Snowboard vs. Splitboard: What’s the Difference?


Splitboarding allows both newbie and veteran winter sports enthusiasts to embark on more versatile adventures in the backcountry, away from manicured traditional ski resort ranges. But what is a splitboard? How is it different from a snowboard?

A snowboard allows you to go downhill freestyle rapidly, but it won’t help you go uphill. A splitboard lets you do both. If you ski with a snowboard alone, you’d have to carry it uphill and use another method, like traditional skis, snowshoes, or ride on a ski lift, to go up the slopes.

How do you determine if a splitboard is the right ski gear for you? Will you have to give up the snowboard in its favor if you happen to like it? We cover their differences in this article, so read on to learn if you’ll be taking the snowboard or the splitboard on your next foray into untamed territory.

What Is a Snowboard?

A snowboard is a 6 to 12-inch wide (15.24 to 30.48-cm) solid board that’s wider than a ski with the ability to glide on snow. Snowboarders stand with both feet transverse to the board’s length. Their stance is different from that of mono-skiers, whose feet face the direction of travel.

One disadvantage of a typical snowboard is it doesn’t provide much traction on snow, but this is because snowboards are more useful for gliding downhill at top speed.

What Is a Splitboard?

A splitboard is a double-purpose snowboard that works two ways. 

As one structure, it’s a snowboard for gliding downhill. When split, it becomes two skis for climbing uphill. This brilliant innovation on the snowboard levels the playing field between snowboarders and traditional skiers because it frees up snowboarders to glide down slopes unencumbered by extra gear on their backs.

In the past, snowboarders had to wear snowshoes to go up the backcountry’s untended slopes or ride lifts to reach ski resort summits. They had to carry their snowboards on the way up and snowshoes on the way down. Mighty inconvenient! The splitboard solves this problem.

Why Do You Need Skis To Go Uphill?

You need skis to go uphill to find the best snow on which to glide back down. With the splitboard’s skis, you can slide uphill on the snow, making the search for fresh powder effortless. All you have to do is rotate the bindings and attach skins to the skis to make the climb manageable.

Why the Splitboard?

The experts at Nonstop Snow claim splitboarding gives snowboarders genuine freedom because it allows them to access the backcountry’s untracked snow, away from the chaos typical of commercial ski resorts during ski season.

To some, uphill climbs aren’t a chore but a vital part of touring. They provide fab physical workouts, opportunities for social get-togethers, and tranquil venues for meditation. Splitboards allow boarders to engage in these activities without hassle.

How Does a Splitboard Work?

Evan Wallace, The Telegraph’s snowboard equipment editor, describes the splitboard as a regular snowboard that divides to form two skis with metal edges for control and grip going uphill. A splitboard setup includes the board, skins, collapsible poles, and standard bindings connected to the board by attachments with front hinges that allow you to split the board—hence, the name.

The skins and binding interface cost an extra $182, but kits with everything in one package are also available.

Snowboard Ride vs. Splitboard Ride

Previously, snowboards provided superior rides to splitboards because the predecessors of current splitboards were mega-heavy and presented awkward rides. But now, modern ones ride as effortlessly as normal snowboards. They also weigh much less.

Some splitboards have reverse cambers that provide reactive rides. A camber is a small upward curve at the snowboard’s center that gives edge control and flexibility for sculpting turns on hard snow. Also, new bindings tailor-made for splitboards enrich the splitboard adventure further.

What Is the Difference Between a Snowboard and a Splitboard?

  • The key difference is that a splitboard has an extra metal edge down its center for added grip when in ski mode. A splitboard, unlike a regular snowboard, has split hooks, nose and tail clips, and touring mounts.
  • A traditional snowboarder cannot use his snowboard to go uphill, so he has to use other means to do so and carry the snowboard on his back. A splitboarder can use her “split skis” for going up the slopes as a backcountry skier does. She simply reconnects the splitboard’s halves at the summit, converting it back to a snowboard for the descent.
  • A splitboard, like cross-country skis, allows free heel movement and uphill traction made possible by skins attached to the bottom of the skis. A snowboard doesn’t need skins because it’s used for going downhill.
  • Snowboard bindings use the EST (extra sensory technology) system or discs to connect to the board. Splitboard bindings are attached by a lockable sliding mechanism. These are made of durable aircraft-grade aluminum and carbon fiber, making them lighter than standard snowboard ones, easing the hiking process.
  • Splitboard bindings are mounted in two modes: snowboard and ski (aka touring) mode. These are designed for backcountry snowboarding, so they last longer than the normal snowboard kind. Snowboards exist in one mode.

