In Defense of Splitboarding, Pt. 1

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This is pure SplitHate, designed by a Coloradan clearly teetering on the brink of insanity. Yes, sir, we understand. Splitboards take longer to transition to uphill travel mode than touring skis- an obvious, unfortunate byproduct of their very nature. More steps in the process. But does this actually constitute a danger to my partners? It got me thinking…

He implies that a splitboarder wastes unnecessary time in a specific companion-rescue situation in which your partner is buried uphill from you. To be fair, this is a plausible scenario. Imagine this: you ride a slope, continue well out of the avalanche runout zone at the bottom, and find a safe spot in the flats to watch your pal descend. But he triggers a slide and gets caught and buried in it- and the slide only runs halfway down the slope, leaving you with 500’ vertical between you and your pal. You’re stuck in snowboard mode. Technically speaking, you’re at a disadvantage. Where the skier needs only to remove skis, put skins on, and step back in to start climbing, the splitboarder will spend at least an extra minute or two to complete his transition. This is definitely something to consider.

But we’re talking about avalanches, not some lab situation. Each situation is extremely complex. No two will ever be the same. Read old copies of the Snowy Torrents or check this out if you need convincing. There’s a tremendous myriad of factors that come into play in each rescue scenario, any one of which is vastly more important and time-saving than the extra 1 to 2 minutes a splitter will spend transitioning.  For example:

  • Consider than many splitters can transition more quickly than skiers. Generally I’m ready to rock on top and at the bottom faster than many of my skier pals (I won’t go as far as saying most!). I’m also equally as fast or faster in the skintrack than most of my partners. I’ve worked hard over the years to get my transitions dialed and efficient, as well as to get fit and fast. I’m not saying this to boast. I’m average. And with some practice any splitboarder can be just as fast as most skiers.
  • Even more importantly, consider the rescuer’s skills with a probe, beacon and shovel. Each of these takes hours of practice to master. Regular practice, not just one big binge session in an Avy I course. The most rescue-skilled partners I have are pro ski patrollers and they drill weekly at a minimum (many of them more often). We all know plenty of backcountry skiers and snowboarders who don’t put the effort in.  Fumbling around with any one of these steps would easily waste more time than transitioning the splitboard.
  • Most importantly, proper terrain management and travel habits are absolutely essential in keeping everyone in your group out of an avalanche in the first place. Do this and the splitboard transition lag isn’t even an issue. Avalanche guru Bruce Tremper outspokenly advocates good terrain management & travel practices as the most important factors for staying alive. I absolutely agree.

This list could go on and on. Basically, Mr. Coloradan Splithater is missing the forest for the trees with this one. As a splitter, will you spend more time transitioning to uphill travel mode than a skier of equal competence would? Yes, obviously. Will this make a difference in the outcome of your buried partner? Possibly, but hard to impossible to determine as each situation is different. Is the extra minute or two spent putting your board in uphill travel mode as important a consideration as getting fit/efficient, becoming a skilled rescuer, or learning and practicing good terrain management skills? Absolutely not.

If you’re really worried about it, you could always offer to go last down the run, rendering this issue meaningless once and for all. I’m sure all your skier friends would love the opportunity for first tracks.

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11 thoughts on “In Defense of Splitboarding, Pt. 1

  1. Well spoken man, arguing about transition time with your bc tool is silly (splitboard vs duke vs tech vs tele), as you said, just spend the time to become proficient in your craft. Its ridiculous that there is even a need for a ‘defense’ at all. That FB page is a bad joke. Its only real purpose seems to be to get people arguing, not present any valid points. Here’s an interesting article by Stephen Koch about ski vs. split board in the mountains (http://stephenkoch.com/2010/06/ski-vs-snowboards-for-mountaineering-descents/). Keep up the great work Nick

    • Thanks man. I remember that debate that Koch sparked up on Romeo’s site a couple years ago. Definitely some valid points. I think there are a few areas where boards can outshine skis, especially in the true alpine arena… but I’ll save that for another time.

      I don’t think splitboarding really needs a “defense”, just chose that title to poke fun at all the internet-drama that’s erupted out of this whole thing.

  2. Although I am sure its just a huge troll, I will add a few things that make his argument ridiculous.
    Mountaineers dont always use skis, so should they stay out of the backcountry because they could be at a disadvantage moving quickly in the snow? Of course not. Look at the facts, some of the best skiers in the world, think Greg Hill, have split partners all the time. They are way more knowledgable than whoever this guy is, and have way more to be gained than the average person in having trust in their partners.

    Just too many variables. Maybe a skier will get his skins on 30 seconds sooner, but if I am fitter, I will beat him to the top no question. Should I now question the fitness of my crew? No, I need to know that they do some practice, and trust them to do the right thing. Thats it, skier, tele, snowshoe, whatever. Anybody who thinks different likely isn’t a backcountry rider. I have seen loads of people who say they have “experience” but don’t know shit, so I will trust you based on many things, but certainly not on your chosen way of ascending to the top.

    The point you made about transition time was excellent. I am by no means a quick changeover guy, but during my AST2 course, I was never even close to last.

    Nice article Splitski.

  3. Well said!
    I strive for the ultimate goal: To not have an avalanche happen in the first place. How do we do that? Buy learning and practicing terrain management. Not by changing our sport entirely. Rather than focusing my time on teaching myself to ski (which personally I don’t think is very fun at all), I would rather spend that time studying the snow pack and practicing to use my beacon so that I can make the correct choices in the field to prevent an avalanche. And if there happens to be a slide, I can be proficient with my beacon/probe/shovel to rescue my friend.
    But I’m just a dumb, out-of-shape splitboarder. What do I know.

  4. there is so much i could say. So many rescues done by professionals often snowmobile or ski to the accident site and then boot up. Transceiver searches are complex and complicated. Movement up and down, back and forth are necessary. Many skiers and non splitboard avalanches fatalities have been partly do to the fact could not get there shit together ( and i don’t mean skis or splitboards), but their probes, shovels, partners and their minds. By this DB’s account, ice climbers, snowshoers and hikers should stay at home and snowmobilers would be the fastest and most survived snowsports group out there, but evidence shows……….

  5. P.S. If your lucky enough not to get caught as well, protocol is to start your hasty search from where you are. If your at the toe of the slide you search up from there , or ski/board down if your uphill, or you begin at LPS(last point seen). SO hope this guy doesn’t need rescued anytime!! We should be there enjoy life and not competing for it. peace and safe travels!!

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