Skis vs. Splitboard for Technical Climbing


Original Post
Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35

I read this forum LINK and it had a good discussion of ski vs. splitboard vs. snowshoe.  I think I understand the general recommendation but was looking for input to make sure I'm interpreting the recommendation for my specific case.  Also, as I'm brand new to the world of AT/tele skis if you could point me to some resources on where to learn a bit more and where best to potentially find a used pair it would be much appreciated.

I'm really only interested in technical climbs (ice/mixed) but need a way to skin in/out for the approach.  I have little to no interest in ski mountaineering.  I'm from CO where I never skied, only resort snowboarded (and only on the days I didn't go rock or ice climbing).  However I now live in Houston, TX so I have very limited time in the mountains to pick up skinning much less DH skiing as well.  I would be doing all skinning/skiing/splitboarding in a Spantik/G2SM or Scarpa Mt. Blanc boot as that is what I would be using to climb the route.

It seems the recommendation in my case would be to get a mid-length AT type ski with Silvretta 500 binding.  Because I wouldn't be hitting those sweet powder descents often if ever, I wouldn't be getting the benefit of the splitboard.  It seems that the efficiency of skinning in skis would more than offset the improved decent of a splitboard vs skis as I'm just looking to get back to the car/base camp.

Thoughts?  Thanks

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 87

I have been working through this exact dilemma this season, and I have all three of the main types of setups: splitboard, AT skis, and Silvrettas on old skis.  What I have learned is that the right setup is extremely dependent on the background of the person, the objective, and the approach.  I have used all 3 this season, and the right tool for the job depends on many factors.


Silvrettas are basically only good for very mellow approaches and descents.  This is a good option for glacier travel and more XC/Nordic style travel.  For alpine climbing or mountaineering, where the approach is generally up a big hill, not so great.  Note that learning to ski on Silvrettas with mountain boots is going to be a disaster, so you're going to need to pony up for rentals or a pair of alpine skis anyway.  I think this is a powerful tool for somebody with some skiing skill, but not very effective for a new skier, unless you only plan on using them like more efficient snowshoes.


You'd probably get much better feedback if you posted some information about what routes you'd be using this for, and what the approach is like.


NorCalNomad · · San Francisco · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 55

If you're already strong on a snowboard I'd look more into a splitboard and using bindings that you can use with mountaineering boots. Ditto on what Kyle said, skiing in a mountaineering boot is WAY different than even the softest ski boot. 

That being said some of the new skimo boots climb almost as well and are the same weight if not lighter than a Spantik or Mt Blanc. (Procline Carbon 1190g, Spantik 1261g, Mt Blanc 1840g) 

BigB · · Red Rock, NV · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 5

Since you've already learned to  snowboard....buy a splitboard(pay attn. some brands are way heavier than others), mount tech binding toe pieces(dynafit) for the uphills, plate bindings for the downhill...if you can afford them buy the arc'teryx boot, if not a tlt5/tlt6 modified. 

T.L. Kushner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2009 · Points: 0

none of the options people have listed will work (or not work well) with mountaineering boots.  regular mountaineering boots won't have dynafit compatible toes.  modified ski boots like the TLT5 or TLT6 will not perform well for technical climbing.  any ski mountaineer who has ever had to climb a pitch of ice to get up something can verify this.  they're passable but the harder the climbing gets the more your footwork will falter.  

at the outdoor gear expo at snowbird last week i saw a new product that could potentially serve to bridge the gap for mellow skinning to/from alpine climbs.  they're not meant for serious, steep downhill travel.  simply a more efficient travel method than snowshoes with a more universal attachment than dynafit or silveretta, and a hell of a lot lighter than a splitboard.

driftboards

keep in mind, i haven't tried them.  i have no connection whatsoever to the company.  i just saw them and got to handle the product a little bit and recognized it immediately as a viable approach method on snow.  you get the more efficient approach offered by skinning.  you can't lock your heel down and they don't have metal edges.  skiing something steep and technical on them would be a horrorshow.  they use a generic strap system that isn't specific to snowboard boots, ski boots, or any proprietary system.  i think they're still a fairly new company.  not quite in the beta testing phase but still somewhat in infancy.  it's worth looking into.

