You can open up so much potential in Scotland in the winter with a splitboard, writes Roger Cox
At the heart of the sport of snowboarding, there is an almighty paradox. As anyone lucky enough to have experienced it will attest, there are very few things on this earth that feel as good as flying effortlessly downhill through deep, fresh, powder snow. Aerial experts may beg to differ, but for most adherents, this is the absolute core, the holy grail of the snowboarding experience. And yet... snow like this is only rarely to be found within ski resort boundaries, and on the occasions when there is lift-accessed pow to be had, you can bet your bindings that all the best lines will have been tracked out by lunchtime. If you want a guaranteed fix of that magical, weightless feeling, then, you’re going to have to leave the resort and go hiking off into the backcountry to find it. Only problem is, climbing any distance in deep snow is hard work – really hard work – your feet seeming to plunge in deeper with every step. The last thing you want to be doing in these circumstances is carrying a big, heavy plank of wood around with you, particularly if it’s windy, in which case said plank will take on the properties of a sail if you have it strapped to your rucksack or the properties of a missile if you inadvertently let go of it.
The solution, developed relatively recently (snowboarding itself, remember, is still only 50 years old) is the splitboard: a snowboard that divides into a pair of skis. These can be used for gliding effortlessly uphill (once sticky skins are attached to the bottom), then clipped back together again for the downhill bit (once the skins have been removed).
As recently as 2009, some of the best backcountry snowboard operations in the Alps were still taking clients into the hills with a cumbersome combination of snowshoes and snowboards; now, though, splitboards have become the norm, and, as of this winter, the revolution has officially reached Scotland.
In February, Craig Burry became the first person to qualify for Snowsport Scotland’s Mountain Ski Leader award using a splitboard. “I think there’s a couple of guys hot on my heels,” he jokes, but for the time being, Burry is uniquely positioned to offer splitboarding tuition in the Scottish hills.
And it looks like he’s going to be busy. In addition to offering splitboarding masterclasses at Glenmore Lodge and splitboarding instruction for G2 Outdoor, he also has plans to spread the split-gospel under his own steam. With an innovative Crowdfunder campaign, now at 42 per cent of its target and counting, he hopes to purchase a range of splitboarding equipment: boards, bindings and climbing skins. Those who make pledges on Crowdfunder will be rewarded, during the coming ski season, with tuition ranging from one-to-one sessions to classes of six, depending on the amount pledged. Burry says this first lot of courses will be aimed at beginners, and will take place within ski resort boundaries. Then, in the 2016/17 season, the equipment (which is still extremely expensive to buy) will be made available for hire to snowboarders who can demonstrate they are competent and can take responsibility for themselves and their group in the backcountry.
It’s clear from speaking to Burry that, rather than simply teaching people the basics and then sending them off into the middle of the Cairngorms with a cheery wave, he’s keen to offer a logical progression for people who want it, and – if possible – to create a little community of like-minded souls along the way.
“With the intro [courses], because it’s such a new thing and because there’s a bit of skiing involved, which can be quite difficult for some snowboarders, I want to give that the attention it needs. Then, hopefully, there will be folk who want to go on and do a bit more, and I’m keen to push people’s progression,” he says. “I don’t want people to come up, do [an intro course] and be lulled into a false sense of security – I want people to realise that this is part of a journey of their own personal development as snowboarders, and also as mountaineers and hillwalkers.
“You can really open up so much potential in Scotland in the winter with a splitboard,” he continues. “You can just explore so much. You can have overnight trips, stay at bothies, dig your own snowhole... it really allows you to take snowboarding from a downhill piste performance-type thing to a proper adventure.”
• For more information on the Crowdfunder campaign, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/splitboard-scotland-rental-equipment