Splitboarding and AT boots

Splitboarding and AT boots, Say What?

As if a splitboard alone isn’t a strange enough concept to those outside our small community, a splitboard/AT hybrid leaves most in a daze, scratching their head. When I first heard of such a setup, my first thoughts were, What? Why? No, that is just wrong!

As I began to scratch the itch of curiosity and search the internet for more information, I quickly learned that this system does not use snowboard carving boots (AKA hardboots) or even typical ski boots but specialized two or three buckle AT boots designed specifically for lightweight AT skiers. Still, first glance, all I saw was an AT boot and thought why would anyone want to snowboard in those?

“This gave me my first close up look at this strange set up. What struck me was how simple the overall system was compared to my traditional splitboard setup.”

Reading opinions online and scanning for setup pictures was a great first start, but I wanted to see them in person. At the time, it was pretty rare to see anyone in the backcountry with this setup (OK, it’s still pretty rare), but I got in contact with Barrows, a local AT Splitboarder, and he was kind enough to meet up for a day of riding and geeking out on gear. On a cold January morning, I met up with Barrows in the parking lot at a local backcountry trail head. This gave me my first close up look at this strange set up. What struck me was how simple the overall system was compared to my traditional splitboard setup. No ratchet straps, but pre-adjusted bails that lock down onto the boot. As we walked from the cars to the skin track, my split was slung over my shoulder, skins on and bindings flapping around, I looked over at Barrows’ AT Spilt setup, nothing flopping in the breeze as the ride mode plates were stowed in his pack for the ascent. Was I just noticing a thing of vanity?

splitboarding and AT boots

Barrows on Phantom 12/13 bindings. B Chutes, Colorado.

“In an AT boot where the cuff can be unlocked so that it pivots about the ankle means, your stride is longer, less inhibit by the normal high back and a stiff snowboard cuff which to me means it’s ultimately more efficient.”

But it got me thinking, this also means that when he needs to put the split on his backpack for booting up something, the split is closer to your center of gravity, easier to strap onto your pack in multiple configurations and less likely to catch on things as you either make your way through brush or tight rock wall ascents. Once at the trail head, Barrows just placed his two split halves on the ground, stepped into the tech toe pieces and off he went. What? Too easy I thought. As we skinned our way to the top of the hill, I started to look back and forth between the two very different setups. Sure I had seen ski touring setups before, but never really paid much attention to them. That was skiing, born from backcountry traveling but not how I wanted to ride down the mountain. However, it got me thinking. In an AT boot where the cuff can be unlocked so that it pivots about the ankle means, your stride is longer, less inhibit by the normal high back and a stiff snowboard cuff which to me means it’s ultimately more efficient.

We reached the top of our skin track and made the transition back to a snowboard in about the same time. At the time, Barrows’ ride mode bindings used the Voile pucks and slider plate with Burton Race plate bail bindings, his own unique hybrid custom creation. With a few quick clicks of his buckles, Barrows tightened up his boots and then stepping into the bindings and flipping the bail lever. He was ready for the descent. As I watched him ride that day, I couldn’t tell what kind of boots he was riding in. He looked like any other snowboarder to me.

“He was ready for the descent. As I watched him ride that day, I couldn’t tell what kind of boots he was riding in. He looked like any other snowboarder to me.”

splitboarding hardboots

Phantom series and Ryan Koupal / 40 Tribes Backcountry.

Later in the season, I met up with Barrows for some spring couloir ascents and descents. This was my turning point. The trail in was a nasty frozen side hill followed by a frozen couloir ascent, both of which Barrows left me in the dust, groveling. It was in the middle of the couloir, after messing with my crampons for the third time, feet cramping up from being tacoed to keep the crampons on, that I had it. I had to give an AT Splitboard set up a try. As summer started up, I began to look around for the parts that I would need to build a setup like Barrows. But what I really wanted was a system that was built from the deck up that put the boot as close to the board as possible and would ride like a traditional snowboard setup. Since nothing like that existed, I decided to build my own.

John Keffler is a splitboarder based in Colorado, USA, organizer of the Silverton Splitfest and founder of the Phantom Splitboard Bindings, a brand dedicated to offer the highest quality hardboot bindings for splitboarding.