Ten minutes in I removed my outer jacket. Fifteen minutes in I removed my hat. The sweat persisted. I fell over the first log we crossed, feeling embarrassed but not cold. I grew up on skis, but apparently it’s not like riding a bicycle. I took too many years off, and my muscles don’t remember. Snow fell while we climbed, it felt like we found winter. I could hear the clicking of the splitboard touching as I made slow forward progress. This was my first time in the backcountry, my first time on a splitboard and my first time skinning. I checked a lot of things off my bucket list on this February day. The stars aligned when Brandon Slate (owner of Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center) said I could borrow a splitboard from his fleet and my friend Tommy Gram said he’d show me around. (Tommy guides for Buena Vista Mountain Adventures and RMOC.)
For those of you who don’t know, a splitboard is a snowboard cut in half, so you can skin up with skis and ride down on a snowboard. The skis are much wider than typical skis as you wear your snowboard boots. I invited fellow snowboarder and Ark Magazine contributor Melody Buschur to join. (She’d never been splitboarding either.)
At RMOC, where we got our splitboards, we got a quick demo on applying skins, taking them off, attaching the skis together to make the board and we were given a beacon, shovel and backpack to hold it all. Brandon told us layering is key. “On the way up you’ll be the hottest you’ve ever been in your whole life. When you get to the top you’ll be the coldest you’ve ever been in your whole life.”
That rang in my ears as I climbed, noticing that Melody and Tommy never removed a layer.
We climbed 2,000 feet in elevation, until we reached treeline. A few hundred feet from the top I seriously considered that I might be too lazy for the backcountry.
The weather on top was very different; the wind blew fiercely and the temperature dropped. Tommy added layers. I put my hat and coat back on. We ate a quick snack and started the process of turning our skis into a board. The process was fairly easy, once we made a flat surface. Once our planks were boards, we made a handful of glorious turns in the untouched snow. I worried that the splitboard, being longer than my own board, would be difficult or unresponsive. I was impressed by it’s agility and my ability to link turns.
Tommy chose an area with very low slide risk, which Melody and I greatly appreciated. Tommy made us feel confident and safe. He gave us a few avalanche pointers on our way up. I only questioned Tommy’s decision once, when, being on skis, he took a slightly uphill line. As a result Melody and I struggled hard for 20 minutes. We considered turning our boards back into skis, but I refused. I’m not a skier, I didn’t want to give up on my snowboard so soon. We post-holed, army-crawled, packed down snow and cursed a bit. Tommy was more patient than a sloth trainer.
After we got through that, we started our descent back to the car on the trail we’d started on. Some of it was flat, some of it was uphill. We used our poles a lot. Snowboarding with ski poles was a new experience. I dropped mine twice. The trail out was my favorite part. There were kickers, tight turns and walls to ride.
On the way out I hit two trees (not too shabby). One was a body slam to a large tree trunk and another was an evergreen branch slap to the face. Neither slowed me down much.
It was a great, exhausting, fun, exhausting day.
Would I do it again? Hell yes. Next year.