The San Juan's high peaks see stable corn snow come April. Zach Wilson photo.
When you think about a spring backcountry snowboarding pilgrimage, you think of the usual suspects: Haines, Valdez, Hood, and Rainier. Maybe Whistler, Banff, or Revelstoke wiggles its way into your consciousness. Here’s list of lesser-visited splitboarding zones to help you think outside the box.
The North Cascades
Alaska? Nope, that's northern Washington. Northface of Mt. Jack. Kyle Miller photo.
North Cascades National Park, abutting the southern British Columbia border, is the gnarliest place you haven’t ridden. It’s big. It’s steep. It’s remote and it’s glaciated.
As you might guess, traveling through this rugged Washington range is complicated. Day tours are possible. Overnighters (with guides like Mt. Baker Mountain Guides) are recommended. Multi-day traverses are in good shape by June, and corn skiing stays solid until July.
“It is definitely as isolated as it gets in the lower 48,” says Eddie Bauer snowboarder and Washington native Kyle Miller. “it has an abundance of maritime snowpack and receives some of the most snowfall in the world. It has high peaks like the Alps--without the gondolas or trams--and lush jungle at the bottom.”
Don’t drop into valleys unless you have a machete, he adds.
Kyle Miller bootpacks up Blackhole Couloir on Bandit Peak. Scot Mcalister photo.
If you want to take on this burly terrain unguided, be a competent at winter camping, packing, alpine climbing, glacier travel, self-arrest, and crevasse rescue. Making a mistake this far from civilization would be costly.
The San Juans
Huffing it up Colorado's 13ers is a burly, fitness challenge. Zach Wilson photo.
This southern Colorado range offers a mix of road-accessed day tours and remote multi-day assaults in the high alpine. The zone that stretches from Ouray down to Silverton and east to Ophir contains literally years worth of tours, including often overlooked 13ers.
“If you’re in the Front Range or the Vail-Summit County zones, the snowpack can have deep persistent layers in April,” notes Colorado splitboard mountaineer Shaun Nauman, who helps to organize the Silverton Splitfest.
“The San Juans’ snowpack is closer to Utah and New Mexico, so it’s way more stable," he adds. "By the time April comes around, there’s perfect corn snow from 9,000 to 13,000 feet. The only thing you have to worry about down there is starting too late in the day.”
The High Sierra
I skin with guide Howie Schwartz in Mammoth. Ben Girardi photo.
Thanks to heavy snowfall this March, the Sierra will stay covered long enough for you to attempt the Sierra High Route or the Monarch Divide.
If weeklong, 200-mile splitboard mountaineering traverses without shelter aren’t your thing, there are many shorter, moderate, high country options for you to choose from, including the three-day, high-peak-hop between Mammoth Lakes and June Mountain. Unlike many of the locations on this list, California’s temperate weather makes it an ideal place to learn how to do an overnight splitboarding trip.
Jeff Steele turns under a schrund on Mt. Hood. Geoff Guillory photo.
Volcanos punctuate the otherwise bucolic Central Oregon. The far southern reaches of the Cascades aren’t as remote or as gnarly as the rest of the ranges on this list.
"Mt. Hood offers both obvious and hidden gems for spring and summer splitboard tours," explains Geoff Guillory, founder of Split Life Films. "The Old Chute is no secret, and one of the easy classics for a big line that goes all summer long. While the kids below bash boxes and kickers at the summer camps, good turns await those who are willing to get on the roof of Oregon."
What the South Cascades lack in extremeness they make up for in scenery. Big swathes of forest and farmland unfold from any one of the summits, where you can easily eye your next objective. Another benefit of these peaks is how relatively mellow they are. Yes, they are definitely steep with long slogs to the top, but with rare exceptions, rope skills are not required.