Accessing the most perfect untouched runs in the wilderness is simply one of the best experiences you can have in the snow. You need to have a decent level of fitness, training in travelling in avalanche terrain, the right gear and the right people to keep it safe. If you have this magic combination then the best snow of your life is just a few steps away and it is so worth making the effort.
Split boards have changed the world for Snowboarders who want to get out of the resort boundaries. Are they the best solution for getting into the backcountry and exploring or should you stick to snowshoes?
The two best options for snowboarders who want to get into the backcountry are snowshoes or a splitboard. We have toured extensively in the mountains of Nagano in Japan with both. Here are our thoughts on the pro's and cons of each.
Snowshoes have one very big advantage over a Split board... They are cheap. For around ¥300,000 ($400) you can get a brilliant pair of snowshoes that will give you access to a lot of terrain you can't get to without them. We have tried traipsing through Japan's famous deep powder snow aka Japow with no snow shoes and we can report it is basically impossible. With no gear in deep powder you can basically move at just 1 meter a minute. This means it is not only impossible but is also dangerous to be in the backcountry in powder. With a good set of snow shoes and poles you feel a bit like Jesus walking on water because you float at he top of the snow pack and can move without the enormous effort. Snow shoes are really good in terrain that isn't too steep or that is icy as they have crampon like toes that swivel on the boots meaning you can get purchase on a slippery slope. One of the downsides of snow shoes is that on the way down you have to carry them. They are pretty light but they are very bulky.
Splitboards are far more expensive. A new setup including bindings, skins and crampons will set you back a cool ¥180,000 ($2400). This is going to hurt in the beginning but when you are jetting up slopes of perfect powder you will quickly forget your financial woes and be frothing all day long. Splitboards take a few minutes to transition into skis with skins but once that is done gliding through the snow with enormous surface area and skins that let you slide in only one direction is easy as pie. It really is a very efficient way of travelling in even the deepest snowpack. You can also buy crampons that attach to the binding so if the terrain is hard pack or it's icy you can safely traverse across the hill without sliding sideways. It is pretty much a must in your kit. You never know if some aspects will be scoured clean by wind.
Splitboards don't need to be carried on your back so the only additional weight to carry are the skins which are super light and crampons which only way a few grams. Of course you still need poles and if you are getting more extreme and ice axe, ropes and climbing gear but compared to snowshoes a splitty is way more efficient.
A lot of people ask us if the riding experience on a splitboard is ok. We have a 158 Mind Expander splitboard which has given a 1:1 comparison with our 158 Mind Expander (non split). The ride is definitely different. You can feel the flex profile is altered and the bindings feel different as well. That said it isn't actually a worse riding experience. You quickly get used to the difference and in deep powder the float profile of the boards are the same so the same joy is generated on every turn. On hard pack resort groomers it definitely isn't as stiff as a normal board and as a result you sacrifice some edge control but that is a small price to pay for the incredible advantage of being able to get further into the back country with less effort and more safely.