From Snowboard to SplitboardI wasn’t very far from the ground when I learned to Ski. At the time my mother lived in both Carbondale and Buena Vista, CO and I went to ski school at Buttermilk Ski Area (part of Aspen/Snowmass), because back then when you lived in the mountains that is just what you did. I was six years old, and picked up skiing as fast as I did riding a bicycle – with fewer scars to show for it.
My past with high elevation also goes back quite a ways. I had done Mt Sopris at age six. I was all over the slopes of fourteeners Mt Antero, Mt Princeton, Mt White and several others hunting for aquamarine in my early teens. Of course, this was before climbing a fourteener was the trendy thing to do. My friends and I were gathering small bits of aquamarine to sell to the local rock shop. It was essentially an early form of child slave labor, but it earned us a few bucks so we didn’t care.
Fast forward a few years and I picked up a job at Keystone Ski Resort for a season. We were on the slopes almost every day after work, and back then, the night skiing at Keystone stayed open until 11pm – seven days a week. During the busier holidays, employees were blacked out from skiing. This is when we took matters in to our own hands and hiked to backcountry terrain. Sometimes even poaching lines at Arapahoe Basin just up the road. None of us should be alive.
We would also poach Preacher, Professor, and Ironing Board which were all notorious lines between A-Basin and Loveland Pass under the light of the full moon. It was just a few years later that the infamous massive avalanche on the south facing side took out Highway 6, the A-Basin parking lot, and the Molly Hogan chair lift. For those that do not know; that is why the Molly Hogan was a state-of-the-art new chairlift compared to the other lifts at A-Basin. Next time you are ‘hanging out’ on the beach at A-Basin during a high avy day, be sure to look over your shoulder and know it could happen again.
Shortly after Keystone I took a long hiatus from taking turns. I was stationed in the military overseas and later in the deep south of Fort Benning, GA. It made me appreciate Colorado that much more. Many years passed but I always enjoyed returning to skiing. After a final overseas deployment in 2005 / 2006 during Operation Iraqi Freedom I had done significant damage to my ACL and PCL. I didn’t know how badly until a few years later in 2008 when I did a full meniscus tear from of all things; (are you ready for this?) Taking out the trash one morning…
I had the conversation with doctors that no one whom enjoys the outdoors wants to hear (especially if you ski and climb); I was told no more skiing, and hiking should be limited to two miles in a 24 hour period. For the next few months I was training aggressively with a personal trainer and rehab coordinator named Laney. Laney, who looked identical to Kate Beckinsale was a nazi and pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed in my previous 17 years of military physical fitness. The irony in all of this is that Kate Beckinsale was my favorite actress for many years prior, so it was easy to make my appointments, and take the abuse.
Perhaps it was the boy shorts that
Kate Laney always wore to the gym. Whatever, she was hot. Sadly she never gave tummy rubs, or had any sympathy whatsoever. Instead she pushed me in to the pain zone almost every day. Most importantly though, she convinced me not to give up what I loved doing, and suggested I pick up snowboarding. Later that year I was back on skis and after a short time I decided to follow her advice with the snowboard.
Sometimes you never get a chance to thank someone for changing your life. Perhaps it was because I was too busy with my tongue hanging out, or focused in the present cloud of a serious knee injury. But wherever you are
Ms-look-like-Kate-pain-inducing-trainer Laney; “thank you”.
The transition from skis to snowboard was pretty easy for me. I think once your body understands the art of edges it becomes second nature. Within a few months I was hitting booters and kickers – not the smartest thing to be doing with an underlying knee injury. Perhaps I was just anxious to see my trainer again. During the summer months I was also getting in more 14ers, 13ers and higher elevation climbing pushing 10-15 miles per day, plus a pack-load. Little did I know at the time this mixture was forming a new direction.
One day while on the chairlift I had the glorious misfortune of being stuck on a chair with a Texan that was a reincarnation of Davey Crockett in a one-piece. He most assuredly pointed out to me that the orange color on the Ponderosa Pines [beetle kill] was ‘color change from the trees going in to hibernation’. I resisted throwing him off the chairlift, instead I put my i-pod buds in my ear and ignored the lone star wonder. It was at that point, I realized I needed to get away from the resorts.
By 2009 I grew tired of the resort crowds, tourists, kids, and the traffic getting there. The resorts were like Disneyland, and it just wasn’t my thing. I wanted to get back closer to my roots. I had already done 14er descents (peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation) of Quandary Peak, Kelso Ridge (Torreys Peak), and numerous outings in Rocky Mountain National Park on the snowboard. At the time I was carrying my snowboard on a backpack with snowshoes. In the summer of 2010 I researched everything there was to know about splitboarding. It was one of those epiphanies where many things from earlier in your life converge – and you just go with it, and ride in to a new chapter.
THE CIRCLES OPENS
So what exactly is a splitboard? For this I can only refer you to Splitboard 101 on splitboard.com because there is no use in repeating the information here.
I decided to custom split a board rather than buy a factory split. Part of the experience for me was learning the physics and construction of the process. The first board I split was a Ride Prophet 161. I modified the Voile Split Decision kit and used universal pucks for an adjustable stance. I did the adjustable stance because I was still dialing in my stance from my knee injury. I used my existing Flow V bindings and snowboard boots.
Although I had done a Level One Avalanche course at Keystone when I worked there, I decided that enough of the science and technology had changed over the years to do it again. In December 2010 I repeated AIARE Level One through Colorado Mountain School which was conducted for three days in Rocky Mountain National Park during an epic snowstorm. For the rest of the 2010 / 2011 season I got used to travelling in the backcountry and in avalanche terrain.
By the fall of 2011 I decided not to get a ski pass for the season. The year prior I had a pass, but having the ability to go anywhere in the backcountry made my desire to ride inbounds nearly nonexistent. It was in the fall of 2011 that my roommate, and best friend decided to get in to backcountry skiing as well. She is an avid hiker and climber completing nearly all of Colorado’s fourteeners. She had also done the AIARE Level One the previous year through CMS. She was no stranger to the backcountry.
I had accumulated over 70 days in the backcountry in the 2011 season. Another set of milestones was passed going in to the 2012 season. I registered for snow hydrology and AIARE Level Two (avalanche training). I was fascinated by the study of snow.
Simultaneous to taking the avy training up a notch, I was also looking for ways to eliminate snowboard boots and bindings to reduce my liability in the backcountry. My comfort zone of distance had increased considerably. What was once 2-3 mile tours morphed in to 7-10 mile tours. We were getting back to places that didn’t see many people in the winter months. We were also finding snow and terrain that was just amazing. The problem boiled down to having snowboard boots in the backcountry. So, in the fall of 2011 I decided I was either going to have to switch to AT skiing, or modify the splitboard for an AT setup – and so began the transformation to a full alpine setup.