Why am I standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 other snowboarders and facing uphill? Is this what splitboarding is all about? It feels more like a scene out of Braveheart, but this is the Dirksen Derby Splitboard Race.Â They can make us run around a rutted-out banked slalom course, but they can’t take our freedom!
Seriously, what does splitboarding have to do with riding a banked slalom pole-to-plank with dozens of other people? I’m into it for the opposite: untouched pow. That’s not much of a spectator sport, though. No energy drink-sponsored tours for freeshralping. I’m sure that’s what everyone else had in mind when they were toiling over ways to make splitboarding quicker and easier. Gotta get it in the Olympics. Bring it to the masses. Regardless, I’ve watched the Derby the last few years and it’s just enough of a shit show for me to want to take part. No one’s wearing Spandex speed suits or getting piss tested, so I think I’ll be OK.
Still, if you find yourself near one of these splitboard races, my advice would be to observe from a safe distance. Racing in one of these things takes way too much effort. From the Braveheart start, we had to run clear around the Derby starting area and strap in for a Chinese downhill on the other side. This downhill just happened to be on Mt. Bachelor’s bunny hill, so not only were we weaving around competitors, there were pizza-and-french-fries toddlers in the way, too. The transition was at the bottom of the Derby courses, but you know we had to post-hole up a quick hill to get there. Watching a group of guys take apart splitboards is something like watching monkeys with Legos. They get the job done, but it isn’t pretty. Next, it’s uphill on skins where you might have put the bindings on the wrong skis and you might get passed by girls who started a full minute after you did. At the top, it’s more ape Legos before taking a pow board down the tightest banked tree run of your life. If you didn’t think you were going to keel over after the climb, you’ll have no problem careening out of control through the pines with another racer a couple feet behind you. Top three finishers get custom, tree-limb wizard staffs, snow globe/crystal balls and swag from the sponsors. The rest of us get laughed at.
If for some reason you still want to race in this event, here’s more warning. Your old, heavy gear will make this even more of a pain than it already is. Here are some tips on the next level gear. The new Spark R&D Tesla binding system did away with the clumsy pins of old. I went that route, but missed the pins when I wanted to stab my opponents. K2’s Kwicker step-in binding is just like the old K2 Clicker: when it works it’s fast; when it doesn’t you get that middle school feeling like, “It’s in, right?” but it’s not and there goes your board downhill without you. I chose Spark. Speaking of boards, you’re going to want something small and quick. I didn’t have anything like that, so I went with the predictable rocker/camber of the Voile Artisan over the shorter and lighter, but squirrlier tip-to-tail rocker of the G3 Black Sheep C. Another thing worth thinking about is your clothing choice. With all the exertion, you want something light and breathable. Plenty of people were just wearing base layers. Other good choices are anything by Homeschool Snowboarding or a light and flexible Gore Windstopper kit like Outdoor Research’s Valhalla line. They make shit for ski touring which is basically splitboarding anyway.
Does any of this sound like why you want to try splitboarding in the first place? Me neither. If I learned anything it’s that technology meant to make things easier will always get co-opted by people who want to get competitive. Why did Dirksen even add a splitboard race to the Derby? From the man himself, “I just like to see the panting on your faces.” Thanks Josh. Go to the Dirksen Derby. Watch the splitboarders and laugh or race one and get laughed at.