Firestone · · California · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 449
T.L. Kushner wrote:

at the outdoor gear expo at snowbird last week i saw a new product that could potentially serve to bridge the gap for mellow skinning to/from alpine climbs.  they're not meant for serious, steep downhill travel.  simply a more efficient travel method than snowshoes with a more universal attachment than dynafit or silveretta, and a hell of a lot lighter than a splitboard.

driftboards

And now I want a pair! Thanks for the link

Dave Cramer · · Greenfield, MA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 0
T.L. Kushner wrote:

 modified ski boots like the TLT5 or TLT6 will not perform well for technical climbing.  any ski mountaineer who has ever had to climb a pitch of ice to get up something can verify this.  they're passable but the harder the climbing gets the more your footwork will falter.  

but then the climb is only ED 5+ M5 :)

Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35
Kyle Tarry wrote:

You'd probably get much better feedback if you posted some information about what routes you'd be using this for, and what the approach is like.

Goals would be Ham & Eggs (Moose's Tooth, AK) this coming May building to Cassin Ridge on Denali a few years our from that.  Training would be in RMNP just cause that is where my current partner lives and I have to travel regardless.  Approaches in RMNP are usually boot pack just due to traffic but flotation helps and opens different approaches, and skis can cut down on the infinite march that can be getting back to the car from Longs Peak.  With Ham & Eggs, we need to be able to get to and from the route even if we can't land on the Root Canal glacier.  Never having been to AK I can't offer more description than what I or anyone else can see in the pictures.

I think I'm just looking for improved efficiency over snowshoes but being a total $*#t show on anything more than the most mild decent is a bit worrisome.  

mediocre · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 0

Nobody buys a splitboard because they are more versatile than skis, people buy a splitbaord because snowboarding is fun and they don't mind the extra fidgeting and less support while skinning in order to be in the backcountry. 

You have what you call a dilemma. If you want versatility then go skis, but you can already snowboard and learning to ski is a frustrating process that takes time. You're going to spend money on either option, so I wouldn't really put that into the equation because in the end, the option that works best is priceless. 

So there you go. There's my advice that really doesn't answer your question. 

ze dirtbag · · TBD · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 5

From what I've seen and tried over the past few years, if you want to splitboard, it's not always going to be optimal.   However, get a setup and use the shit out of it.   I've been out with guys and gals who can crush on less than optimal setups.    There's good and bad to every combination,  buy something now and start dialing it in.    You might not nail your AK setup on the first try, but the more time you spend on your gear, the better off you'll be.    

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,438
T.L. Kushner wrote:

none of the options people have listed will work (or not work well) with mountaineering boots.  regular mountaineering boots won't have dynafit compatible toes.  modified ski boots like the TLT5 or TLT6 will not perform well for technical climbing.  any ski mountaineer who has ever had to climb a pitch of ice to get up something can verify this.  they're passable but the harder the climbing gets the more your footwork will falter.  

at the outdoor gear expo at snowbird last week i saw a new product that could potentially serve to bridge the gap for mellow skinning to/from alpine climbs.  they're not meant for serious, steep downhill travel.  simply a more efficient travel method than snowshoes with a more universal attachment than dynafit or silveretta, and a hell of a lot lighter than a splitboard.

driftboards

keep in mind, i haven't tried them.  i have no connection whatsoever to the company.  i just saw them and got to handle the product a little bit and recognized it immediately as a viable approach method on snow.  you get the more efficient approach offered by skinning.  you can't lock your heel down and they don't have metal edges.  skiing something steep and technical on them would be a horrorshow.  they use a generic strap system that isn't specific to snowboard boots, ski boots, or any proprietary system.  i think they're still a fairly new company.  not quite in the beta testing phase but still somewhat in infancy.  it's worth looking into.

Those are similar to snowshoes, some come with edges (a must), They'll get you up as fast as snowshoes, skis and splitboards but they're a nighmare to control going down.

Like a friend said, they're fine to cross a frozen lake... https://www.skinbased.com/

I used to Alpine snowboard (carving board) and looked at the options out there for approaches, I've got snowshoes and classic cross country skis (Rossi BC 68).

