Will is a bundle of energy and quiet at the same time. And avid outdoors man, there is no season that does not find grace in his eyes, from surfing in summer to skiing in winter. When we say skiing, we mean splitboard, which is "sort of like the snowboarding version of AT skiing". We had to ask him a few questions and he obliged.
Other than splitboarding I like cycling, hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding and surfing in the winter as well.
I began surfing about 10 years ago and have really started to take it seriously in the past 3-4 years. I’ve been snowboarding or skiing since I was 8 years old, but just got a split board set up 2 years ago.
For me it’s riding at it’s essence. You earn every turn and the snow is always better in the backcountry than resorts, if you know where to go.
Going to college in Colorado I was fortunate to have a lot of world class resorts at my fingertips. As I learned the terrain of those mountain resorts I got bored and began to access the side country, away from the lifts and the crowds. I still occasionally snowboard at resorts on a great powder day.
My friends who telemark and AT ski who were constantly encouraging me to get a split board or an AT set up, so I followed their lead and have been making new friends who also like to get into the back country. It’s by far much safer to go with a group. However, it’s definitely something you could do solo if you take all the other safety precautions and are willing to assume the risk.
Splitboarding is different from [AT skiing, backcountry skiing, and randonnée] because it’s two planks that turn into one. Two skis for going uphill, that then clip together as a board to go downhill. Because of the uniqueness of the set up, I only call it split boarding or backcountry snowboarding.
[Being an expert skier] does help significantly [to start AT skiing], however some people find it easier to learn to ski/ride in the powder, which is really the point of split boarding or AT skiing. It is helpful to know how to powder ski (or ride). Also, energy conservation on the uphill is key.
The physical exertion is significant. Sometimes you may be in super technical terrain that you've never ridden before, and then of course the unknown: avalanches. Wise decision making skills are key.
Knowing the basics of mountain safety and knowing your gear is important.
Be prepared, be mindful
For avalanche safety, the gold standard is a beacon, shovel and probe. Other avalanche safety equipment includes an ava-lung, which extends your breathing time if you’re trapped under the snow, and an airbag backpack, which keeps you afloat in case of an avalanche. You also need skins, which enable your skis to go uphill, and correct bindings and poles. It’s also important to have a solid layering system, because you tend to get hot going uphill, and cool down very quickly when you’re going downhill.
Without a doubt avalanches are the biggest risk. Hurting yourself in the backcountry where no ski patrol is around to help you is also dangerous. Taking an avalanche course, making smart decisions, skiing/riding with people, having a cell phone on you and going with all the safety equipment possible are all good measures to take.
The basic difference between a split board and a snowboard is that the board can be both clamped together to form a regular snowboard, and un-clamped to become skis that enable uphill travel. Also, the bindings are different in that they’re both able to be locked into the snowboard for downhill travel, and used somewhat like a cross-country binding for uphill travel. With a split board, some people notice it is not a responsive, but mine is incredibly agile and holds an edge remarkably well.
I think poking around in the side country to see if you like powder skiing/riding is the best place to start. Then probably renting equipment. If you know you love powder however, it’s a no brainer.
Going up is half of the fun! And, most of the challenge. I find the first twenty minutes of the uphill is the most demanding, and then I get in a rhythm and my legs and lungs get used to it - after that, it’s not so bad. I wear the same boots for resort boarding and split boarding. My boots lock into my bindings completely, and then the binding has a swivel point on the toe (for forward and back motion).
Spliboarding is certainly a dopamine enhancer (from the cardio!), and perhaps the dirtbag in me that doesn't want to pay for a lift ticket!
Once you get up the top, you’re really warmed up - sometimes a little tired. But you’ve just invested all this time and energy being your own ski lift so when you get to the top, you’re pretty ecstatic about what lies ahead.
You can do it in the North East. There is even some great terrain in the Catskills and Berkshires. Basically anywhere there is good snow cover and decent vertical is a place where you can backcountry ski or snowboard. Your best bet may be going for a hike in the summer and clearly seeing the aspect and accessibility of a slope and then pray for snow.
Split boarding seems like a different language than resort boarding. The shared dialogue however is typically the pursuit of powder.
My biggest day was 5,000 vertical feet ascended and then 5,000 descended. If you really get after it, you can probably get 10,000 up and down in a day.
LAST WORD of wisdom
Backcountry snowboarding in the mountains is where I find solace and a place where I tap into my spirituality. Just like the ocean and surfing, it is my medicine.
Will Holloway is a man of both coasts, and all mountains. His desire to think outside of the box and to challenge himself is his drive, in his endeavors and on his day job.