Try it: splitboarding

These five spots have gladed runs and top-notch powder.

Anyone who’s dealt with long lines at the chair lift and carved-up, icy runs understands the appeal of a pristine backcountry slope. Thanks to the advent of splitboards—snowboards that split in half and double as two skis for hikes up the mountain—boarders can get the freshest first tracks.

“We’ve seen a big increase in the past two years,” says Jordie Karlinski, program manager for Leave the Boys Behind at Aspen Alpine Guides in Aspen, Colorado. “As more companies are producing splitboard gear, the technology is advancing and becoming lighter and easier to use, and more local shops have rentals.

Compared to ski touring, or skinning, splitboarding up a mountain is more work; you need to physically transform your gear, for starters, and a boarder’s bindings and boots aren’t made for climbs. “A ski boot is hard, which helps you side-hill more easily compared to a soft snowboard boot,” says Brendan Burns, an AMGA-certified ski and splitboard guide and lead guide for Exum Mountain Guides near Jackson, Wyoming, which offers a three-day splitboard mountaineering clinic.

“When people first try it, they’re pretty worn out because all that ascending uses muscles they’re not accustomed to using,” he adds. "But on the flip side, coasting back down through untouched powder is a great feeling." It also feels a bit different from regular snowboarding. “You lose some rigidity [in the board] and there’s some torsion since you've cut it in half,” he explains. “But I’ve ridden mine in pretty hairy, hard, icy terrain, and it performs really well. The manufacturers are doing an amazing job making them ride pretty close to a regular board’s setup.”

How to train:

“General fatigue is one of the biggest issues,” Burns says, so start building up your endurance with high-intensity interval training a few weeks or months ahead of your trip. Then focus on strengthening the leg muscles you’ll need to haul yourself uphill. “Hip flexors tend to burn because of the weight attached to each foot,” he warns. Lunges and squats are a good start, while box steps or the StairMaster work the glutes and core and simulate the boot packing motion that’ll get you up the mountain.

Where to try it:

As a general rule, splitboarders can make the uphill march everywhere ski touring is allowed, and dozens of US resorts have uphill policies now. Some have special hours for skinning, others limit it to certain routes, and a few ban it during regular season.

If you’re going the backcountry route, consider hiring a guide. “We plan routes that come up and go straight down, without a bunch of traversing or unnecessary transitions from split mode to downhill mode,” Burns says. Here, five spots to check out this season.

Photo: Carl Zoch

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  • Snowbasin Resort, Huntsville, Utah

    Snowbasin Resort, Huntsville, Utah

    Located just a short drive from the Salt Lake City airport, this expansive recreation spot features 3,000 skiable acres and 3,000 vertical feet. It’s known for its spectacular views amidst wide-open bowls, gladed runs, and long-lasting powder. Most days, it allows skiers and snowboarders to hike up the runs’ centers (on splitboards or skins or just carrying their gear) before and after hours, with daily text alerts letting uphill boarders and skiers know when the slopes are closed to ascents.  

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  • Copper Mountain, Colorado

    Copper Mountain, Colorado

    Located about 75 miles west of Denver, Copper Mountain is best known for its diverse terrain, which allows both novice and advanced skiers and riders to enjoy the runs at their own pace. Athletes can splitboard or skin up the mountain outside of operational hours with a complimentary access pass (just don’t forget your headlamp for those nighttime runs).

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  • Whitewater Ski Resort, British Columbia, Canada

    Whitewater Ski Resort, British Columbia, Canada

    Located in the Kootenay Rockies along Canada’s “Powder Highway,” Whitewater Ski Resort averages 40 feet of snowfall annually. The ski park allows splitboarding in all the epic surrounding backcountry territory, and the resort offers a backcountry 101 course for a guided look at the terrain. The new rental shop offers splitboards, and from February 23 to 28, the Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Fest will include splitboard demos and clinic options.

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  • Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    This peak, known as “the King,” offers incredible views of the Tetons. There’s a great network of chairlifts, but where the mountain really shines is in its lenient uphill policy. There are three designated uphill routes during operating hours, with dogs allowed whenever the lifts aren’t spinning. 

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  • Monarch Mountain, Salida, Colorado

    Monarch Mountain, Salida, Colorado

    This hidden gem (far from the hustle and bustle of bigger resorts) gets an average annual snowfall of 350 inches and offers guided backcountry runs. Located in the stunning San Isabel National Forest, the mountain caters to uphill skiers and boarders by letting them hike upstream during operating hours on designated trails. Outside of that, the mountain allows uphill travel on almost all trails.

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