Interview – Joey Vosburgh

INTERVIEW

Joey
Vosburgh



Words: David Pérez
Translation: Elena G. De Murillo
Photo Portrait: Ben Christensen
Photo: Christina Lustenberger, Alain Sleigher

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The idea of an interview with Joey came to mind after I accidentally ran into him in Malalcahuello, Chile. An encounter followed by a great splitboarding in Lonquimay volcano. Joey Vosburgh uses his splitboard as a work tool in the winter time; he is a ACMG Ski Guide and a snowboard guide at Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing and CAPOW Guiding in Revelstoke, BC. When your passion becomes your job.

1. ¡Hola Joey! How was Summer in Malalcahuello? It was really cool meeting down the valley and sharing some turns on Lonquimay volcano.

The short time I spent in Malalcahuello was incredible. The mountains were impressive and the people were very kind. We didn’t have very good snow conditions but it didn’t stop us from climbing some impressive volcanoes. It’s not hard to imagine what the area would be like with a normal snow year. Running into you there was super fun. It’s a small world of us splitboarders hey?

2. How does your season look? What will you be up to?

Busy. I’ll be at home in revelstoke for the majority of the season working as a heli guide and ski touring/ splitboarding guide. However from now until beginning of January is my time to get out with friends and just shred.

3. Who introduced you into snowboarding? Can you tell us about those first years in the 90’s?

Haha. Thats a long time ago now. Well, I don’t think anyone really introduced me to it. I mean I was a skateboard kid and growing up in Calgary only allowed us to skate in the summer. When snowboarding came on the scene at our Rockies ski hills I was instantly attracted to it. Skateboarding a mountain? Hell yes. It was a fringe sport at the time and not taken that seriously but we loved it and slowly became proficient at getting around the ski hills.

“Like many snowboarders I was using snowshoes for accessing backcountry terrain. It was obvious how inefficient it was. As soon as the voile split kit came out I split my own board. It opened up the backcountry for me.”

– Joey Vosburgh

Copy of Tangiers Pass. Photo by: Alain Sleigher

4. Hitting the Canadian Rockies is a trip any backcountry lover dreams about. How did these mountains influence you to become the rider you are these days?

I love the rockies. Now living in the Selkirks I am lucky to deal with a larger snowpack and generally better stability. My early years of travelling in the rockies taught me a lot about sketchy snowpacks and how to have patience. It also taught me to stay on my feet cause the rocks are never too far away! Now I find myself travelling the 2-3 hours in the spring time to enjoy them in good stability. Thats where the big spring lines are!

5. When did you discover splitboarding and how did it change the way you approach the mountains?

Like many snowboarders I was using snowshoes for accessing backcountry terrain. Initially we stuck close to ski hill boundaries but then to other backcountry specific zones. It was obvious how inefficient it was. As soon as the voile split kit came out I split my own board. It opened up the backcountry for me.

6. You’re one of the few guides who has completed his ACMG Ski Guide license with a splitboard. When did you decide to turn your passion into your profession?

I was initially nervous to make the sport I love into a job. But then I realized that doing it as a job was a way I could always be out there… in the snow and the mountains sharing it with others. It’s something that I’m good at AND really enjoy as a job.

“Well for me it starts the second the first snowfall hits the ground in the alpine. From then on I keep track of all changes like new snow, wind, freezing levels… What I’m saying is I pay attention from the beginning of the year to the end.

– Joey Vosburgh

Glacial waves in the Monashees. Photo by: Christina Lustenberger

7. You guide skiers, as well as snowboarders and splitboarders. We know that many skiers think a splitboard is not the an efficient tool in the backcountry. Have you had any issues in this sense? What is your take about that?

I’ve never had an issue with it. I am confident in my skills to get through the terrain with a variety of different techniques. I’ve been lucky to have a solid group of highly skilled ski tourers and splitboarders to go out with over the past 10 years. It’s made me a better splitboarder and to know my weaknesses. Using your tools such as poles and knowing when to split ski are all things I do on a daily basis to keep the groups happy… and behind me.:)

 

8. You work on one of the most snowed spots on the planet, definitely a challenging terrain when it comes to avalanche risk. Can you tell us about your daily work to manage and prevent avalanche hazard?

Well for me it starts the second the first snowfall hits the ground in the alpine. From then on I keep track of all changes like new snow, wind, freezing levels… What I’m saying is I pay attention from the beginning of the year to the end. Every morning whether it’s a day of ski touring or a day of Heli I involve myself in some sort of recorded morning meeting. Even if I’m alone I still run through the same process. What changed overnight? What will change throughout the day? What is the current avalanche hazard or problems? What kind of terrain are we avoiding? What kind of terrain are we skiing? What are the abilities of the guests…

9. We are most convinced that avalanche prevention education should be on top of the priority list for anyone who is willing to get out on the mountains safely and independently. What were your main encouragements when you decided to start your training?

I took my first avalanche course 22 years ago. I knew we were going further out into terrain and I had seen a few close calls. I wanted to understand and be safer. My mom was dating a mountain climber at the time and she knew the risks we were taking so she encouraged me to get educated too.

