Time To Split? - Walk the plank.

In the “Blown In” column of the February issue of Backcountry magazine, Colin Whyte wrote about the recent growth in popularity of splitboarding. Fueled by significant advances in gear, and the impending release of Jeremy Jones' new film Deeper, splitboarding seems to be benefiting from an increase in public visibility. When I was in Denver in January to attend the SIA tradeshow, I decided to do an informal survey to find out if this growth in visibility would also translate into an increase in participation and/or sales in this sub-market of snowboarding.

Wall of Split
The Poacher seen here at the Atomic Snowboarding booth at the SIA trade show in Denver Colorado.

This year at the SIA trade show in Denver, more companies than ever before have presented new splitboards and splitboard accessories including Jones Snowboards, Lib-Tech, Atomic, Burton, Never Summer, Venture, Spark R&D and Voilé. I've taken a particular interest in splitboarding this year, due to my upcoming trip to Valdez for Tailgate Alaska which led me to visit these company's booths to get a sense of the state of splitboards as it was in 2009/10 and what the prosects look like for 2010/11. Here's what I found out:

Burton

The core of Burton's business will always be traditional boards. In terms of volume these will account for the bulk of sales (you're average New Englander is not interested in the backcountry). Although some companies will say that split board sales are on the rise, these are generally percentages: even if 60% of your sales are splits, if you only sell 60 boards, in the grand scheme of things it's not that significant. However, considering how vast Burton's line up is, and that they only have a single splitboard, Burton is not exactly the de-facto model for this segment of the market.

Atomic

Although Atomic has significantly pared down their snowboard lineup in recent years to rediscover their roots, they've introduced a splitboard with the Poacher. What makes the Poacher special is that they have a patented system for attaching the bindings to the board. This system eliminates the need for a base-plate, which allows the bindings to be mounted that much closer to the board. This is significant because one of the biggest complaints with splitboarding is that the use of the mounting plates for the bindings makes the ride less enjoyable. Having the split bindings mounted that much closer to the board makes it ride more like a solid snowboard, which is key to getting Johnny Groomer-Runs to want to skin anywhere to earn some turns.

Venture

Venture Snowboards has been in the business of making splits for a long time. They are strong proponents of an environmentally sustainable business model which fits well with the idea of earning your turns with your legs. In keeping with this environmental message, this year Venture is using a pine based, rather than a petroleum based, epoxy called Supersap for gluing their boards.

Euphoria can be divided.
The Venture Euphoria Split on display at the Venture Snowboards booth at the SIA trade show in Denver Colorado.

I spoke with Lisa Branner from Venture to find out what the overal trend seemed to be. In 2009, Venture's sales were devided about equally between split and solid boards. But the share of sales of split boards has been on the rise. In 2010/11, she expects that split-board sales will rise to 60% of their total.

Venture Snowboards has been in the business of making splits for a long time. They are strong proponents of an environmentally sustainable business model which fits well with the idea of earning your turns with your legs. In keeping with this environmental message, this year Venture is using a pine based, rather than a petroleum based, epoxy called Supersap for gluing their boards.
I spoke with Lisa Branner from Venture to find out what the overal trend seemed to be. In 2009, Venture's sales were devided about equally between split and solid boards. But the share of sales of split boards has been on the rise. In 2010/11, she expects that split-board sales will rise to 60% of their total.

Venture is also now hiring their first canadian rep, and expect to be expanding north of the border a lot more next season. They have also recently launched their new Venture Webstore, so it is now possible to buy snowboards directly from them. They aren't turning their backs on their authorized dealers, however, who get first dibs at fulfilling your order. If no nearby authorized dealers have your board in stock, but Venture does, they will step in and fulfill your order themselves.

Prior

Prior Snowboards has been in the business of making snowboards since 1990 when Chris Prior started pressing snowboards in his garage in North Vancouver British Columbia. In 2000, the factory moved to Whistler and they introduced their first Backcountry Splitboard models and they have been making custom snowboards by hand in Whistler ever since. Prior continues to be driven by a singular goal: “to make the best performance snowboards – as determined by its customers.”

Although I didn't get to meet with anybody from Prior at SIA, I did have a brief e-mail conversation with Dean who informed me that, even though the split market is quite small, they have been seeing growth in it for the last 10 years (so basically since they started making splits). The growth in splitboard sales has out-paced the growth in solid board sales which has also seen a moderate growth. Although he was reluctant to give out any ratios or precentages, this seems to be clear evidence that there is in fact growth in the splitboard market.

Lib Tech

Even Mervin Manufacturing is getting into the split board game. I called it more than a year ago that Mervin should turn a skate banana into a split-board and call it the Banana Split (you read it here first). Maybe Pete Saari reads my writing, or more likely he listens to Travis Rice, because Lib Tech officially unveiled the one of a kind Viola. This split feature's Lib Tech's Magna Traction on the outside edges, C2 banana technology which provides rocker underfoot and powder-friendly camber on the tip and tail. The Viola also carries Travis Rice's sustainability message: fiberglass is not employed in its construction, eco-farmed Columbian Gold wood is used for the core, and a BEANS biopolymer is used on the topsheet to show off the sick Mike Parillo graphic. Even though the Viola will likely not be a big part of Mervin's overall sales, the fact that Lib Tech is getting in on the splitboard action is a sign that interest in the sport is growing.

Splitboarding definitely seems to be a growing market of the overall snowboarding industry. I, for one, bought my first splitboard this winter (A 156 Prior AMF with hybrid rocker in case you were wondering). Plus with the upcoming release of Deeper, we may be poised to see an even bigger growth of the sport in the next few years. Especially when you consider that, aside from Jeremy Jones, Tom Burt, and Bryan Iguchi, Travis Rice – who spent a fair amount of time working with Jeremy Jones in the AK backcountry for Deeper - may be the most recognizable backcountry splitter. With a name like that endorsing splitboarding, we may be about to see an shift from the urban, back to the mountain. That can only be a good thing, after all, snowboarding was meant to be done on mountains in the first place.

Winter Matters Bubble

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