Go halfsies

Split boarding is the best of both worlds for backcountry snowboarders.

Split boarder Ray Tomlinson

Split boarder Ray Tomlinson


There was a time when someone who wanted to snowboard down a mountain in the backcountry would have to put on their snowshoes to climb up the slope with a board on their back. Once on top, they’d reverse the process, strapping on their snowboards and carrying their snowshoes to fly down.

Then one day, someone came up with the brilliant idea of the split board. Combining the best of both worlds, a split board is a snowboard split in half. It allows a person to ski up slopes and snowboard down without having to change gear.

Split boarding has become more popular in the past few years for people who prefer the backcountry to the resorts. Maybe they’re trying to save money on lift tickets, or they just want to reach fresh powder before groomers tramp it down, or they appreciate the solitude the backcountry can bring. Whatever the reason, Ray Tomlinson is seeing more split boarders in the backcountry than he has in the past.

He first began split boarding in 1993.

“Back then, we’d head up to Mount Rose and see almost exclusively teleskiers, not a lot of snowboarders. Now it’s 50-50 snowboarders.” And, he says, “the majority of them are on split boards.”

A series of hinge points, metal plates and bindings make it possible for a snowboard to convert to skis. While you can expect the cost of a split board to start around $900, do-it-yourself conversion kits make this less expensive. For around $160, you split your snowboard in half, brutal as it sounds, and add the gear yourself. Tomlinson cautions that these “homebrew kits” lack a metal edge on one side, which can give you less stability when climbing. But basically, anything you do on a snowboard, you can do on a split board.

“It’s like going out for a hike, but you’re not limited to the trail system,” says Tomlinson. “It’s just open terrain, and you climb as much as you want. When you’re done, you put a big grin on your face and go downhill.”

There are other advantages, too.

“The biggest thing for most people is they love to ski on powder all day, whereas at a resort, you’re not going to get it all day, or not much,” says Tomlinson. “And you save so much more money.”

local hot spots for split boarding:

• Mount Tallac, within Desolation Wilderness, where you’ll have views of Lake Tahoe most of the time

• Castle Peak, near Soda Springs and Donner Pass. You’ll also find three Sierra Club cabins here.

• South from Sugar Bowl toward Squaw Valley is a range of mountains with more extreme terrain and a cabin nearby.

• Lassen Volcanic National Park is a secluded, big, white, snowy bowl.