My first time out reminded me a lot of the days when I've taken new mountain bikers out for their first ride. I'll pick a trail that has just enough tricky sections to be fun, but nothing too technical or hard. Within minutes of starting the ride the newby is out of breath. Then, the newby spends as much time walking as riding, and I start to think that the newby is hating every minute. Sometimes I'm right, but other times, the newby loves it all anyway and gets hooked.
On Thursday morning at 5:30am, I was the newby. Rick, Dug, et al. picked a loop above Aspen Grove that for them was a pretty typical day in the backcountry - a few tricky sections to make it fun, but nothing too technical or hard. Things started fine, but the climb eventually got steep, and I realized that there was a lot more to skinning than moving your feet back and forth. To make a long story short, I made people wait. For a while. As I flailed in the snow, I looked at where I had come from and had visions of me losing balance and rolling for a very long time. Nevertheless, I eventually made it to the top so that I could enjoy what may have been the best rides of my life. I lifted this one from Dug:
Here is one of Rick:
This morning was more fun up Little Cottonwood. We headed up across from Alta for a windblown and slippery climb. Here is Sam dropping into Days Fork on the Big Cottonwood side:
We climbed back out, and Sam and I headed back down to the car while the others turned another lap. Here is one more of Sam on the way back to the car:
And here are some of me:
So here are my thoughts thus far on the splitboard:
Skinning vs. snowshoeing: No question: skinning > snowshoeing. You don't sink like you do with snowshoes. You can slide instead of having to lift your snowshoe out of the post hole you just created. And best of all, you aren't carrying your snowboard on your back. That said, I'm pretty sure that a splitboard doesn't skin quite as well as alpine touring skis. I think that the greater width makes it a bit harder to get a good grip on the snow. This is especially true when things get wind-blown and when climbing at an angle, which is when I start to inconveniently slide sideways and/or backwards while the skiers forge onward and upward. I'm hoping that my technique will improve and I'll find out that a splitboard can climb as well as skis, but only time will tell.
Splitboarding versus alpine touring: For me, nothing can beat the ride down on a snowboard. However, splitboarding is more of a pain than skiing. The transition from climbing to descending is more complex (although it's still amazingly simple when you consider that you go from skiing uphill to snowboarding, without any extra parts). Like I said before, I think skis climb better. And if you hit a flat section on your board, you have to stop, dig out your poles, extend them, and try to push your way through the flat while your skier friends just keep going. I have to admit that if I knew how to ski like Rick and company (who make skiing look really good), I'd probably be on an AT setup instead.
In short, touring reminds me a lot of mountain biking. On the way up, you have a lot of good times, and you have other times when you wonder why you're doing what you're doing. Then you ride down and remember exactly why.
PS. My phone blew up today. So don't text me - I can hear it come in, but I can't read it. Voicemail and email are all that work for me right now...