A traditional snowboard boot is very comfortable but can leave you wanting when entering the realm of technical terrain! Steep &/or icy surfaces require technical boots; soft boots lack the security & stability offered by hard boots. Whilst full shell hard boots offer ultimate technical dexterity, stability & security, they are not as comfortable as soft boots! The answer for Splitboard Mountaineering is a technical yet comfortable boot like the K2 Aspect, Fitwell, Deeluxe or 32Jones MTB. These boots have a full/reinforced shank sole with a soft upper addressing the stiffness & stability issues of soft boots & ride limiting feel of full hard shell boots.
In consequential terrain, a full shank sole allows you to set your edge on firmer surfaces whether you are descending, skinning an uphill traverse or kicking steps.
When the slope angle is over 25 degrees, skinning becomes very technical & inefficient, that's when it's time to put your splits/skis on your pack & ascend on foot. If you are intending on touring to steeper slopes, you should be packing climbing aids to help you deal with the terrain, i.e. crampons & ice axe!
NOTE: Your uphill progress can also become problematic at times on lower angled icy slopes or even gently inclined wind-blasted ridge tops.
You've just descended a firm but rideable 35degree run & realised you can't skin out because it's too steep! Although you could set an edge on the descent, you are all but blackening your toenails, trying to kick into the slope to set a boot pack. Halfway up a 350vert metre ascent, you are hanging on by your fingernails barely achieving even a slight dent in the snow!
A full or reinforced shank boot like the boots mentioned above dramatically increases the torsional rigidity of the sole, allowing you to move more safely & confidently in technical terrain. Such a boot is stiffer to ride than a regular soft boot but considerably softer than a full hard shell boot allowing you to still achieve a somewhat freestyle ride style. The next step up is a full hard shell boot which is a mac daddy splitmo boot able to punch through icy layers & climb like a wolverine, however not a great performer riding in softer snow. Even a hard shell boot will sometimes struggle to kick steps in harder steep surfaces that are still descend-able but difficult to climb.
The answer is crampons, ice axe &/or self-arrest poles like the Black Diamond Whippet.
The Grivel G10 Wide crampon can be fitted to a soft boot but will struggle on very firm surfaces & slope angles more than moderate. Whilst this is an excellent crampon, the issue is the absence of a full/reinforced shank sole & the larger volume boot toe creates a poor crampon/boot sole interface. The full hardshell with crampons is an unquestionable climbing combination, but the Splitmo boots listed above are the excellent all-round choice providing uncompromised crampon security & an all-round blend of comfort & ride-ability. These boots can take a strap or semi-automatic crampon, Grivel offers many suitable options. The best fit is a semi-automatic as it has a heel bail at the rear giving a secure closure which increases the integrity of the boot sole/crampon interface.
There are many options for Ski/Splitmo crampons but think more about what you intend to do on them. For general Ski/Splitmo 10 point crampons are well suited, while a 12 point crampon is better suited to climb more vertical surfaces. For snow climbing & firm surfaces, aluminium is an excellent lightweight choice, but steel crampons are better suited to climbing ice & rock scrambling.
The next piece of safety kit is a fall arrest tool, i.e. an ice axe or Whippet . If you take a slip & you try to stop yourself with your crampons after gaining speed, you could easily encounter a lower limb injury! When falling, dig your pick in ASAP, spin around head uphill & roll onto your stomach, simultaneously dragging yourself over the pick, further weighting it in an effort to arrest your fall. At the same time, bend your knees & lift your feet/crampons from the surface, preventing a likely injury from snagging. Note; it is essential that you practice self-arresting on lower angled slopes or steeper shorter slopes with a good run out. Do this without your crampons on!
There are a few combinations of hand held self arrest tools, all being effective:
There are plenty of axes on the market but go for a lightweight, simple Skimo style axe. If you intend on encounter some very steep icy climbing, perhaps a more ice climbing style design is the go?
The Black Diamond Whippet Ski Pole is a triple-section collapsible pole with a self-arrest pick at the top. It's small enough to go in your pack for descents & when ascending is a climbing weapon. It can be ideally extended to the necessary length to be used as a piolet or walking cane for efficiency yet a self-arrest tool at the ready if necessitated.
A combination of both allows a variety of choices depending on your ascent requirements. It might sound like a lot of gear, but the two Whippet attachments are only 150g each & a lightweight axe is about 350g. Half a kilo for a lot of protection.
The jury is out with many BC athletes over the ideal self-arrest tool! All agree that an ice axe is undeniably an effective & extremely versatile mountaineering tool with many applications from self-arresting & climbing to constructing anchors. I rate the Whippet as a steep riding implement as it has "at the ready" protection & I love the ability to adjust it to the required length climbing those 35degree type slopes. I find this increases my ascending efficiency & safety margin concurrently.
So much of a backcountry rider's ongoing safety management is about having the right gear allowing you to concentrate on managing the terrain instead of wasting energy on unwarranted decision making brought on by unsuitable equipment decisions. Become familiar with your equipment closer to the trailhead in less consequential terrain
It is so important that as responsible BC enthusiasts, we progress our levels of undertaking according to our skills, knowledge & experience & that we have a realistic appraisal of where we are at. If we are calling on others to come to our aid because we made impractical & uneducated decisions, we are putting them at risk & jeopardising the unregulated freedoms of our pursuit. Hurry slowly, Alpinists!
Snowy Mountains Backcountry is now offering Splitboard only tours at all levels led by local Splitboarding guides. See the Snowy Mountains Backcountry splitboarding tours page.
Talk to us about our Ski/Split Mountaineering courses where we'll teach you about dealing with technical terrain, ascent styles, decision making, snow stability & dealing with exposure.
By Doug Chatten, Mont Ambassador, and director and lead-guide at Snowy Mountains Backcountry.
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Earlier in July I went for an overnight Ice Climbing trip at Blue Lake in Kosciouszko National Park.
I setup camp with my Moondance 2FN tent in a nice sheltered spot that I often enjoy under Mt Twynam.