At the start of this winter I was pretty well convinced the debate had been settled; skis were better than snowboards.Now let me be clear, this is only in reference to backcountry activities, I could care less about lift serve use or flavor of the week slopeside fashion trends.Let me also be clear, upon reaching this conclusion, I had no plans to change my preferred mode of wintertime gravity assisted transportation anytime in the near future.Essentially what I found was that while my split board allowed me to climb mountains with far more ease than I had in the past on a pair of snowshoes with the board on my back; I still had a long transition time to contend with at the bottom and top of a run.More, the two halves of a split board are a pretty good pair of skis, but they’re still not actual skis.While most of the time my forays into the backcountry are pretty direct – leave car, start going up, get to top, go down, repeat – as the daylight grows longer I’ve started exploring farther out which means doing more touring.The crux though, is that even in the most ideal conditions, it takes just under 5 minutes to couple or separate the board. Then, add in another 5 minutes at least for re-layering for the descent.I actually went ahead and calculated that in a five-run day (a run is 800-1,200 vertical feet) I lose one full run fiddling around with the split.Compare this now, to my skiing friends.By far, the free heelers have it the best.
Without even taking off their skis, they can flip off their climbing skins, lock down their boots into descent mode, throw on a shell and perhaps adjust their poles, and off they go.In that time I might have dug a frozen booger out of the back of my nose.No seriously, I’m still a good five minutes from my descent at best, in the time it takes tele-Pete to gear up for going down.Likewise, at the bottom of the run, tele-Pete is often on his way back up before I’m ready to go.Alpine touring/randonee skiers have the added step of locking down their heels after the climb, but aren’t far behind their telepalooza-ing brethren.Fortunately I have patient friends, or at least ones I can catch up to.
Through this season though, the split, while not ideal as a pair of skis, has proved its worth as a single board.
If there’s one thing that’s consistently guaranteed in the Chugach, it’s that conditions across a mountain will likely be inconsistent.
The whole season is spent hunting for the ever shifting “sweet spot,” the zone of elevation that hasn’t been crusted up by low level liquid precipitation or slammed into rock solid slab by howling high altitude winds.
Oh, and then the sun comes out later in the season and starts making sun crust too.
All these forces of nature make the notorious ‘death crust,’ a thin layer of crust that most skis will punch through and sink in the powder below, locking the skier in place unless they build enough speed to blow through it.
Free heel skiers fair worst in these conditions, AT skies can manage a little better, and fat skis may get by the best, but it’s still not ideal
Crust isn’t fun for anyone; I think both single and two-planking wankers all agree we want powder.
That being said, snowboards, especially the ultra stiff splitboard, blows through breakable Chugach crust like gurgitators at a pie eating contest.
Boards have a better surface to weight ratio letting them float over thicker crust, and in thin “veneers crust” having two legs powering one a single edge lets them cut through with ease.
Time and time again this winter I’ve found myself wondering why we’re not pushing a little higher, or skiing a little lower, when my counterparts look at me and say, “No, it’s getting crispy.”
I honestly couldn’t tell.
I’ve even had to recues myself from commenting on conditions at times because what’s good for me isn’t always as good for my skiing buddies.
But I don’t just board so I can get through the crap. On powder I think the board is far better as well.
While skis have grown ever fatter in these past years, I know I’m not the first person to say that this evolution has in part, been sped up by the development of snowboarding. I know that’s a prickly one, but I think it’s fair.
Also, let’s be frank, we don’t use chop sticks to spread butter on our toast in the morning do we? No, we use a butter knife.
Take a good look at one of those fancy butter knives next time you’re in a fancy pants restaurant and tell me, do you see a pair of skis, or a board?
The snowboards biggest design flaw is that they were made to do one and only one thing well, go downhill.
A split will get you up a mountain the best that it can, but it will never be able to compete with the latest backcountry skis. We go backcountry for many reasons, but in the end, we go for the descent, and for that, the board wins.
Plus, we all know that snowboarders are way cooler and get all the babes, duh.