[Slash of clans: Frazer Rennie heads to battle. Photo: Duthie]
Thanks to the likes of Jeremy Jones, splitboarding has never been more popular worldwide, but getting started is not without its difficulties. Maintaining a regular snowboarding habit is expensive enough without throwing in a lot of extra gear - plus there’s always the risk that you'll shell out for a setup, only to discover that it’s not really your thing after all.
Fortunately, this winter has seen the debut of Scottish Backcountry’s introductory courses. After successfully crowdfunding enough to buy a stash of boards, bindings, skins, poles and crampons, experienced Winter Mountain Leader and splitboarder Craig Burry has given riders a chance to dip their toe edge into the splitboarding world without committing to a setup of their own.
"Before dropping in the man turns to us with a smile and says, 'they say Christmas only comes once a year – but they’re fuckin’ lying!'"
Despite nearly a century’s snowboarding experience among those of us on this one-day course, not one has ever tried splitboarding before. However, as we're all on the wrong side of 30 with our days of dry slope stunting essentially behind us, we’re pretty much the ideal target audience for what Chris Moran once called “the missing link between cross-country skiing and Ikea cupboard building".
Just as ideal are the conditions; not a cloud in the sky, barely a breath of wind, and plenty of fresh lines still up for grabs in the Cairngorm backcountry. We’re champing at the bit, but there’s plenty to be done before we can hit the hill. Setting up our boards is the obvious first step – a fidgety process, but definitely made easier by having an experienced splitter on hand to point out common mistakes and assist with fine-tuning.
After that’s done, we make a stop at Glenmore Lodge for a brush up on bleeper technique. Their transceiver park has multiple remotely-activated beacons buried in the snow, and searching for them is a great (and free) way to get prepared for the worst-case scenario.
When it's time to ride, Craig briefs us on splitting our boards before a short skin up to the summit of Cairngorm. By now the sun is high in the sky and beating down hard, and while no-one’s brave enough to take it as far as the topless ski tourer breaking a trail up ahead, delayering is a must.
"Experienced mountain guide Craig Burry has given riders a chance to dip their toe edge into the splitboarding world without committing to a setup of their own"
Having hiked this route in the past, it’s immediately apparent to all of us how much easier splitboarding is than hoofing it. Craig is helpfully hammering the point home; he’d been so busy sorting out our gear that he’s forgotten to pack skins of his own. Fortunately his fitness level is up to the challenge, so it’s still him that’s setting the pace.
From the summit we head over the back past Coire an t-Sneachda, and for the rest of the day we have the mountain to ourselves - with the sole exception of a lone ski tourer who overtakes us as we reassemble our boards. Before dropping in the man turns to us with a smile and says, “they say Christmas only comes once a year – but they’re fuckin’ lying!"
There’s the inevitable stumble into short-run-followed-by-long-hike territory, but the longer descents – not to mention the breathtaking views that match, and often surpass, anything you’ll see in the Alps – are well worth the effort. Coming down the shoulder of Coire an Lochain is so good that we can’t resist stomping back up for another run, and as the sun finally dips behind the mountains we still have the epic Lurcher’s Gully to go.
"The descents – not to mention the breathtaking views that match, and often surpass, anything you’ll see in the Alps – are well worth the effort"
By day’s end – and after taking a couple of You’ve Been Framed-worthy tumbles on the path back to the car park – it’s clear we’ve still got plenty to learn about splitboarding. However, thanks to Scottish Backcountry giving us a taste, we know that we love it – and if you think you might too, it’s never been easier to find out.
Scottish Backcountry offer beginner and intermediate splitboarding courses at four of Scotland's ski resorts. This weekend they'll be also be offering half day taster sessions as part of Aviemore's Groove Festival.