I’ve gone backcountry riding multiple times over the last few years and each time I hoofed it up a bootpack while my skier friends flew by me on their skins. Each time I told myself I had to get a splitboard. And after each time I never did. Although I had always wanted a split I could never get myself to commit to buying one. Between the board, the skins, poles and all the other gear it was an expense I was trying to avoid. That was until I booked my flight to Colorado only to find out my buddy Nic’s dad, Pascal, was also coming out and that if I wanted to hit up the zones they were going to I would need to skin. Bootpacking was not an option.
Left with no choice it was time to commit to a splitboard. After doing some research I was happily surprised to find out that it wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg to make it happen. Growing up doing plenty of carpentry with my dad I knew I could convert one of my boards to a split using one of the many kits available.
Luckily I work for a snowboard company and have an awesome boss so I was able to go to the warehouse and pick out any board I wanted to cut in half instead of using one of my old beat up decks. Having a board in the line that was developed by Colorado native and backcountry legend Brent Meyer, the choice was easy. I went with the Natural. After talking to backcountry.com customer service, who was super helpful by the way, I decided to go with the Voile Split Kit, Backcountry Splitboard Skins which are actually G3 skins with a Backcountry goat print, and I borrowed extendable poles from Nic but I will definitely be picking up Voile Backcountry Pole after using a friend’s pair for the trek up to Tuckerman’s. The only other equipment I would recommend buying is Voile Ski Straps. They are cheap and a great way to tie gear down tightly to your pack, like your poles on the way down. Aside from avalanche gear, everything else you need you should already have.
Making the board itself isn’t too difficult as long as you are comfortable with power tools. I followed the step by step instructions in the video by John Horn. Make sure you have the right tools and take your time. In other words, don't wait until the night before your flight to get started like I did. The initial cut down the center of your board is very important. Unfortunately my dad and I were not on the same page when it came to following down the center of the line we drew or next to it so our cut wasn’t perfect but everything still turned out fine. The next most important thing would be the drill bits. We didn’t have the right size countersink bit and we couldn’t get one since all the stores were already closed. As a result, we did our best with the bits we had but the new hardware did not end up flush with the base in the end which did not seem to effect performance at all. Also, be careful when drilling the countersinks. The bits go nice and easily through the plastic base but get really grippy once you hit the wood core. I thought the project was ruined when the bit dug in hard to the wood and the hole ended up being too big. Good thing a little ingenuity and Krazy Glue go a long way.
After drilling what felt like a million holes into my board, putting together all the hardware, adding some epoxy and then a fresh coat of wax the Natural was officially a split board. All that was left to do was to cut the skins to size and pack and I was ready for takeoff. This is where I really want to pat myself on the back as I fit all of my gear, including an extra deck for resort riding, and enough clothes for a week into my wheelie board bag and it only weighed 48 lbs. That’s what you call efficiency.
My plan was to head to Bethoud pass for a day by myself to get the hang of skinning but was convinced to head to A-Basin instead. Hot lapping Pallavicini with Nic’s dad was so much more fun than what would have essentially been cross country skiing by myself. We even got a chance to take a few runs with the OvRride crew! So I was definitely happy that I went to A-Basin but a little concerned that I would have no idea what I was doing come the next day.
The next morning came and we loaded up the truck and left Denver for Berthoud. As always we made a quick stop at Einstein Bro’s Bagels for breakfast and to grab some sandwiches for lunch. We were in no rush to get there, not like you can really rush anywhere in Nic’s Bronco that’s older than me, so we rolled up to the Berthoud Pass parking lot around 10 am. We applied some sunblock, geared up and walked across the street to start our first ascent.
Having skinned many times, Nic and his dad looked on and laughed as I clumsily fumbled with my skins in the snow. After a few minutes I had got em right and was ready to strap in and take off up the hill. At this point I realized something I had never though of before. The Launch Strap-In binding system is perfect for splitboarding. I skied until I was 12 and have strapped into two planks a handful of times since then so I had some balanced when strapped into one ski with a detached heel and trying to get the other one on but I couldn’t imagine someone with no skiing ability trying to do the same with traditional binding straps that tend to get in the way. With my Launch TM’s it was super easy as all I had to do was step in and my straps flipped right up ready to be ratcheted down.
Once strapped in, we took off. We decided to do a short ascent and get a quick run under our belts before taking off for the much longer skin to the summit. This was also the same ascent I would usually make while bootpacking as going any higher without skins is tough. I immediately decided that I am never bootpacking again unless I have to. Although it is just as strenuous as hiking up, we made it in half the time. Skinning itself isn’t too difficult but I think that had a lot to do with me skiing when I was younger so I still have the balance and motions down. The only time it gets difficult is on steeper sections where good technique makes a difference. Don’t ask me what good technique actually is because I haven’t figured it out yet. The one thing that can help is using skins that are a bit more grippy. When it comes time to replace my skins I think I will go that route although the Backcountry Splitboard skins worked just fine as long as it wasn’t too steep.
Converting the split back into one solid board is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is line it up, clip it in and slide on the bindings. It was a good thing that it was a pretty warm sunny day so my hands didn’t get too cold but if you are a fan of mittens like I am I’d recommend bringing a second pair of smaller thinner gloves to wear for the conversion. It’s tough to do in mittens.
We dropped in to some awesome steep untracked powder. I was a little nervous as to how the board would perform but was happily surprised when it didn’t skip a beat. The only thing that felt a little weird was the fact that you are lifted about a half inch off the board since you are on top of pucks and plates and not directly on the board. It’s something I am totally willing to deal with if that means I get access to way more terrain and good snow. After a few awesome turns and a little kicker we found we were back at the bottom. The split had passed the test.
It was now time to focus on our main objective, the summit. The ascent itself took north of two hours and and a lot of sweat and a little blood as I fell a few times. I didn’t even realize the GoPro had died right before the last section of the climb. Once we got to the top we had lunch and some celebratory chocolate before dropping into an awesome bowl. I won’t go into too much detail here. Instead, I’ll let you check out the video below to get a feel for it.
After the bowl we continued to make turns all the way down to a small parking lot on the Winter Park side of the pass where we ran into the Summit County Rescue Group preparing to leave after a day or training. After exchanging a few laughs we hitchhiked back up to the Bronco and headed back to Denver. Although I had achy muscles I never even knew existed afterwards I had fallen in love with splitboarding. We didn't even hesitate to put the split Natural to use as the next day we tackled The Professor off Loveland pass... but that's a story for another day.