splitboard in japan

Split Decisions : The Rise of Split-boarding In Japan

evergreen.hakuba Blog, Into The Backcountry

If we know one thing about winter sports it is that it is constantly evolving. Like many sports these days, the snow-sports industry has seen many changes since its early beginnings over 100 years ago. With the advent of the redesigned parabolic carving skis in the 90’s, to explosion of fat powder skis recently and the growing popularity of backcountry touring, we are witnessing developments focussed on making our gear better. We’ve now got specialty boots, bindings and skis for every type of terrain and condition.

Now lets step off the resorts and lets enter into the backcountry. For a long time the realm of ski touring was just that, for skiers. They had the free-heel alpine touring bindings, skins and the ability to hike up peaks and cover long distances gliding over the snow. The whole alpine touring ski system owes its roots to the Scandinavian skiers who pioneered skiing in Norway
sing seal skins under their skis for traction. Nowadays skins are made with synthetic materials that slide one way and grab the snow to prevent the ski sliding backwards.

Snowboarders were of course able to head out into the backcountry but had to walk with snowshoes on and their boards strapped to their backpacks. Anyone who has ever walked up a hill in knee-deep powder with snowshoes on knows how grueling it can be. Two steps up, then one step slides down, repeat until exhausted or you’ve reached the top, three hours later.

Then one day in the late 80’s in the Utah Wasatch mountains, a local rider and freethinker by the name of Brett “Cowboy” Kobernick, devised the worlds first split-board. All it was was a regular old snowboard cut down the middle vertically with a hacksaw and two door hinges with bindings attached. From there, a local ski and snowboard production company called Voile began designing and selling their own versions of the split-board design. In simple terms the board becomes two skis with the binding facing forward for the way up and then connects together like a normal snowboard for the way down. Edges were added to the inside cut line for grip and control on the ascent, better clips and binding systems were introduced and now almost all major snowboard manufacturers have one if not several split-board models in their fleet.

Snowboard films featuring pro-riders using split-boards have also brought the concept into the mainstream public’s eye and made it the very “in” way to travel in the backcountry. With Japan’s legendary deep powder snow, big snowboard population base and growing backcountry community, the split-board idea was quickly and easily accepted by riders.

Acceptance of snowboarders in the early days by Japanese resorts was another story! On one “Skier Only” resort, it was only because the rider had his board “split” and on each foot that they allowed him to ride the lifts! With never seeing such a contraption like that before, I assume they thought it was some new type of fat telemark style ski!

Now one may ask, what are the advantages and why all this recent hype ? I think it comes down to two things; time and efficiency. With a split-board, while ascending you have more surface area below your feet, so your weight is spread out across your “ski” or one half of your board, this equates to less sinking down into the snow, making it easier for you to climb.

The next advantage is glide, wearing snowshoes your glide is zero, using a split-board you can glide a little on each step and if you have to go across any flat terrain or need to make any short descents you can just “ski” down and then continue along, leaving the snowshoers in your dust. The main advantage is maximizing your time snowboarding down, which why
you are out there in the first place!

Another common query is can I make one myself? Well, yes you can! Although you’ll want to make sure you do it correctly, need to buy special bindings and baseplates and you’ll lack the inside edges of a production model.

If you are a snowboarder and keen to get out and try a split-board while you are visiting Japan, come by the Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba where you can learn the tricks of the trade from their crew professional backcountry split-board guides. They carry a wide range of boards and can help you get it dialed just right for you. Evergreen also offers guided off-piste tours for skiers and boarders, avalanche safety courses and has all the gear you’ll need to head out into the winter wilderness safely.

Whether you are new to the backcountry touring game or a boarder looking to venture further afield, like they say “once you make the split, you’ll never go back!”

By James A. Robb
Senior Guide/Instructor, Evergreen Backcountry Guides