Being an Alpinist and IFMGA Mountain Guide on a Splitboard
Complete with a Splitboard Mountaineering Gear List
By Robert Smith
Phantom Team Rider
My first day of snowboarding was in 1989 when I was 6 years old. I grew up in Southern California with parents, an older brother and cousins who were all obsessed with surfing and skateboarding. So, naturally when snowboarding was invented, my entire family immediately became hooked on another form of sliding at high speed on a board. My snowboarding roots began at Snow Summit in Southern California. The ski areas of California were the first places to allow snowboards and they were the birthplace of terrain parks or “snowboard parks” as they were called back then.
After about a decade of competing in half pipes and terrain parks I wanted to branch out into the bigger mountains and combine my other passions of rock and ice climbing with snowboarding. At the time splitboards did not exist, so traveling in the high mountains meant that I would need to carry my snowboard on my back with snowshoes on my feet. Slowly me and my cousins and older brother were ticking off all the classic tours of the High Sierra in this fashion. In 2001 I purchased my first splitboard and things really started to change for me. Even with the very basic technology of my first splitboard I was starting to complete really long and involved tours with groups of skiers in bigger mountain ranges such as the: Andes, Canadian Rockies, Chugach and Cascades. In 2002 I started working towards becoming a Mountain Guide on my splitboard. In 2004 I entered into the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association program to become a certified guide. Being a snowboarder was more than taboo at this time, it was unheard of in the Mountain Guide world. I remember doing my Aspirant Ski Guide exam in La Grave, France in 2006 and one of the examiners from Switzerland told me that “a mountain guide must be on skis.” It is clear he was wrong. However, he was right about one thing, the technology for splitboards at the time was not up to the task of being efficient in large mountain ranges such as the Alps.
Fast forward to 2015 when I met John Keffler, the founder of Phantom. John and I immediately began exchanging loads of emails sharing our different ideas and experiences with splitboarding gear; and how we thought it could improve. When John showed me his binding system I was blown away. John was the first snowboarder I met who was as weight conscious as myself; counting every gram of gear and constantly trying to make the system lighter and faster. For me, John’s background in engineering was evident from the very beginning. His scientific approach to creating the Phantom system was critical for making it the high-tech system that it is today. I have been like a kid in a candy store working with John and listening to him speak about all of the nuances of the Phantom system.
For an alpinist and Mountain Guide, the Phantom system has been the solution to all of my problems. The weight and efficiency of the Phantom system is truly game changing. The Phantom system has allowed me to keep enjoying my passion of snowboarding without compromising at all on the uphill portion of the tour, nor the transitions from uphill to descent mode.
There are not many dedicated alpinists in the world who are snowboarders. This is a rare combination. For me the combination of my two passions has become a reality with the use of the Phantom binding system. Where I live in Chamonix, France the mountains are big and very technical. A typical day will include the combination of skinning, ice climbing and mixed climbing to access a snowboard descent. The combination of the phantom slipper with the Phantom binding system not only makes this possible for me but it allows me to excel in all 3 mountain disciplines without compromise. I can climb with great comfort in very technical steep terrain in the Phantom Slipper on ice, rock and mixed terrain. In fact, I believe the Phantom Slipper climbs better in technical terrain than any other ski mountaineering boot that has ever been manufactured. The combination of its weight and fit are perfect for even very steep and challenging climbing pitches.
If you are a snowboarder who learned to ski so that you could “access the high mountains more efficiently” I would strongly encourage you to demo a Phantom system. I have based the last 20 years of my life around alpinism and trying to make fast and light ascents of the world’s biggest mountains. I can say with confidence that this system can truly do it all. A note for snowboarders who are intimidated by the prospect of riding in a hard boot I can assure you that the new Phantom Slipper technology allows you to have all of the uphill benefits of a hardboot with the damp and responsive feeling of a softboot.
Lastly, I leave you with my recommended splitboard mountaineering essentials and a few considerations when going out. Whether I am working as a Mountain Guide or riding with friends, I always ask myself the following question: "In or off
the mountain?" Meaning do I need to manage falling into a crevasse or am I riding in exposed terrain where a fall would be unacceptable. Big mountains are dynamic and the answer to this question is often tricky and not very straight forward. However, apart from avalanche hazard; these are the things I am always thinking about when splitboard mountaineering.
Conditions play a massive role in these decisions. For example in late spring with lots of good coverage on the glacier I am much less concerned about a crevasse fall than I am in December. Likewise, in soft and predictable snow I am less concerned about hitting an ice patch and losing my edge while going down a steep couloir. If I am unsure of snow conditions below me on terrain that I did not already preview from the climb up, then I am extra cautious when riding above exposure. Sometimes I will build an anchor and rappel over a section, even if it seems to have a small probability of being icy. Holding my toe side edge while trying to get a good ice screw in to make a v- thread is a scenario I try to always avoid if possible.
Of course, I do not take these decisions lightly, as they have massive consequences. Combining mountaineering and alpine climbing with splitboarding allows me to access lots of incredible terrain around the world. However, this takes a lot of years of mountaineering and alpine climbing experience in order to safely combine it with splitboarding. For myself, it is the product of a lifetime of climbing and snowboarding.
Splitboard Mountaineering Gear List:
Please reach out with any questions on my IFMGA process or about Phantom gear. I can be reached anytime at the contact info below. I am happy to chat about these any time, but I will warn you that I tend to go on and on about gear so you will want to be sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee before we get started!