A Prior Swallowtail Split in the shop. Prior photo.
Looking for something new and unusual to ride in the backcountry? Skip the mainstream companies, and go boutique.
Smaller splitboard-focused companies have a core following of backcountry snowboarders who provide valuable feedback about how their splitboards ride, and how they should ride. As a result, most of these companies tend to experiment with split designs that the product engineers at corporate snowboard manufacturers only dream about. These companies aren’t pressing splitboards for everyone. They’re pressing unique products for people who actually ride hard.
We explore seven of this winter’s most exciting splitboard design shapes. Every board on this list was designed and manufactured in North America. Some are new-and-improved versions of classic models. Others are limited editions for 2015. No matter what, they rip. Let your discovery begin.
Oz Snowboards: G Pow
Oz Snowboards produces decks for Colorado's sometimes abundant but often variable snow conditions. Oz photo.
A powder splitboard that can hold an edge on hardpack? Yes, please! The G-Pow has rocker between the bindings and two small flat sections just outside them so that when you pressure an edge, the tail’s sidecut engages.
“The ultimate pow board will have a full reverse sidecut, but we know that is not ideal in Colorado's variable backcountry conditions, so we combined a reverse sidecut in the nose where the control in the powder is needed and put a regular sidecut in the rear for hard pack conditions," Oz owner Adam Browning said. We tapered the sidecut for smooth powder turns. The nose has a huge early rise rockered shape. The stance and sidecut are set way back (100mm). We also incorporated a whale tail to help make this a true powder board.”
Prior: Swallowtail Split
The original powder board shape, now available for your splitboarding pleasure. Prior photo.
Maybe this is a cheater's choice. Swallowtails aren't new, but split swallowtails are. Whistler-based Prior Snowboards makes the Swallowtail Split to float through British Columbia's maritime snowpack.
Like most powder-focused boards, this split features a rocker nose and camber tail. What's interesting about the swallowtail shape is that it maximizes the board's effective edge (good for chunder and runouts). This split doesn't have a lot of taper--the nose isn't much wider than the tail--but the swallowtail shape lets each 'tail' flexes independently, making it a more manageable ride in deep snow.
What about skinning with a swallowtail shape? Will Westwood, Prior's Product Engineer and Materials Manager, explains that "Skinning with the Swallowtail Split, or any of our boards with powder rocker, is exceptionally efficient due to the large amount of camber through to the tail, providing superior grip over rockered boards in the skin track. Rockered boards, by their very nature, tend to lift out of the snow, whereas camber is inclined to press into the ground, providing extra grip.
The industry's first splitboard company for women, by women. Palace photo.
This one's for the ladies. Most splitboard companies have one or two female boards in their line-up. Some have none. Based in Salt Lake City, Palace Snowboards is the only entirely women's-specific splitboard company in the world.
The Zeitgeist is an ultralight directional split with a big, spoon-shaped, rockered nose and pintail. This shape and camber profile were specifically designed to help smaller female riders maintain their center of gravity and prevent fatigue in deep powder. It utilizes durable plastic sidewalls and edges and ditches steel to save weight for long tours.
Chimera: Chubby Chaser
Inside the Chimera shop. Chimera photo.
Palace's brother company, Chimera, released a limited edition board this season, the Chubby Chaser. This take on one of Chimera's most sought-after models, the Unicorn Chaser, features a ton of taper (55mm) and a very unusual tail shape to facilitate quicker turns.
Owner Allister Horn explains that he designed the Chubby Chaser for Wasatch-based guide and local backcountry snowboarder Ash Christensen, who wanted a larger, more tapered version of the Unicorn Chaser. The result is this one-size-fit-all 163cm powder splitboard that's rockered in the nose, flat under foot, and camber in the tail.
Like Palace, Chimera also uses a plastic sidewall flushed with the board's base, a technology Horn designed called BUHMPERs.
Designed, tested, and pressed in Silverton, CO. Venture photo.
Once upon a time, Venture Snowboards was a small operation like some of the companies on this list. Now Klem and Lisa Branner's Silverton splitboard operation is world-renowned.
This year, Venture redesigned the Zelix with a softer flex and a locally-sourced aspen blend core. In other words, it's almost a half pound lighter than the previous model.
Weight and flex aside, what's exciting about the Zelix is its tapered twin shape. Both the nose and the tail can plane equally well through pow, allowing you the rare chance to ride switch on your split.
The first American splitboard company with its lightest design yet. Voile photo
In a time where most decks are bigger, rockered, heavier, and more tapered, the original splitboard company is going lighter and adding camber. Voile's Revelator weighs between 6lbs 6oz and 6lbs 14oz, depending on size. Its extended camber profile makes skinning more efficient and increases edge hold.
Trapper: Trout Trap
Built in British Columbia. Trapper photo.
Greg Fortier, owner and designer of Trapper Snowboards Ltd., produces this surf-inspired deck for riding BC powder.
He says, "It's based on a 5’6” twin-fin fish surfboard. With lots of planing surface, it holds in speed and provides a fun, surfy feel. It surprises in mixed conditions, blasting over chop. Its moderate sidecut and flex even makes it fun on hardback and groomers. The flat tail provides another element of control, acting as a brake in powder when things get a little tight and dicey. Unlike many “undersized” pow boards, the Trout Trap has only minimal setback and a wide tail that does not sink."
From The Column: Split Personality
tetongravity.com/odetomuir “The mountains are calling and I must go.” - John Muir Day Two: Too tired to write, but too good of a day not to. It was a day to tell my grandkids about; a day that will undoubtedly overtake memory space in my brain for eternity. At my feet the North Couloir perfectly splits Red Slate. A Sierra glory line due to its size and consistent pitch that holds its angle from top to bottom. This morning we opted for an upper side entry, which proved to be
tetongravity.com/odetomuir“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir Day three: The barrier is broken and I am officially off belay walking through mountains I have never seen before. My house is 147 miles away and everything I need for 9 days is on my back. Stripped down to the bare essentials; food, shelter, crampons, snowboard. This particular valley is the tightest I have seen. Even if you tried to look in to it, you couldn’t –have tried
Gently parting the surface of the lake with his paddle, Robert Hanna canoes quietly through the tranquil turquoise waters of Mono Lake. As the vessel moves through the oldest lake in the western hemisphere, the nearby snow-capped Sierra Nevada shimmer in the water’s reflection. Gazing out, Hanna sees what he considers his second home. As a kid, he spent hours exploring the lake’s otherworldly spires that dot the shoreline known as tufas. Nearby his family had a cabin in Lundy