Ah, that first splitboard trip of the season.
Maybe it’s a quick, low-tide strike before the resort opens up, or perhaps it’s a full-on hunt for those first bottomless turns. Whatever it may be, one thing’s for certain: you and the crew need to be prepared.
From getting your gear in order to hit the skin track, we mapped out the essential steps for planning a successful first mission. So, take some notes, share this intel with your buddies (we’ve also got a Splitboarding 101 for any beginners), and then get out and explore all that the backcountry has to offer.
Be Prepared to Strike
Once the snow starts falling, it’s only a matter of time before that one big storm opens the proverbial floodgates. But instead of waiting until the second that happens—and scrambling to find your pack, skins, and boots in the depths of your mom’s basement—get your act together. Put some homies on speed dial and get your gear dialed. This way, you’ll be the first crew out the door when the time finally comes.
- Plan Your Route: Before you head out, have a plan. Always. You and your crew should have a clear grasp on where you’re headed and what to expect. Let someone (who’s not going) know where you’ll be and when you plan to be back, just to be safe. Make a checklist of everything the crew will need, and designate which essentials each will be responsible for. If this is your first time ever, be sure to head out with an experienced group. We’ve all been a first-timer, and real homies will gladly take you under their wings. For a more in-depth intro, give our How to Get Started with Backcountry Splitboarding blog a read.
- Leave Early: It’s good to get an early start whenever you head out on a split mission. Heck, it’s good to get an early start when snowboarding in general. Plus, you always need a little extra time to work out the first-mission kinks. Cap the brews early the night before, set the coffee pot before you go to bed, and hit the trail before the rest of the town does.
- Get Your Gear Ready: You’re probably pretty amped to get out there, so why not take advantage of it? Set all your gear out the night before, and make sure everything is in proper order. Check your hardware, replace those batteries, wax and tune your board, and lay out all the essentials (that includes extra goggs, gloves, and snacks). Beacon, probe, shovel are paramount, so give them a thorough inspection. Not sure you got everything you need? Our Pre-Season Backcountry Prep is a good place to refresh.
Finding the Snow
For those who live in mountain towns already, this probably won’t be too hard. But for those of us who live a bit lower in elevation and further from the snow, you’d do right by a little extra planning. Keep an eye on the weather, check the avalanche bulletins, and see what the best options are. Every region is going to be a bit different. Are you in the Northeast? Northwest? Is it snowing or raining? The Rockies? Could just be total dust on, well, a lot of rocks. Case in point: manage your expectations.
- Check The Weather: Essential. Check the local avalanche bulletin and know what you’re getting into. Just because it’s early season, doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. As the saying goes, “if there’s enough snow to ride, there’s enough snow to slide.” Plus, now ain’t the time to get into any lazy habits.
- Know Your Options: Where’s the closest access? How much work do you need to put in to get there? And once you’re there, what are the options? If the route you had in mind doesn’t pan out, what other choices do you have? If the weather gets sus or socks you in, maybe there’s some low-angle glades to take advantage of. If anything else, there’s always the option to call it. There’s no shame in turning it around and coming back another day.
- Get to the Snow / Snowline: Can you drive right up to the trailhead? Is there enough snow to skin in? More often than not, the first tour of the winter will be early on in the season. Be prepared to bootpack, or think of more creative ways to handle navigation. That e-bike you spent a small fortune on over the summer? Put those ski straps to use and load it down. That llama protecting the flock at the family farm? Hell, why not. He’d probably love to join in on the adventure and carry the load.
Start Your Trek
Ok, now we’re cooking. You’re at the trailhead, your coffee is hitting, and what was once only the thought of fresh turns is now turning to reality. This is the time to make sure you’re completely dialed and ready to embark on your mission. Check your gear again, ensure everyone’s got functioning avy gear, situate your layers, and hit the skin track.
- Gear Check/Inspection: Once you’re at the trailhead, now’s the time to double check what you’re working with. All that gear you set out the night before? Make sure it’s a) still all there, and b) all functioning properly. This is also the right time to ensure each crew member’s beacon is in working order.
