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A Snowboard Does a Split and Becomes a Pair of Skis

For snowboarders without the budget or inclination to use a snowmobile or helicopter, and in places where motorized vehicles are prohibited, splitboarding has exploded as the best way to ride beyond a resort’s boundaries.
Splitboards are specialized snowboards that separate into a pair of mountain touring skis; they are equipped with a mounting kit that allows standard bindings to switch from a sideways snowboard stance to a forward-facing, free-heeled touring-ski operation. Add collapsible ski poles and climbing skins (a fabric attached to the touring skis to give traction as you ascend steep slopes), and the splitboard gives snowboarders the freedom to travel anywhere that a backcountry skier can.
“Splitboarding is for people that love to ride fresh snow,” said Dave Downing, a former professional snowboarder in Utah who guided our tour between the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, which bracket Mount Tuscarora. “You can go anywhere, put your splitboard together, skin up and snowboard all day for free.” Forrest Shearer and Chris Coulter, both professional snowboarders here and recent splitboard converts, rounded out the group.
Splitboarding has been around since the mid-1980s, but with few companies manufacturing splitboard models, early participants fabricated their own by cutting old snowboards in half.
“I said, ‘This thing looks so funny, it isn’t going to work,’ ” Mr. Downing recalled about his first encounter with a splitboard, in 1995. “But the day I took it out there was a foot of fresh — it was amazing how well it rode, and how easy it was to skin up something as opposed to post-holing.”
Mr. Downing persuaded his sponsor, Burton Snowboards of Vermont, to make him a splitboard and spent the next few years riding it as much as possible to show that it could perform as well as a regular snowboard.
“I wanted to show people that they work,” he said, “that you can go off cliffs, ride big lines and do a lot of stuff on a splitboard that you thought you couldn’t do.”
Today, splitboarding has caught on. It is regularly featured in snowboard magazines and films and has gained advocates in professional snowboarders like Jeremy Jones and Travis Rice.
Sales of splitboards doubled over the last two winter seasons to nearly $350,000, according to Snowsports Industries of America, a trade organization; major snowboard brands are making boards that are already split in half, while Spark R&D of Bozeman, Mont., and Voile-USA of Salt Lake City are offering the first split-specific bindings.
The setup isn’t cheap, or simple, since you need to assemble the elements yourself: the board, mounting kit and bindings, sold separately, start at $1,000; the skins and poles add around $250. But Voile-USA, which currently offers the only splitboard mounting kit, reports that its kits and boards now make up 40 percent of the company’s sales; it has plans to market all the elements as a single package.

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