A traditional snowboard boot is very comfortable but can leave you wanting when entering the realm of technical terrain! Steep &/or icy surfaces require technical boots, soft boots lack the security & stability offered by hard boots. Whilst full shell hard boots offer ultimate technical dexterity, stability & security they are not as comfortable as soft boots! The answer for Splitboard Mountaineering is a technical yet comfortable boot like the K2 Aspect, Fitwell, Deeluxe or 32Jones MTB. These boots have a full/reinforced shank sole with a soft upper addressing the stiffness & stability issues of soft boots & ride limiting feel of full hard shell boots.
In consequential terrain a full shank sole allows you to set your edge on firmer surfaces whether you are descending, skinning an uphill traverse or kicking steps.
When the slope angle is over 25 degrees skinning becomes very technical & inefficient, that's when it's time to put your splits/skis on your pack & ascend on foot. If you are intending on touring to steeper slopes you should be packing climbing aids to help you deal with the terrain i.e. crampons & ice axe!
NOTE: Your uphill progress can also become problematic at times on lower angled icy slopes or even gently inclined wind blasted ridge tops.
You've just descended a firm but rideable 35degree run & realised you can't skin out because it's too steep! Although you could set an edge on the descent you are all but blackening your toe nails trying to kick in to the slope to set a boot pack. Half way up a 350vert metre ascent you are hanging on by your finger nails barely achieving even a slight dent in the snow!
A full or reinforced shank boot like the boots mentioned above dramatically increase the torsional rigidity of the sole allowing you to move more safely & confidently in technical terrain. Such a boot is stiffer to ride than a regular soft boot but considerably softer than a full hard shell boot allowing you to to still achieve a somewhat freestyle ride style. The next step up is a full hard shell boot which is a mac daddy splitmo mofo boot able to punch through icy layers & climb like a wolverine, however not a great performer riding in softer snow. Even a hard shell boot will at times struggle to kick steps in harder steep surfaces that are still descend-able but difficult to climb.
The answer is crampons, ice axe &/or self arrest poles like the BD Whippet
The Grivel G10 Wide crampon can be fitted to a soft boot but will struggle on very firm sufaces & slope angles more than moderate. Whilst this is an excellent crampon the issue is the absence of a full/reinforced shank sole & the larger volume boot toe creates a poor crampon/boot sole interface. The full hard shell with crampons is an unquestionable climbing combination but the Splitmo boots listed above are the excellent all round choice providing uncompromised crampon security & an all round blend of comfort & ride-ability. These boots can take a strap or semi automatic crampon, Grivel offer many suitable options . The best fit is a semi automatic as it has a heel bail at the rear giving a secure closure which increases the integrity of the boot sole/crampon interface.
There are many options for Ski/Splitmo crampons but think more about what you intend to do on them. For general Ski/Splitmo 10 point crampons are well suited while a 12 point crampon is better suited to climb more vertical surfaces. For snow climbing & firm surfaces aluminium is an excellent lightweight choice but steel crampons are better suited to climbing ice & rock scrambling.
The next piece of safety kit is a fall arrest tool i.e. an ice axe or Whippet . If you take a slip & you try to stop yourself with your crampons after gaining speed you could easily encounter a lower limb injury! When falling dig your pick in asap, spin around head up hill & roll onto your stomach simultaneously dragging yourself over the pick further weighting it in an effort to arrest your fall. At the same time bend your knees & lift your feet/crampons from the surface preventing a likely injury from snagging. Note; it is essential that you practice self arresting on lower angled slopes or steeper shorter slopes with a good run out. Do this without your crampons on!
There are a few combinations of hand held self arrest tools, all being effective:
Ice Axe only
Whippet Self Arrest Ski Poles only
Or a combination of both.
There are plenty of axes on the market but go for a lightweight simple Skimo style axe. If you intend on encounter some very steep icy climbing perhaps a more ice climbing style design is the go?
The BD Whippet Ski Pole is a triple section collapsible pole with a self arrest pick at the top. It's small enough to go in your pack for descents & when ascending is a climbing weapon. It can be ideally extended to necessary length to be used as a piolet or walking cane for efficiency yet a self arrest tool at the ready if necessitated.
A combination of both allows a variety of choices depending on your ascent requirements. Might sound like a lot of gear but the two Whippet Attachments are only 150gm each & a lightweight axe is about 350gm. Half a kilo for a lot of protection.
The jury is out with many BC athletes over the ideal self arrest tool! All agree that an ice axe is undeniably an effective & extremely versatile mountaineering tool with many applications from self arresting & climbing to constructing anchors. I rate the Whippet as a steep riding implement as it has "at the ready" protection & I love the ability to adjust it to the required length climbing those 35degree type slopes. I find this increases my ascending efficiency & safety margin concurrently.
So much of a backcountry riders ongoing safety management is about having the right gear allowing you to concentrate on managing the terrain instead of wasting energy on unwarranted decision making brought on by unsuitable equipment decisions. Become familiar with your equipment closer to the trail head in less consequential terrain
It is so important that as responsible bc enthusiasts we progress our levels of undertaking according to our skills, knowledge & experience & that we have a realistic appraisal of where we are at. If we are calling on others to come to our aid because we made impractical & uneducated decisions we are putting them at risk & jeopardising the unregulated freedoms of our pursuit. Hurry slowly Alpinists!
Snowy Mountains Backcountry is now offering Splitboard only tours at all levels led by local Splitboarding guides. Got to the OUR TOURS > SPLITBOARDING page.
We offer ice axe & crampon rentals & retail the Whippet self arrest poles. For a wide variety of Grivel crampons go to the MONT website.
Talk to us about our Ski/Split Mountaineering courses where we'll teach you about dealing with technical terrain, ascent styles, decision making, snow stability & dealing with exposure.