I took a few runs down the local hills renting downhill skis and figured that they'd be the easiest way to go instead of splitboards for the areas I plan to go.  I've got my TLT5, got them fitted and got a few runs on demo skimo gear.

Skis: Versatile, easy to lock your heel for a short descent followed by more climbing, less time before heading down you just need to rip off the skins.

Splitboard: More fun going down, takes longer converting from climb to downhill and vice versa, you're screwed if you slow down in deep pow cause you can't herringbone (Duck-Walk) out of a hole or off of flat terrain.

Jason Killgore · · boulder, co · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 100

I'd look into a very light AT setup. Take a few resort days to become passable as a skier so you dont hurt yourself or a tourist on popular bobsled trails in places like RMNP. I agree with other folks that the classic silvretta approach ski is obsolete at this point. AT gear has gotten very light and very good. 

In the silvretta heyday, a typical setup might be 1600-2000g / ski, 1000g / binding and then you had your typical mountaineering boot (say Sportiva nepal or Scarpa Inverno (1200-1300g / boot). The setups were mostly only useful for approach, and even then the skinning efficiency and even security (e.g. on a side-hill traverse) is awful.

Total weight (w/o skins) = 3800 g per foot

Consider that a lightweight AT boot now weighs around 800-1000g per boot (Scarpa Alien, Dynafit PDG, Sportiva Syborg). A lightweight binding is around 150-200g. A lightweight ski is around 800-1100g/ski. note - I'd consider going just bigger than rando-race size for the ski (so maybe 70-75mm waist, 170 length, 1 kg-ish weight). It will be more forgiving than a pure race ski (64 mm waist, 160 length) and give a bit more float on deeper approaches. You could switch to a race ski down the road if you found yourself carrying them over often and weight was truly at a premium.

Total weight (w/o skins) = 2000 g per foot 

A setup that really pushes the weight could be in the 1500 g per foot range.

For moderate routes with skiable descents, plan to climb in the ski boots. For harder routes, or rappel descents, plan to carry climbing boots in your pack on the approach and leave your skis at the base. Your total weight on the approach with the latter option will be lower and not on your foot. Furthermore, skinning efficiency, side-hilling and skiing will improve dramatically.

M Bageant · · Cambridge, MA · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 5

I'm a splitboarder.  I actually do not enjoy ice climbing or mountaineering for the most part so I mainly just chase good lines.  If I have to climb a mountain to get to one...so be it.

I think the answer to your question is hugely terrain dependent, especially if you want to splitboard.  A bad terrain choice makes a splitboard outing a nightmare instead of fun.

  • Are you going to have to carry the skis/split with you for your climb?  If so, are you gaining enough speed/saving enough time from the benefits of ski/split over snowshoes to make the encumbrance worth it?  
  • On the approach/descent, are you going down terrain that would be fun to snowboard, or annoying?  Are you crossing a lot of rolling or gentle terrain where a boarder would lose speed?  If so, you probably want skis instead, because you are not skiing challenging terrain, and they will get you from point A to point B better.  For this type of terrain I have actually just started using my splitboard as skis and skiing out (poorly, in softboots...).
  • However...if you're crossing terrain such that you're not even going to take your skins off on the approach or descent (i.e....it's flat), then I would say get a splitboard with hardboot bindings.  That way you can actually use it to go backcountry or sidecountry snowboarding if you ever get the inclination.

As for the technical aspects of split vs. skis, they are mostly a moot point if you ride in hardboots.

As far as tele vs. AT, I would recommend AT.  You will probably find it a little easier to learn/control, and you will probably find more options for AT equipment that fits mountaineering boots.  However, the most godlike backcountry skiers I have met have definitely all been tele skiers. ;)

DavisMeschke Guillotine · · Pinedale, WY · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 45

I personally wouldn't invest in a split or AT setup unless you were going to delve into backcountry/ ski mountaineering. Stick with snowshoes; MSR makes all kinds.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 438

Most of my friends who have done routes in the alaska range brought an AT/split set up with it's own boots and then their double boots for the route. You'll be a lot happier getting good ski laps in to acclimatize at 14k than you would slogging up and down the hill with boots.  

Silvrettas make you a liability actually skiing. So does skiing in the backcountry without years of skiing at the resort under your belt.