10. A few years back we attended a IGC (Institut Geològic de Catalunya) seminar about the work developed by the Canadian Avalanche Center. We were impressed by the high percentage of riders who usually ride the backcountry and hold a STA 1 level, and by the prevention and information initiatives that take place in places such as Rogers Pass. Do you think people are actually conscious of the risk that implies riding the backcountry? What would your advice be for those who haven’t still decided to get avalanche education?

We have an amazing public avalanche bulletin in Canada thanks to Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada. With social media spreading the bulletins and people wanting to be safe I feel most do acknowledge the risks in the backcountry. If you are not going to do a formal course I’d say mentorship is the best way to ride safely in the backcountry.

“Also I think us as snowboarders need to be less closed minded about gear that isn’t snowboard specific.  Kinda like how snowboard design and its ability to shred pow changed the way skiis were shaped…”

– Joey Vosburgh

Early season classic. 8812 Bowl Rogers Pass. Photo by: Christina Lustenberger

11. Let’s go back to splitboarding. You’ve been using AT boots with Phantom Splitboard Bindings for a while now. The benefits about riding AT boots during the ascent and more alpine activities is no mystery, but many of us who have ridden splitboards for a while now, find the downhill performance of AT boots is not too reliable. Mostly when we see that they keep modifying outer shells to increase lateral flex and comfort. How did switching to AT boots affect your riding?

I don’t think it did. I came at it with a really positive outlook though. I knew I wanted something better than what the industry was selling. It felt different at first but soon adapted to the subtle differences and was able to make them do what I’ve always been able to do. They are no stiffer than most of the split boots out there, maybe even softer. These days I’m not very worried about boneing out a huge indy and I’m more worried about having an evolved splitboard system. Reliability is this system’s biggest asset. The mods to the boots are simple. You can dive head first in a do all sorts of stuff to them or you can just do one easy change to the ski mode device and then your good.

12. Research and development on AT boot systems has been taking place for a while now, but it clearly needs to evolve into splitboarding specific boots. But business is what matters and the scarce number of AT boot users doesn’t encourage investment on the industry’s side. Do you think there is a margin for improvement if they really went for it? Is it possible to make a boot that combines the best of both universes?

I think the whole snowboard industry would have to see the benefits, because they are the ones that makes the marketing that drives the people to the cash registers. You’re right though, the hardshell splitboarder numbers are probably not there to justify spending heaps of money on designing a split specific hardshell boot. It’s absolutely possible to make this boot it just needs commitment from a big money company. Maybe a boot that could be used for multiple sports would be more approachable for investors. Also I think us as snowboarders need to be less closed minded about gear that isn’t snowboard specific. Kinda like how snowboard design and its ability to shred pow changed the way skiis were shaped… Maybe it’s time we take a little from them. The Procline from Arc’teryx is a good example. It’s a boot for many sports; climbing, skiing and I’ve been splitboarding in it lately. It still needs mods to be shred worthy but it’s a good start towards a great split boot…

13. Splitboarding and snowboard industry; it seems like every brand displays a splitboard on their catalogs, although we think that many of them don’t really believe in it. What does splitboarding need to definitely settle and find its own spot within the snowboarding industry?

Tough question. Can I pass on that one? Only because I know how much I will start ranting about the snowboard industry….

“I still hear about the odd person that leaves splitboarding for skiing because “it’s easier to get around”. To be honest I think that is more of a reflection of someone’s ability. With good terrain reading and a few backcountry snowboard techniques a splitboard is just as efficient.”

– Joey Vosburgh

Ridge to Mt Avalanche summit. Photo by: Christina Lustenberger

14. What is your current set-up?

When it’s deep I ride a 66 G3 Scapegoat and when its variable I ride a 68 G3 BlackSheep. Phantoms Splitboard Bindings always. Boots Arc’teryx Procline or Dynafit TLT6.

15. How do you see the splitboarding scene in Canada these days? What about the near future?

It seems to be alive and well here. All of our ranges have avid split crews out killing it. I still hear about the odd person that leaves splitboarding for skiing because “it’s easier to get around”. To be honest I think that is more of a reflection of someone’s ability. With good terrain reading (ie plan ahead so you don’t get stuck in the flats) and a few backcountry snowboard techniques (like keeping your poles accessible) a splitboard is just as efficient. Mastery is the key to success whether it’s on skis or board. It’s not the wand it’s the wizard.

16. What is the best period to come and visit and what kind of terrain could we find on the Selkirk Mountains? How can we reach you?

It really depends what you want to ski. If it’s deep pow in steep trees you like, come in January. That’s when the lower elevation terrain fills in. If you want high alpine big lines come in March or April, that’s when the glaciers are super filled in and the stability generally cooperates. That being said we just shredded two big alpine lines yesterday in perfect stable pow and it’s only November!

You can reach me through Capow Guiding ( http://www.capow.ca/ ) for splitboarding or ski touring and Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing http://www.selkirk-tangiers.com/ for heli skiing or heli ski touring.

 

17. Last but not least, what would your advice be for all those snowboarders who have decided to take the step of creating their own adventures?

Get out there keep the stoke high but don’t let your judgement be clouded by enthusiasm. These mountains are not going anywhere.

 

18. Acknowledgements

Thanks to Arc’teryx, Genuine Guide Gear (G3), Phantom Splitboard Bindings and Smartwool Socks for their support. And Danyelle… She puts up with me the most!