What are dreams made of if you are a skier or snowboarder? For most, it’s bottomless powder and bluebird skies! What is it worth? Are you willing to pay large sums of money…how about blood, sweat, and tears? For us, it is the continuous goal. There is just something about the lure of deep powder and blue skies. Last season the addiction was satiated by visiting the legendary Baldface. If you missed that trip report, catch up here. It was a trip of a lifetime, but it only left us wanting more. Since riding Baldface everyday isn’t an option, it was time to figure out how to obtain the same quality goods as many times as we wanted. This season we decided to venture into the Lake Tahoe backcountry by our own power to feed the addiction…splitboarding.
You might think that going into the backcountry is cheaper than visiting a resort. After all you are doing all the work yourself. Let us tell you, this is 100% wrong! Before even starting our journey, the financial hurdle of getting into splitboarding was huge. Just the gear itself, a board, special bindings, skins, beacons and poles set us back a whopping $2,000 bucks. Want to get gear on sale from a shop? Good luck. Backcountry gear is expensive and one splitboard is equal to the cost of two or three regular snowboards. Outfitters normally don’t keep much stock, so the inventory is typically thin. This means that it goes on sale rarely and if it does it most likely won’t be in your size. In the end, the lure of adventure and fresh snow was too strong. We figured out a way to clear the huge entrance fee hurdle and went for it!
Standing over our new Smokin splitboards the night before, it seemed alien in comparison to the typical snowboard gear you would use at a resort like Kirkwood. Fortunately, ½ the Local Freshies crew has done this before so with his knowledge and a guiding hand we setup our boards. Here are a few tips from our evening of gear configuration:
- Do it yourself – This isn’t like being in a ski resort. If you don’t know how your gear works then you can get into trouble pretty quickly out in the wilderness.
- Do NOT take off the backing prior to cutting your skins and stretch them super tight – If you remove the backing and make the cuts incorrectly, someone with a smaller ride will be getting a free pair of skins.
- Be patient – If this is your first time setting up a splitboard, give yourself enough time. It will take a while to get used to the hole configuration and how the binding fits in ski mode. Plan on at least an hour or two
- Play with it at home – Before you even take your first step into the backcountry practice splitting the board and putting it back together. It’s a lot easier to get frustrated at home compared to being on top of a mountain with the wind howling and your fingers getting frost bite.
- Get some rest! Once our gear was set our fearless leader made the call to hit the bed. It is really important get a good night’s sleep.
South Lake Tahoe – A Mecca for Lake Tahoe Backcountry Enthusiasts
Since my wife and I are beginners, we didn’t want to make our first journey alone. Safety is the most important thing to think about when going out on your own. We needed someone with experience. For us, that was easy since the other half of Local Freshies is an experienced woodsman and an avid outdoor enthusiast who’s been climbing and riding the Lake Tahoe backcountry for the last five years. Before we even stepped out of the house we made a plan of where we were going…Waterhouse Peak. It is only a ¼ mile off the road, a 1,400 vertical ascent and a 25 degree slope. Perfect for beginners. Next, we check the avalanche conditions. In Tahoe that means reading the avalanche report provided by the Sierra Avalanche Center. Given the aspect, slope and snow conditions the report said the chances for a slide were relatively low. In addition, this region is well gladed. Plus, we were close enough to the road that if something did happen we could at least head back to the car easily.
The Journey is slowed before we even begin
As we pulled out of South Lake Tahoe and veered onto Highway 89 we were suddenly stopped in our own tracks. Just outside of town the major rush back to the Bay Area from the long Christmas holiday backed up the traffic significantly. Finally through, we headed further down 89 until we reached our destination. As we geared up and began to travel through the forest, the trees suddenly disappeared. A massive snow covered meadow stood in front of us. Just as the trees opened up we saw what seemed to us beginners a large peak that rose up in front of us. Going from all the traffic into this peacefulness and serenity was just amazing. As Shane broke trail we made our track over the meadow and to the base of the mountain. He set a pretty good pace and in what seemed like only a few minutes we zigged and zagged our way up from the valley floor up the slope. After stopping for a quick break, I realized we were already hundreds of vertical feet from the base and halfway to the summit. Onward…we continued to climb trying to imitate Shane’s every move and reduce our exertion. After what seemed like a short period of time we stood atop the peak. Clouds were beginning to roll in and there was not a single person in sight! Looking down at a heavily gladed untracked descent we were all smiles. It felt like mission accomplished and this was our reward. Switching our gear back to snowboards we rode our way down through bottomless pow. Each turn came easily as we floated our way down.
After our journey here are some helpful hints:
- Shuffle your feet – When skinning your way up the mountain or across a valley don’t lift your legs. Instead slide and scoot your way across the terrain to save energy.
- Dig your heel in – When going up-hill lift your toe and put the pressure on your heel. This will make sure the skin fibers maintain traction as you walk up the face of a mountain.
- Don’t lean forward – When skinning up steep slopes you will naturally want to lean forward. Doing so will only make things worse and you will slide backwards. Keep your weight back over the center of your skis. This will allow for the most contact with the snow, which will ensure your skins are fully gripped.
- Pick your line when going up – Just like snowboarding down a mountain picking your line up the mountain is key. Things like trees, boulders, bumps need to be taken into account when you zig-zag your way up. You want gain altitude without exhausting your party.
So, is splitboarding for you?
Do you love snowboarding or adventure? Are you into being in the woods or would you rather get a ton of vertical in? What I personally came to realize is that backcountry isn’t about the descent or even skiing or snowboarding. It’s a completely different activity. What seemed like only a few minutes of labor was in fact two hours of work for a 5 minute run. It was definitely a fun day, but did I fall in love with it? Personally, I think I will grow to enjoy splitboarding more over time. I’m not sure it will ever be my primary love though. For me that is snowboarding downhill. If the snow is good you will probably find me in the resort. On the other hand, if it hasn’t snowed in a week a journey into the unknown is way better than a day schussing on ice.
In the end, if you want to go snowboarding or skiing in powder then spend the money and go heli-skiing or cat-boarding. But, if you want to have adventure and do something that most people won’t ever do then heading into the backcountry is an awesome option.
If you want to know more, check out the review of the gear we used in our backcountry excursion.