- Skinning: Just like riding a bike. Actually, it’s considerably different than riding a bike, but you get the point. It’ll probably take a few strides to get your legs back under you, but find your rhythm and keep a good pace. Remember: refrain from picking your feet up. Rather, glide each board forward while maintaining consistent contact with the snow.
- Layer Right: If you listened to us earlier, and got a head start on the day, then it’s probably a little chilly at the trailhead. Not to worry. You’ll quickly work up a sweat on the skin trick, so layer—or de-layer—accordingly. If you feel slightly cool, to the point of uncomfortable, then you’re actually in good shape.
- Skin Track Etiquette: Like anything else in life, be respectful. Pull off to the side for any of the following reasons: A trailblazer is quickly gaining on you. You want to snap some photos. You have to adjust your gear. And definitely if you have to take a leak. No one wants to see the remnants of your morning coffee in the skin track.
- Time Management: You ain’t trying to win the winter games out here. Be sure to take your time and ensure you—and the rest of the crew—don’t over exert. Plus, taking regular breaks gives you the opportunity to drink some water, take in the scenery, and snap a couple selfies for the ‘gram.
Before You Drop
Almost there. You’ve now made it to the top of your objective, and, hopefully, you’re not too much of a winded, sweaty, whining mess. But as much as you’re itching to just strap in and go, there are still a few things to consider first. Reach for some snacks, toss back some water, and let’s get those funky skis back to looking like a snowboard.
- Rest: Like we said, this ain’t the winter games. Give yourself the chance to catch your breath while soaking in the views. No one wants to be completely gassed on the way down.
- Re-Layer: The higher elevation combined with the sweat you’ve accumulated probably has you feeling a little chilly. Now’s the time to grab that extra layer from your pack and put your jacket back on.
- Get Your Gear Right: Switch your board to ride mode, stow away your skins, condense those poles, and get your pack situated. Hopefully you didn’t skin up with your goggles on your head, and if you did, swap those foggy lenses out for a fresh pair. And then make a mental note not to ever do that again.
- Plan Your Line: Time for the fun part. But before you drop, go over a plan of action with the crew. Decide your routes accordingly, and be sure to know where to head if things get dicey. Remember, be smart, keep everyone in their comfort zone (including yourself), and don’t be afraid to turn around if something feels off.
Get Your Turns
This is it. You’re so ready to make some pristine turns, that you completely forgot about how tiring the journey up was. Take a moment to soak in your surroundings, while also taking notes of what’s in front of you and below you. While we all want to push it, it’s still early. Play it safe, and ensure this is the first of many laps this season.
- Call Your Drop: Let the crew know you’re dropping. Radio to anyone ahead of you, and make sure you aren’t dropping in on top of anyone else.
- Be Cautious of Pre-Season Hazards: It’s early, remember? Treat conditions as such. The snow is probably a bit thin, so don’t go hammering away right out the gate. There’s a long season ahead of you, and that split setup ain’t cheap. Neither are hospital bills.
- Live It Up: This is what you’re here for. Stuff that phone deep in your pocket, forget about those emails you forgot to answer, and enjoy the ride.
Pack It In
A good time, huh? Hopefully you’ve got some cold ones waiting at the car for you and the crew. Toss ‘em back, and soak in the good vibes knowing that this is only the first of many quality laps this season. When it’s time, load up the rig, pick up any trash, and whatever you do, don’t leave those brand new mitts sitting on top of the roof. Nothing stings more than that.
- Dry & Store Skins/Gear: Once you’re down—and back at the house—be sure to unpack and dry your gear. Don’t be that guy or gal who leaves their goggles and mitts in the car just to find them frozen the next morning. And definitely don’t leave your skins with them. Hang those skins up to dry, but be careful not to put them too close to a heat source. If you’ve never had a gluey mess on your hands, trust us, you don’t want to.
- Unpack Strategically: Don’t leave stuff sitting in your bag. Pull all that stuff out and make sure everything is in good condition. Dry (or maybe wash) any sweaty layers, check and replace any batteries, and double check that your beacon and radios have been turned off.
- Get Ready to Ride Another Day: Hopefully, you had a helluva first day out there. Crack open a beverage with the crew, reflect on what went right—and, more importantly, what could’ve gone better—and start planning your next mission. High fives are very encouraged at this point.