Splitboarding & Covid-19. Are we looking at another boom in backcountry touring in 2021?

Splitboarding is no longer the new kid on the block. Having been around in some kind of form from the very early 90’s it gained traction (no pun intended) in the early Noughties and has arguably boomed in popularity over the last 10 years. In part this has been down to influential figures such as Jeremy Jones and his trilogy of films, Higher, Deeper & Further and also thanks to massive advancements in splitboard technology and it’s general availability.

Only five years ago if you took your splitboard out in resort on a busy day you would get a lot of odd looks in the lift queue and a bunch of questions from people who had absolutely no idea what they were looking at. Out in the backcountry huts, grizzled older ski tour types would generally tell you why it wouldn’t work – “It’s too wide for the skin track” were the kind of comments most often heard.

Now this a fair enough assumption for them to make as in split mode the ‘ski’s’ are wide relatively speaking. However, what they didn’t tend to understand is that as a pure splitboard guiding operation we already knew that so we assessed each route and made our own splitboard friendly skin tracks for the ascent to factor this in. We also tended to choose different line choices and run outs for the descents. Now this may sound obvious but if you are a relatively new splitboarder you may not realise this at first.

We’ve had many clients who, prior to coming on a trip with us, have been on backcountry outings with a ski-tour only operation or who have hired a guide who doesn’t understand the limitations of the technology. Their tales were of all of a similar one – they generally had an exhausting and tricky time of it up there….

In the age of Covid-19, we believe there will be a great deal of regular skiers and snowboarders who will be reluctant to share busy lift lines and gondola’s in 2021 but are still keen to ski and the off-piste / backcountry agenda fits the bill nicely.

There has already been a huge demand in the run up to winter 2021 for ski touring equipment across Europe and the shops seemingly can’t get stock in quickly enough. As for splitboarding, a set of new splitboard specific bindings are things of rarity currently. The manufacturers of the most respected equipment ( Spark R&D & Karakoram ) have built, shipped to stores and generally run out of product already.

So it would seem that many people have already decided to earn their turns this coming winter and we rejoice in the fact that many new people will get to discover the joys of serene backcountry touring and riding in pristine snow.

Or will they?

For the most part we expect to see a lot of people new to touring skinning up the sides of a piste at first to find a few ‘slackcountry’ turns off the sides of it. Or, heaven forbid, they’ll start to follow a skintrack without knowing where it actually leads to and then follow tracks on a blind descent which can end up really, really badly. Also will they have the correct equipment with them, avalanche rescue knowledge and so many other important fundamental skills necessary to safely enjoy the backcountry?

There is more to it than just ‘freeing the heel’ and stepping on up into the mountains. Quite a lot really. For instance lets go back to the ‘simpler’ things like ascent and descent route choice – if you don’t know already then maybe take a couple of days out with folks that do. They can also show you proper skinning technique, how to efficiently use the shiny new avalanche transceiver you just got and share a wealth of tips and tricks from their experience of doing this for a living.

Here at The Rider Social we are running a wide variety of shorter trips for the 2021 season, from weekly 3 day sessions for the first timer to big mountain adventures for the advanced touring veterans. Either way we have you covered.

Trips and courses are online now so take a look and let us know if you’d like the best experience possible – but don’t blame us if you get hooked on it!