our fellow Roxy ski team mate and local Chamonix guide for the day, Andrea Binning and found ourselves with energy to spare for the decent when we made it to the top of our climb, even though we’d been climbing for a good couple of hours.
We had decided to take the steeper but quieter route up towards the Glacier Du Mort to avoid the ski touring groups who were headed for more mellow terrain. This meant we had a steep and somewhat icy scramble towards the end of our ascent. By this time we were on foot as the going was way to steep for skins and here is another note of caution. Usually on my snowshoes I would have been able to walk right on up the steep and icy terrain and if I had had ski boots on, I would also have been fine kicking steps in to the hard snow. However, snowboard boots are no good for kicking steps and I had decided I would not need crampons other than the ones to go on the split board. Fortunately the snow was only hard packed and we could get some purchase and made it up safely, but if it had been any icier I would have definitely been happier with crampons on. Next time I am split board touring I will definitely add walking crampons to my kit bag!
As with any backcountry mission, the view from the top makes all the hiking worthwhile. This was no exception and the view was truly amazing. We sat down to rest, have a bite to eat and watch the chuffs circle on the thermals around us. It didn’t take us long to get our boards back together and make ourselves ready for the decent. There is only one thing better than the view at the top of a tour and that is the decent down the other side, especially if there’s some nice powder snow along the way. Luckily for us we had plenty of that, and without the added weight and bulk of snowshoes on our back we easily made the most of our powder turns!
I hadn’t realised how far up we’d hiked until we started to go down. We had an amazing 14 km decent back to the valley, with only the last couple of kilometres being in the forest. We had great snow, all to ourselves for most of the way, at least until our route met up with the more mellow route of the earlier ski tourers.
When we finally glided into Vallorcine late in the afternoon with large smiles on our faces we were all fully converted and completely into the splitboard craze. We highly recommend giving it a try. You can either rent equipment from a specialist shop like Zero G in Chamonix or why not make your own with a Volle kit and a saw like we did! That way, if you like it you can upgrade to a ready made split board with inside edges. For this you will be happy to know that Roxy will be making a special ready made split board just for riders like you, to be released in autumn 2012… I can’t wait!!! [We’ve tested the regular version of the splitboard model, the Banana Smoothie, check out the our test result!]