This is the first interview from our series "Splitboarding and Risk Management". Worldclass Freerider and Splitboarder like Dave Downing, Jeremy Jones, Aline Bock and more, share their experience with us and wish everybody safe splitboard missions.
Dave Downing: "I was born in Redondo Beach California in August 1968. I started snowboarding in 1990. I became a professional snowboarder for Burton Snowboards in 1993 and started splitboarding in 1995 while living in Utah. Then, in the late 90s, I helped Burton develop a splitboard and binding system. Today I'm still with Burton and I'm 45 years old and still love Splitboarding.
Really the splitboard market is pretty small. Burton is committed to splitboards and offering products for splitboaders. In the 90s we had a splitboard with its own binding system. But with problems with the Factory and small sales we canceled that program. Now we make Splitboards and work with Volie and Spark R&D on binding stuff. I filmed a whole video part in TB9 ( Standard Films ) on the Burton splitboard. Also in the same year, I believe it was 98, I had a lot of coverage on the splitboard in Magazines. So, we did promote the splitboard a lot, but the reality is, that there isn't that many people that really want to go out and put in the effort to do it. But, that being said, we at Burton still believe in it and promote splitboarding and the products we make for it."
We at splitboarding.eu think that in these times the market wasn`t ready. But this has changed now and with the age of the sport and the people, splitboarding will be a good thing to do when you love the mountains and you don`t want the hassle in the resorts anymore. Anyway with a good splitboard you can do both.
1. What would you prefer if you put yourself in the position of a "normal" snowboarder, some good splitboard routes or some beautiful freeriding days in the skiresort?
I consider myself a "normal" snowboarder now. I'm not going out and filming for movies any more, so I feel more normal for sure. Obviously I like snowboarding at Ski Resorts and riding Chair Lifts especially when the snow is good and I like to ride at Resorts with my kids a lot for sure. But my passion in snowboarding is being out in the Backcountry and the solitude that it gives me. Also, when you are out splitboarding it is more mellow, like I'm not in a rush so I tend to enjoy it more than being in a rush at a ski resort to get my runs in before it gets tracked out.
2. Beeing a snowboardpro, what do you prefere a day of heliboarding or splitboarding and why?
Oh, for me I have had the best days of my life in a Heli up in Alaska, so i would say that for sure. It is just to easy to get 15 huge runs in a day with a Heli. I just love to snowboard and ride powder, and really I'll take it however i can. If I have to use a snowmobile, Chairlift, splitboard, Heli, Cat, Hike it doesn't matter, I just love to ride. But on the other hand I've had some really special days out splitboarding and only taken a couple runs that have been incredible. It is just a different expierence being out on a splitboard. Its more mellow and you feel closer to god and the mountains I think.
3. If you enter unknown areas (you just know it from the map), how do you manage keeping the risk as low as possible eg. traversing a summit from south to north?
First thing I would do being in an area that I have never been to is I'd try to get as much information from people that have been riding the place for a long time. Second thing is I would just look at the terrain I was going to ride. I really don't like riding terrain that is all open, I like to ride lines with features, and also ride in the trees. The Scariest thing to me is just riding in a big open bowl. Third thing i would do is start digging around in the snow and feeling the snow pack and what is going on there. I am not a scientist, but I am able to dig some pits and feel how the snow is reacting. Fourth thing I do when I'm in a area that i don't know is start out really easy. I would take a run in a very mellow zone that didn't have much avalanche hazards and I felt somefortable being safe if something went wrong. Just being on the snow and riding I can usually feel how things are reacting. Bottom line is just always have your guard up and don't ever think its safe.
4. What is your strategy to reduce your risk to the maximum in general, but still beeing able to ride impressive (amazing) lines?
You should really always approach the backcountry with that feeling of being scared. When you are out in the backcountry you should never put your guard down. Really something bad could happen at any moment so you should always be alert. Never go out with headphones on just cruising, you should always have a partner that is alert as well. I think being out in the backcountry with a big group, more than 4 people isn't good as well, because it is hard to keep track of what the others are doing. Really the Backcountry is a very dangerous place, and you have to prepare yourself to be comfortable to ride out there. Taking Classes, reading books and also learning from more experienced people.
Really I've never been a guy to take risks, even when I was filming a lot i just wanted to snowboard and make it look fun and awesome. I never needed to scare myself to keep it interesting. I was very fortunate to learn from Craig Kelly, and he never took risks. When Craig rode he would always take the smoothest line and the funniest line, never the most extreme line, so I really took from that and I never really needed to do the most impressive line of the day. I still am like that today where I like to ride fun terrain and enjoy myself snowboarding, I don't need to be scared to have fun.
5. Do you have any suggestions for splitboard beginners or advanced riders regarding the ascent and the descent?
Getting dialed in with your equipment is really key when splitboarding. It is hard when you start out, everything is so hard to deal with, but the more you do it the easier it gets and you start to it dialed in. I think it is better to start out doing more runs a day, like shorter runs where you have to change over to ski mode and ride mode more often, as apposed to just going out and doing one super long run in a day. This way you get more dialed in with your equipment. Also, it is really important to use your stuff in the warmth of your house. I always recommend for people getting into splitboading to pretend you are out in the elements and take your board apart, put it in ski mode, put the skins on and practice in the warmth of your house. Start to get your system dialed in before you go out in the snow and use it. It is aways harder to put your board together and take it apart when your out on the top of some peak with snow and wind. For ascending always take the easiest route, which is usually the safest route. It is better to go a little out of the way when you are ascending and make it easier than to try to go straight up the peak you are going to ride. I think route finding is key when splitboarding, you want to look at the terrain you are going to go up , and make a plan from the bottom to the top and make it easy for you to get up there. As for the descent, I think it is up to the rider and their ability, but I always look for the run that will get me the most face shots. :-)
6. What Shape do you normally ride, Rocker, Camber or Hybrid?
My Splitboards are always camber, maybe some rocker in the nose is good for when your riding, but I believe you need camber for when you are in Ski Mode to make skinning easier. I know a lot of people are making rocker splitboards, and I'm sure they work, but i feel that camber is way better for splitboarding. I also prefer the energy that camber boards give you when your going faster in powder. They feel like they want to come back up on top of the snow instead of staying under the snow. The board has to be designed correctly with camber, for a splitboard I think. There are a lot of very important aspects to a snowboard to work in powder, Its almost like a surfboard when it is in powder, so the shape has to be really dialed in to make the board float well in powder.
7. How would you describe a splitboarding day with your friends in one sentence?
On a good day splitboading with your friends is like going to a huge rock concert and your the only one there in the front row.
Thanks Dave for giving us some inside views to your personal feelings and to your strategies to reduce risk while splitboarding.