If you have aspirations of climbing/touring to access climbs don't bother with a soft boot splitboard set up. I've been snowboarding since 93 and splitboarding from 09 on. I purchased TLT6 boots in 2014, but couldn't get into using them because it was just too stiff medial/laterally for me to ride technical terrain confidently, I liked my broken in malamutes. I hated climbing even cruiser snow slogs in soft boots though, technical terrain was out of the question.

This year I did the phantom bindings pivot cuff kit on the TLT6, cut slits in the lower shell below the pivot points and drilled holes in the cuff as shown on their site: http://www.phantomsnow.com/shop/parts-accessories/boot-mod-kit
My hard boots now ride very similarly to a newer pair of malamutes on the down. On the uphill it's an amazing difference. So much lighter that I could greatly increase my pace, transitions are equal to my AT friends (who remove skis to take off skins at the top), and as a bonus I don't have to use heel risers as often (free ankle articulation lets me weight heels without the boot binding up). If you go this route just make sure that you don't get a boot fitter going for an alpine ski "performance fit" on you, go with 2 fingers in the shell if you can w/o heel lift. Going with a normal ski fit you WILL bash your toes front pointing. 

Martin le Roux · · Superior, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 129
Jason Killgore wrote:

I'd look into a very light AT setup... Consider that a lightweight AT boot now weighs around 800-1000g per boot (Scarpa Alien, Dynafit PDG, Sportiva Syborg)... Total weight (w/o skins) = 2000 g per foot. A setup that really pushes the weight could be in the 1500 g per foot range.

Agree with Jason's comments, but be aware that lightweight boots like the Alien and PDG have thin shells and thin liners that don't provide much insulation. That's fine for rando racing but if you're going to be standing around on belay ledges in cold weather you might prefer a slightly heavier boot with a warmer liner, like the Dynafit TLT5/6. They'll also give you more control on the downhills.

Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35
Nick Drake wrote:

If you have aspirations of climbing/touring to access climbs don't bother with a soft boot splitboard set up. I've been snowboarding since 93 and splitboarding from 09 on. I purchased TLT6 boots in 2014, but couldn't get into using them because it was just too stiff medial/laterally for me to ride technical terrain confidently, I liked my broken in malamutes. I hated climbing even cruiser snow slogs in soft boots though, technical terrain was out of the question.

This year I did the phantom bindings pivot cuff kit on the TLT6, cut slits in the lower shell below the pivot points and drilled holes in the cuff as shown on their site: http://www.phantomsnow.com/shop/parts-accessories/boot-mod-kit

So you ride that Phantom setup?  A TLT6 boot, AT tech binding on the split board for uphill, disk binding for downhill?

Nick Niebuhr · · Telluride, CO · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 460

I don't know what options are out there for mounting mountaineering boots to skis, but I think for splitboards you can possibly use something like those voile hardboot splitboard bindings. I saw an old guy riding the resort with a setup like that last year. I think they cinch onto the front and back bails or something. But I can't remember how you go in touring mode. You could see how normal splitboard bindings fit with your boots, if all you really need it for is the approach and an easy descent, it might be fine.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 438
Mike Slavens wrote:

So you ride that Phantom setup?  A TLT6 boot, AT tech binding on the split board for uphill, disk binding for downhill?

I just used the phantom kit for the boots. I have a dynafit tlt6 boot, dynafit tech binding for the up, voile wire heel risers, voile canted pucks, and spark r&d dyno plate bindings for the down.

i went with the spark binding because of price partially. More because the phantom binding interface needs to be cleaned of packed snow/ice. With the pnw cascade concrete that can be a pita. The spark binding I can just slam in place with no cleaning most of the time. 

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,438
Nick Drake wrote:

I just used the phantom kit for the boots. I have a dynafit tlt6 boot, dynafit tech binding for the up, voile wire heel risers, voile canted pucks, and spark r&d dyno plate bindings for the down.

i went with the spark binding because of price partially. More because the phantom binding interface needs to be cleaned of packed snow/ice. With the pnw cascade concrete that can be a pita. The spark binding I can just slam in place with no cleaning most of the time. 

Pictures?

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 438

Is that how this works?

Photos of the boot mod process with some text:

https://flic.kr/s/aHsm3WDpbR

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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