SNOWBOARD BACKCOUNTRY BUYERS GUIDEEvery season there are more and more skiers and snowboarders that are leaving the comfort and ease of the ski areas to head out and explore what the out of bounds mountains have to offer. No doubt the rewards are plentiful, with fresh untracked snow, new vistas to behold and an undeniable sense of freedom and one with nature for those who are willing to earn their turns and put in a bit of work.; Before you step out of your skis and start hiking though there are a few pieces of equipment you’re going to need to not only keep you safe out there but also make your trip a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.
The recent advancements and innovation in the splitboard industry have made splitboarding in the backcountry far more enjoyable. That being said, having the right equipment can make or break your day. The first thing to consider would be what conditions you will mainly be riding. If you are looking into purchasing your first splitboard then an all-round board that can handle both deep snow and variable conditions is best.
Most splitboards are going to be either flat or cambered between the feet with varying amounts of rocker at the tip and tail of the board. There are fully rockered boards available but while these may be great going downhill in 40cm of fresh snow, negotiating a steep and icy skin track isn’t won't be an easy task.
Both the Jones Solution and Rossignol XV are both exceptionally capable splitboards no matter what the conditions.
Climbing skins that are attached to the case of the splitboard to travel uphill are a crucial part of the backcountry touring system. Most of our staff members use G3 and have found these to be the best balance for weight, reliability, and grip.
Whichever brand you choose, make sure they have tip and tails attachments. Some older or cheaper models don't come with tail clips that prevent the skin from peeling off the board and losing its adhesiveness to the base of the board.
There was a time when split boarders would mount your regular bindings onto a Voile Plate Adapter. This system has heavy and cumbersome while the new models currently available are lighter, simpler and connect the two halves of the board together far better resulting in it being easier going up and a more solid, stable and confidence-inspiring controlled descent.
The two main bindings manufacturers are Spark R&D and Karakoram. Union has recently entered into the market with its own offering but for ease of use, reliability and board feel, we Personally recommend the Spark R&D Surge.
Even if this is your first splitboard purchase, I imagine you already have boots that work with your current snowboarding kit. While your current boot will do the job, something more splitboard specific could be a better option in the long run. There is an increasing amount of backcountry specific boots being released to market right now so this is the perfect time to explore the options.
Look for a boot that is a medium to stiff flex with a deeper tread from a manufacturer who specializes in rubber and sole manufacturing. Both Vibram and Michellin have started to provide their services to the splitboard boot market resulting in increased traction when traveling on steep, icy and exposed sections where boot packing is essential. The K2 Aspect, Salomon Trek S/Lab and Ride Insano are all great options. There is no definitive answer to what is right or wrong here and above all, comfort is paramount.
Using telescopic or collapsible backcountry specific ski poles for splitboarding is essential. They adapt to changing snow conditions and terrain and are easily stored on the outside or inside of your pack while switching to ride mode. My personal favorites are the Gabel FR-3 FL XTR.
Your avalanche transceiver or beacon is one of the most essential parts of your backcountry equipment. It sends out a signal that can be picked up by other transceivers in the event you are buried in an avalanche. Likewise, if your mountain partner is buried, your transceiver will be able to detect their signal. When testing transceivers we looked for ones that were user friendly, easy to use and had 3 antennas. This helps with pinpointing the strongest signal in the shortest amount of time. From personal experience testing numerous transceivers, we can recommend the BCA Tracker 3 and the Arva Neo Plus.
A good shovel is a multi-functional tool that allows you to dig out your partner in the event of an avalanche along with being used to create snow pits to check snow stability. It can also help create a snow shelter in an emergency, build a kicker in the backcountry and dig out your car should you ever get stuck. A shovel with a collapsible design and metal blade is the way to go for both reliability and durability. G3, BCA, and Arva do some great models that fit the bill.
An avalanche probe is part 3 of your essential backcountry requirements (Beacon, Shovel, and Probe) A good probe is lightweight, durable and folds up small. When in doubt, go with something longer at over 3 meters. Shorter may be lighter but the last thing you want is not being able to reach your partner under the snow because your probe is too short.
Backcountry Snowboard Pack
A backcountry pack will differ from a resort pack in a few ways. The main difference will be the size; you’ll need to fit everything you need for a day in the
backcountry in there. A separate pocket for your avalanche equipment is great and will aid in speedy access to your shovel and probe if needed. I like to strap my poles to the outside of my pack, that way they are easily accessible should I need them. Look for packs with a well-designed layout and a good snowboard carry system for boot packing along ridge-lines.
Even if you’re not planning on wearing it, having a good insulated or heavy merino layer in your backpack is always a great idea. They don’t weigh much or take up allot or space but the weather in the mountains can change quickly so it’s always good to be prepared. The Mons Royale Arete is my personal choice as it is warm even when wet due to the merino fill.
Mike Handford (BaseNZ Staff Member / Snowboard Touring Expert)
Personal Gear Preferences:
Splitboard: Jones Solution 161 Splitboard
Bindings: Spark R&D Surge
Boots: Ride Insano
Skins: G3 Universal
Poles: Gabel FR-3 FL XTR
Jacket: Burton AK Gore Cyclic Jacket
Pants: Burton AK Gore Cyclic Pant
Mid Layer: Mons Royale Arete Hood
Gloves: Pow Alpha
Goggles: Smith 4D Mag
Helmet: Smith Code
Pack: Burton Skyward Touring Pack
Avalanche Beacon: Arva Neo 3
Probe: G3 Speedtech 320
Shovel: G3 Avitech