For many, skiing, snowboarding and hiking are separate activities that don’t overlap much — unless you are hiking up the roughly 400-foot route to Jupiter Peak after getting off McConkey’s Express at Park City. Those in the know, however, blur the lines between these activities come powder season. They head out on splitboards and touring skis — alpine skis and snowboards designed to facilitate uphill travel, in addition to downhill. While riding the lift is certainly the easiest way to access the slopes, resorts are often crowded, and getting fresh turns on a powder day requires lining up long before the lifts open. Splitboarding and ski touring can be two of the most rewarding ways to enjoy the winter season.
Ski touring and splitboarding are marked departures from the terrain park, six-person-chair, hot chocolate sipping, Waffle Cabin-eating culture of ski resorts. These sports are for the adventurer, for the person who likes to get out into the wild and carve his own path. Nothing compares to the freedom provided by getting out into the unknown and finding the perfect line tucked away in a grove of aspens. Oftentimes it’s easy to find untouched snow, even days after the Bogner-wearing vacationers have retired to the hot tub. Each step you take up the mountain brings you closer to the exhilarating rush of pinning it through the trees, blinding yourself with a big heelside slash and coming out of it just in time to avoid the next tree. It may not be the easiest way to get out on the snow this season, but it is certainly the best.
The great thing about splitboarding and ski touring is that you can do it just about anywhere that there is snow and a hill. Exploring your local terrain is one of the chief benefits and requires a simple kit: a splitboard or skis, touring bindings, skins and, if you’re venturing into steep terrain with a risk of avalanches, a beacon, probe and shovel. For a start on the East Coast, Tuckerman Ravine on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington offers world-class terrain reminiscent of larger peaks out west. On the West Coast, Utah’s Wasatch Range has ample opportunities and light fluffy snow. If you are a little hesitant and more on the green side of the sport, consider going on a tour. Tours can teach you all of the basics and help you get your footing in the realm of uphill travel. Then once you’ve built your confidence, send yourself into the unknown and see skiing and snowboarding in a new light.