Splitboarding is probably the most interesting activity I’ve ever engaged in. Ever since I first saw one and saw its potential for what it could make available to me in terms of terrain and travel options, I wanted to try it. Watching movies like the Jeremy Jones Trilogy (Deeper, Further, and Higher respectively) gave me a yearning for being able to make turns and have adventures like that.
I never realized how fucking difficult splitboarding really is.
I got my first splitboard kit, a 161 K2 Panoramic Split, from an online sale last Spring. I couldn’t believe the price, and I also couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy special boots or bindings unlike my friends who are mostly skiers. I was giggling like a five-year-old kid when it shipped to my apartment, and I spent the better part of two hours reading about how to get it set-up.
Fast-forward to Winter 2017.
I’d been doing a bunch of lower-body training to try and get my legs ready. I’d been searching for places near my new apartment in New Hampshire where uphill travel was allowed so I could practice during the early season. I bought books, read blog posts, signed up for AIARE 1 (in March), and asked almost every friend that I knew who’s gone into the backcountry to share their insight with me.
And still, I’m struggling. Either I’m not strong enough to make turns in East Coast conditions, or I’m clearly not good enough at snowboarding yet to make splitboarding a worthwhile investment of time.
And it’s kind of getting in my head a bit. Let me rewind a little bit and talk about some of the tours I’ve been out on and maybe that’ll help fill some gaps.
I started by doing the AMC Winter School back before I had a snowboard. I acquired snowshoes and a backpack capable of handling winter sports, signed myself up, and spent the weekend getting my ass handed to me. I thought I was in good shape, but clearly I was sorely mistaken. I couldn’t make any appreciable turns coming down from Firescrew Mountain on the Duke Ski Trail, broke a trekking pole on the way down, and had to snowshoe my way back out to the cabin. The second day was only marginally better, where we ended up taking the Kimball Ski Trail up to Bowden Hill and doing some tree runs. I actually made turns in the trees, but the weekend utterly wiped me out.
I started working on building my endurance after that weekend. I thought I was improving–emphasis on thought.
I started this past December fairly strong. I started using my Loon season pass and making use of the Uphill Access Policy there by skinning my way up to Loon Peak and then snowboarding the rest of the day. I started getting my overall times under an hour and forty-five minutes.
At this point, I was invited to tour Mount Cardigan with a friend I’d met on Facebook. It had just snowed eight inches overnight and was continuing to snow into the morning, so I said “sure, why not”. Turns out the snow was extremely wet and heavy, which made riding for me exceptionally difficult as well as for my newfound friend’s wife. In addition, we also fought freezing-rain all the way up to the peak at Firescrew Mountain and flat-spots all the way down. Freezing and soaked to the bone, we limped our way back to the cabin.
Round two was today. Instead of freezing rain, we instead were dealing the fallout of the “bomb cyclone” that had just ravaged the entire East Coast of the country from Florida all the way to Maine. Temperatures were already below-zero and the addition of winds topping twenty miles an hour removed another dozen-plus degrees Fahrenheit from the air. We decided to do Duke Meadows a couple times to get a feel for just how bad it was going to be and then re-evaluate. I made one run down, tumbling only a dozen feet from where I’d started due to an unseen wind-drift, and tried to go back to touring mode to get a second run. I discovered that my skins were iced-over and I was going to have to boot-pack my way out of the meadows back to the cabin’s boot-room to dry things off.
My friend (sans wife for this trip) hooked-up with a couple of other skiers who were headed all the way up Duke Ski Trail to the peak at Firescrew, so I booked it for the cabin. Spent a half-hour or so there waiting for my skins to dry enough for me to be able to get back out to Duke Meadows and get another run or two. In the interim, I moved both sets of pucks as far back onto the tail of the board as I was physically able, thinking that it might help me keep my nose above the snow. I figured the rest of the day was going to be a “gear shakedown day” for me, but my friend had other plans. He apparently had already been up to the peak and all the way back to the cabin somewhere in that time, and radioed me after my second run of Duke Meadows and asked if I’d want to skin up the Alexandria Ski Trail all the way up to Mount Cardigan’s peak with him and the pair that he’d hooked-up with earlier.
I (stupidly) fired off a “Sure! Be right there!” to my friend.
Don’t get me wrong: Alexandria Ski Trail is beautiful. Sweeping lines, huge rollers and nice elevation-change among the trees makes for a very interesting trail to ride down. However, if I’d have thought about it more, I would have recognized several things:
- I was tired as hell.
- I was already pretty damn cold, touring for another two hours wasn’t going to help.
- My patience (with myself mostly) was already absurdly thin.
- My skins had already iced-over once.
- Snow conditions were terrible for me.
The first and last points on the above list are what were the most prescient in retrospect. The snow was a mixture of ice/hoar at the lowest layers, wet-and-heavy snow with a frozen layer about an inch thick above that from the freezing-rain event I described earlier, and on top of that was anywhere from a two-inch to ten-inch thick, wind-blown layer of ultra-dry powder.
The snow conditions played merry-hobb with my ability to make turns, especially with the route the skiers chose to ascend. Heading directly onto the trail we were going to ride down, we ascended and switchbacked several steep sections that depleted my energy reserves and made riding safely impossible. I tumbled at least twice, once into a downed sapling’s boughs (from which I now have a dollar-bill-sized bruise on one hip and several other quarter-sized bruises on various surfaces) and another because my snowboard “snow-plowed” into the aforementioned mixed-layer snow and caused me to flip end-over-end (also known as “tomahawking”) and tweak the utter hell out of my left knee.
To cut a long story short: the ride down was hell, the hike out was a worse kind of hell. My skins were still iced-over, which means they weren’t going to stick to the splitboard even if I’d tried. In retrospect, I recognize that I need to buy a couple adjustable straps to make skins remain attached in an emergency.
Which brings me to my current pickle: I’m frustrated, and I’m not sure if it’s me (my skills, my decisions, or my fitness) or if it’s just me being absurdly unlucky in conditions and minor injuries. I honestly want to love backcountry snowboarding, I really do. But the fact that I’m getting this worked just skinning up to an objective and being unable to make any good turns makes me think I need another year of strength and endurance training before I really try again.
More stuff to think about, I guess.