I remember setting down my first ever skin track in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine. We rode the King Pine lift up to the ridge that connects over to Burnt Mountain via a trail called Golden Road. From here, we transitioned our splitboards into touring mode and set out along the ridgeline. This first transition for me was unlike anything my normal snowboarding career had prepared me for. Moving my bindings around. Applying skins to my splitboard?! Riding skis?! I probably spent a solid 20 minutes on this first “transition”. That was 5 years ago, and since then I have dialed in my transition time and general skills as a backcountry traveler.
Here are 6 areas of focus to help you get more confident and efficient as a splitboarder:
1. PACKING YOUR KIT
First things first, know what you’re getting into for the day and pack appropriately. Look forward at the weather and know what to expect, but know it can change quickly. This will determine how heavy or light your kit will be for the day. A hike up a resort trail to get first tracks before they open will likely be a lighter mission that trying to summit Mount Mansfield, as one example.
Here’s my small go to list, feel free to modify:
- Shell: My shell is from the North Face Summit Series line, but in my experience what you’re looking for is a 3 layer Gore-Tex jacket. Something that is durable and breathable.
- Emergency Midlayer: Always bring a warm emergency layer, everyone is always surprised how quickly they cool down when they stop moving. I like big puffy coats like the Patagonia Macro Puff Hoody. On warmer days, the Patagonia Micro Puff is a great option, which is thinner and more compressible. Both the Macro and Micro Puffs are comprised of PlumaFill insulation and provide ultra lightweight, water-resistant, down-like warmth.
- Goggles + Helmet: Which typically stays in your backpack until you’ve summited and you’re ready to descend.
- Gloves, Hat + Neckwarmer: Play around with what works best hiking up such as a lighter hat, headband, neckwarmer, and gloves. For the way down, I would recommend a pair of full finger or lobster claw gloves that provides dexterity.
- Map + Compass: Know where you are going!
- Cell phone + External battery charger
- Snacks + Water: Pro tip: use a hydration pack so you don’t have to stop to drink.
- First Aid & Survival Kit: Always be prepared for worst case scenarios.
- Repair Kit: Extra binding screws, electrical/duct tape, multi-tool, headlamp, and Voile straps that always seem to come in handy, etc.
- Avalanche kit (beacon, shovel, probe): Avalanches can still occur on the east coast - get educated, know what terrain you are getting into, and make sure you go with someone else who is also educated.
- Tail Clips for your Skins: Not "in your pack" but suggested to help your skins stay on each ski, especially with multiple transitions and in extreme cold or wet conditions.
Once you’re at the trailhead everything should be just about set to go. Pop on your puffy to stay warm. Set your poles to the appropriate length (maybe a little longer in deep powder than on a groomed trail) and then apply your skins to your board in tour mode. If you put your skins on beforehand your board is likely still warm from being inside and the adhesive from your skins may stick to your board more than you want it to. By allowing everything to cool down first you’ll have an easier time and your skin glue will last longer.
Finally, once everyone is ready to go, take off your puffy and stuff it back into your bag. It’s better to start your hike a little “cool” so that as you warm up you don’t start to sweat and get uncomfortable quickly. I’ve found Airblaster's Merino Ninja Suit baselayer works great with a well ventilated midlayer, like Patagonia’s R1, is the perfect system for me on short or long days touring.
3. SKINNING / TOURING
This brings us to that actual act of skinning, or touring. Most importantly, pace yourself. This is no race. It’s about you, and mother nature. Enjoy your time and find a good rhythm. Keep your skins in contact with the ground at all times by gliding rather than stepping. The more you glide rather than step, the more energy you will retain throughout the day. On steep terrain, keep your weight in the back and approach the slope at an angle rather than try to point straight up the hill, which will also help conserve energy for longer days. If you come to close to the side of the trail, or an obstacle, you’ll do a kick turn and pivot 90° uphill to keep your angle low, but continue moving uphill.
If you’re with a group, know who is the leader and who will be tailing the trip. Leader, keep an eye backwards periodically and make sure your pace is working for everyone. Look ahead, be alert and aware of your surroundings - whether it’s someone coming down or changing weather.
Congratulations on reaching your summit! Now we’re going to switch gears for the descent. I like to get my transition out of the way first thing, yes you’re tired from making the climb, but the sooner you have your splitboard put back together and are ready to descend, the more time you have for snacking/drinking water and recovering.
Here’s a list of my transition:
- Start in a flat area, stomp the snow if need be.
- Put on your shell (or puffy for longer transitions).
- Collapse your poles and stuff them in or outside your pack.
- One ski at a time, take your binding off.
- Peel skins off and fold in half (if you plan to do more laps put them in your jacket to keep the glue warm, otherwise they can go in your pack also).
- Clean inside edge of splitboard so you can get a solid connection, and gently tap any snow/ice out of your bindings.
- Clasp your splitboard together and slide bindings on creating your snowboard once more.
- Replenish some of that hard spent energy with a snack + drink.
- Get your goggles, helmet, gloves, etc on.
- Strap into splitboard and SHRED SOME POW!
Alright this is the big one. Nobody was ever an expert the first time they did something. It takes time, patience, and dedication. The more you practice these skills the better you will become and the more confident you will get. Take your time to layer properly for the day by looking at the weather. It might be sunny and 20° in the morning, but cloudy and 10° by the afternoon so think ahead.
It took me a while to get the hang of being on two planks and using poles as a snowboarder, but you’ll find that once you’re out there touring you will get into a good rhythm that works for you. Practice those kick turns! It can be hard to find the proper balance when you’re standing on one ski in an off camber environment, so any chance you get to try them out rather than beat straight up the trail will be beneficial for you in the long run. Lay your board out at home and try setting it up in tour mode and transition back to a snowboard. Remember it’s not a race!
6. SKIN CARE
Once you are home from your tour, it's very important to dry out your skins - just peel them apart and hang them up. Once dry, refold in half so the glue sides are together and put them back in the storage bag. The better you take care of them, the longer they will last.
We’re blessed here in Vermont to have resorts that allow uphill travel. Some charge a small day use fee, others offer season uphill passes, and some are free! I highly recommend checking with your local resort on their uphill policies (and following them!) because being able to practice these skills in the safety of resort boundaries is very relaxing.
Regardless of where you are - Leave No Trace and do your part to protect where we all play. I hope everyone has fun and makes memories out of these epic adventure days!
- Nic MacCulloch,