The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

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Alpine touring is not just for skiers

Much like the invasion of the slopes in the late 80's and early 90's, snowboarders are coming into yet another scene of winter sports formerly dominated by skiers, alpine touring! While the concept is at first a bit difficult to comprehend, the brilliance of the split board setup is echoing through areas. Move aside skiers, skinning snowboarders are at your heels!

Wikipedia defines 'split board' as "a snowboard that can be separated into two ski-like parts used with climbing skins to ascend slopes... The two halves can then be connected to form a regular snowboard for descent."

I decided to give it a try after hearing too many glory stories from my skier friends and not wanting to miss out on the powder turns they were getting any longer. I found, my split board to be an awesome alternative to snowshoeing with a board on your back into the back country- an endevour that is both more exhausting and slower.

Splitting a board on a budget
There is no question that winter sports are expensive, and equipment designed for use in the back country is no exception. New manufactured split boards can exceed $1,000 once bindings and climbing skins are thrown into the mix. But there are options far less expensive.

Split board manufacturer Voile sells a split board conversion kit, which costs around $165. If you have an extra snowboard deck lying around the house, you're in luck, just be sure that it has a wood core, because the hardware from the kit will not install safely if the core is made from any other material. If you aren't lucky enough to find an extra board lying around check out the spring sales and find a deal.

In my case I was able to find an older, lightly used demo board at a local shop for around $100. Now that I had a split kit and snowboard to sacrifice, it was time to saw it in half!

Cut and dry
The actual cutting of the board and mounting of hardware is probably the most challenging part of this project. Not to worry, there are how-to videos on Youtube that give detailed instructions on this. Cutting the board properly involves the use of a carbide tipped saw blade to prevent ripping of material and insuring a straight cut. I do not have such tools, nor did I wish to procure them. To be honest, I didn't trust my own skills to do the job, anyway. So I found someone who capable that I could trust with this experiment: Power Play Sports in Morrisville, Vt. They split my board and mounted my kit all for around $150. This was a great price, considering a nine-hour marine resin application was required to seal the cut edge of the board!

5--split -board -photo

First tracks
After making the two trips to Morrisville and finding a pair of bindings to attach to the plates that make this setup possible, it was time to learn how to opperate my new set-up. In order to insure that I did not slow down the group of skinners I would be touring with, I practiced converting the snowboard from touring to riding mode in the warmth of my home. (I strongly recommend practicing before you hit the snow, as it is more difficult to figure this out after you have just climbed for over an hour in single digit temperatures.)

Finally it was time to focus on the "up," as they say. My first attempt was in the late afternoon alone. Having never been on climbing skins before, I can honestly say that it was nothing short of an amazing experience to slide uphill at a much faster rate of speed, than snowshoes or walking. But it is a workout! I was incredibly winded after about 10 min., and it was clear that I was out of shape, but it felt good and I was immediately hooked. After a few more practice days alone, I was ready to join my skier friends on their weekly adventure uphill.

Practice makes perfect 
My first trip up with the experienced skinners went well, with very little "rookie embarrassment" associated with my lack of knowledge in this new-to-me sport. Since then, I have learned many things, perhaps most importantly, is how to properly layer technical clothing, as well as mountain etiquette.

Skinning, is taking-off nationwide at ski areas and in the backcountry. Hopefully, this continues and more and more people will discover the joys of skinning- whether on skis or on a split board.

Photos submitted