After 17 years of shreddin’ the peaks surrounding our fair valley, the Rock Starr may no longer be in Chamonix but that doesn’t mean he’s given up on livin’ the dream. No sirree. In his signature style he gives the down low on making your own split board.
Make Your Own Splittie by the Rock Starr Jonny Barr
After years of snowshoeing around the alps as a snowboarder it was time for a change. I’d sold this idea to punters over 10 years ago when Zero G got some of the first Burton split boards in Europe to test. I went out with a good hiking buddy and to our surprise broke both the set-ups within 20 minutes of hiking up the GM. This was enough to keep the snowshoes from getting dusty and not touching this kinda set up until it was fully sorted. But all them years ago a small Canadian company by the name of Voilé were developing a product which has not changed to this day. All it has done is fine tune its range of boards for all shapes and sizes of backcountry snowboarders.
Splitboarding has now had a large amount of media and film footage thanks to snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones. By producing a movie called Deeper he has opened many people’s eyes to this style of backcountry riding. This is what got me thinking about this great idea once again and looking closer into how I can save money on sorting out a sick backcountry set up … by splitting my own board.
It’s not cheap by any means: Voilé sell a split kit for around £150, the skins are about £120 and to top that off you need the crampons which are about £80. Don’t forget a board which is not a load of crap as it’s going to get you down some of the best powder you can get your beady eyes on, plus it needs to be able to soak up some juicy cliff drops as well.
Once you have got the Voilé split-kit and board, read the instructions and get your DIY head on. If you’re all a bit clueless you can go on YouTube and find out how the pros split a board, to give you peace of mind. I went out and got a £9 ripsaw from Tesco’s super store and had most of the other bits in my tool kit. The only thing I didn’t have was some sort of glue and varnish to seal the cut edge and holes in the board. I used yacht varnish rather than glue, as it’s one of the best water repellents around plus it only cost me £4.50 for a wee tin and £3.99 for araldite glue for the T-bolt holes.
And for God’s sake wear some goggles when cutting the board! The fibreglass in the top sheet of your board goes every where when you’re cutting it, so be warned. It can really mess with your eyes if you’re not careful and you need to see them lines you’re going to drop. So make sure they’re covered – your snowboarding goggles will work a treat.
Once the board is cut get the instructions out again and follow it step by step. Sticking the stickers, taking measurements, drilling holes and plenty cups of tea should see you right. In about two hours your board should be looking like an off piste backcountry touring machine.
When you’re done don’t forget to varnish the cut edge and glue your base drilled holes. Let this set and go and get a map out and start looking out your first day of touring. I didn’t venture too far and only toured up pistes as I wanted to get used to the system. Plus, I also wanted to see how the board handled. There was no bother with that, as I was cruising the pistes and riding fakie with ease.
If you want to bling your ride like I did you can go out and get some Spark R&D bindings. They are CNC machine-cut, super-light binders that sit real low to the board. I found that the Voilé plate with normal bindings was almost 2cm off the deck and made riding feel a bit strange. Plus the overall weight was quite a difference.
The Maiden Voyage: Ben Macdui
The mission for my first real split board adventure was Ben Macdui, which at 1309 meters is Scotland’s second highest peak. This sits off the back of Cairngorm mountain, which is where there are ski lifts and the UK’s highest mountain terrain.
To save on time I took the train (as I have a season pass) and headed up to the summit of Cairngorm (1245 m), which is a further 150 meters up from the trains’ stopping point at the Ptarmigan restaurant. After splitting my board and sorting out my bindings, I soon got some funny looks and questions from folk who were baffled on my splitting of a board and oversized skis! “What’s that, a snowboard? And it goes uphill?”
Pulling out my big phat skins made me feel the urge, as I know that it’s going to be a real novelty, more than the good old snowshoes. Wow what a difference. It’s comfy and you can get into a real good pace without flicking snow everywhere and sinking into the soft stuff. This can be a big issue with snowshoes and saps a lot of your energy. I picked a cracking day as there was not a cloud in the sky, making this whole deal feel bloody amazing. I like to call this the Cairngorm Alps, when the weather is having it, it really is a sight to see when you reach the summit and look out over the Scottish Highlands.
After taking some photos at the top of the weather station, I slotted my skis together and set my shred sled up for a 250-meter rip down the back side of the Cairngorm. To my joy I found some powder pockets that really gave my board a run for its money. I soon had to stop having fun, and set my board back into touring mode, due to starting my next mission, “The Cairngorm plateau”. This is a long rolling snow plateau which leads up to the foot of Ben Macdui. I had real fun on this part of the route due to having to ski down some small downhill bits where I felt there was no need to set the board up. HAHA, what a giggle! You have no edges with the skins on, and with mixed soft hard snow, made for a real epic of holding on for dear life. I have to say it beats running downhill with snowshoes on. That’s a real hard one when you have your board and all your gear on your back.
I soon got into a good pace once again and to my surprise caught up with some ski tourers. They had a chat to me about my set up and told me about a young lad they met some years back. He couldn’t get his board back together after touring for about two hours out in the high French Alps. This didn’t faze me as I knew my set up was bombproof, so just carried on up the plateau, to the foot of the Ben. At about 25 degrees I zigzag my way up about 300 meters to another small plateau before reaching the summit of Ben Macdui, 1309 meters. This felt great as the weather was still showing its true glory and giving me butterflies in my tummy.
After spotting some lines for the future, more pics and a bite to eat, I headed off back down the same way I hiked. This was a mix of soft and hard snow but offered some great turns before I straightlined as much of the rolling plateau as possible. I toured back up the backside of Cairn Lochan, this is the top out to some famous climbs and a bowled out craggy area called Coire an Lochain and Coire an t-Sneachda. As I climbed a bit more I looked back on to the Ben Macdui and smiled. I had climbed it on my handmade split-board and lived to tell the tale… Stoked! I still had some more riding down the Coire Cas to the carpark to do, before my day was up. But for all its worth, split-boarding is the future if you need to get out backcountry for your snowboarding fix.
When touring out in Scotland the weather can turn so quickly, which it’s famous for. Make sure you have some knowledge of where you’re going by planning your route and descent beforehand. Carry a map, compass and take mental notes of features as you move along your route. Pack all your backcountry gear, food and extra warm clothing in case of the worst. Enjoy!”
And if you find yourself in Jonny’s neck o’ the woods next weekend check out the snow-slidin’ extravaganza he’s been putting on for the past five years…