Advantages of Splitboards

  • The experts at We Love Mountains say the primary benefit of a splitboard is that splitboarders don’t have to know how to ski because setting one up is easy. If you can glide on a snowboard, you can do so on a splitboard.
  • With splitboards, your expeditions are limited only by your sporting ability and imagination, not by your equipment, because you don’t have to carry additional apparatus, need a snowmobile, or wait for ski lifts at every ascent.
  • Splitboards offer a more efficient way of traversing mountains as they require less effort to move around in deep, soft snow than climbing. On flatter terrain, splitboarders can just let skis glide uphill, saving time and energy. 
  • Splitboard bindings have improved over recent years. They now sport free-hinging heels—great for climbing challenging slopes. Risers beneath the bindings aid steeper parts of the ascent. They make boards better at moving over all snow types, more efficient on the way up, and give boarders extra energy to shred downhill.
  • The adhesive-backed skins attached to the bottom of splitboard skis work similarly to the climbing skins of touring skis. These create traction, allowing splitboarders to ascend with skis on their feet. Overall, the above innovations make the journey uphill a lot faster than snowshoeing it.
  • Splitboards glide like standard snowboards on powder. They’re typically broader underfoot, so they have more grip and traction on snow, allowing wearers to move straight up steeper terrain. When skinning uphill, they don’t lift their feet like they would with snowshoes. Instead, they slide the board uphill. Snowshoes just sink straight through the powder.
  • Splitboard boots are more comfortable than ski boots. They give splitboarders an edge over skiers in matters of mobility and freedom. Snowboard boots need to be stiff, though, so don’t substitute them with park boots that provide little side control when skinning.
  • Glacier excursions on splitboards are much safer than snowshoes but not as safe as standard skis. Splitboard skis are similar to normal ones in that they spread your weight better than walking. This significantly minimizes the chances of falling into a crevasse.

Disadvantages of Splitboards

  • Splitboards aren’t as efficient to assemble and disassemble as a high-end ski touring setup because they have multiple parts. It takes time to switch from ski mode (uphill) to snowboard mode (downhill).
  • They’re expensive—from $1,000 to $2,000 for a setup with the board, bindings, and skins. For an optimal experience, you need to use bespoke splitboard boots and bindings. Snowshoes cost $60 a pair. Splitboards are a substantial investment, but the switch from snowshoes is worth it.
  • Splitboards force you to zigzag up slopes with rapid turns. However, they have an advantage over snowshoes at longer distances because they’re faster and require less effort to maneuver.
  • Unlike standard skis, splitboard skis have asymmetrical shapes, which limit your control over them. Also, the splitboard skis’ looser free heels prevent boarders from skiing away from potential hazards as quickly as touring skiers can.
  • When splitboards were first introduced into winter sports, they didn’t offer as smooth a ride as they do now. The two halves were tricky to reattach, and the edges at the board’s midpoint tended to catch in the snow.
  • Splitboarding technology has vastly improved, but novice snowboarders buy older models. Though inexpensive, they’re heavy and unwieldy, making climbs and rides strenuous. For starters, it’s cheaper to buy snowshoes and a regular snowboard.
  • Since splitboards are built to be used on mountainous areas, they’re less flexible than standard snowboards. This means you can’t use them to do certain tricks and maneuvers.
  • As splitboards are wider, they don’t fit in many set skin tracks, which can be iffy on sharp cross-slope tracks on hard snow. One foot is typically up-slope above the track; the other, lower.
  • Splitboard skis’ curved edges don’t grip hillsides as regular skis do. They’re too short with too much sidecut. So icy maneuvers can be unwieldy but not as much as when you’re wearing snowshoes.
  • Splitboards are heavier than lightweight ski-touring setups. Avid splitboarders can detect the significant difference going downhill resulting from a splitboard’s added weight. But higher-quality splitboard kits are lighter than all-around ski-touring setups.
  • Splitboards don’t flex or ride differently because they’re split. Instead, they’re designed to be stiffer for both uphill and downhill use on big mountain terrain. Exceptions are available, but generally, splitboard profile and weight mean they’re less appropriate for playing than a standard snowboard.
  • Ice freezes splitboard bindings and the mechanism used to convert the skis back to a single board. This doesn’t happen with regular skis or snowshoes.

Conclusion

Snowboards and splitboards expand the true potential of winter sports in that when you reach the summit, the ride down is always an exhilarating experience. Splitboarding is based on using your power to traverse wild backcountry trails—more challenging than maintained resort ranges.

Making the switch from snowboard to splitboard depends on your needs and preferences. You may opt to rent a splitboard to try out first. Or have both at hand. After all, no two snowboarding adventures are alike. Either way, best of luck on your next boarding expedition.

Sources

Wikipedia: Splitboard

Wikipedia: Snowboard

Nonstop Snow: What Is Splitboarding?

Evo: How to Get Started Splitboarding & Splitboard Gear Guide

Weston: How to Choose Your Snowboard or Splitboard

Snowboarding Forum: Snowshoes vs. Splitboard for Starting in BC

Ryan Conner

Outdoor enthusiast with several years of snowboarding experience in the winters and watersports activities all summer. Living within 3 hours of 4 well-known ski resorts, I get plenty of board time from Nov-March every season.

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