Guest writer Morgan Connelly
Adventurous skiers and snowboarders have been trekking into the backcountry for decades, to get away from lift-lines and to seek untouched powder. Technological innovations in equipment over the 10-15 years have made alpine touring more popular than ever before, and the sport now represents one of the fastest growing categories in the outdoor sports market. One of these innovations has been the development of synthetic skins that strap to the board or skis, allowing participants to “skin” or ascend moderately steep slopes, without sliding back down the mountain.
One of the issues all too familiar to the alpine touring community, however, is the limitation of skins: one can only ascend a slope up to around 25° before sliding back down the mountain, hence the need to continuously switchback even moderately steep faces. Additionally, though special crampons can be affixed to the underfoot portion of the ski or board to mitigate slipping and to provide traction in variable terrain, they can only do so much.
This is where snowshoes provide a solution, and potential upgrade, to traditional backcountry alpine touring with skins. Atlas snowshoes already feature a backcountry line-up including the Endeavor, the Aspect, and the Spindrift – the vehicles of choice for many backcountry snowshoeing enthusiasts. And for those that like to descend down the mountain on a snowboard in particular, using Atlas snowshoes to get up (instead of skins or an expensive splitboard) is a logical extension of the sport. This applies more to backcountry snowboarders vs. skiers because strapping snowshoes on ski boots is a non-starter for most. Generally speaking, there are several advantages snowshoeing provides over skinning in the backcountry.
First, especially for those looking to get into backcountry snowboarding, snowshoeing is much cheaper and easier compared to a splitboarding. With the proper knowledge, avalanche safety tools, and training, one can simply purchase a pair of Atlas Endeavor snowshoes for around $220 and strap their resort board to their pack and away they go. This compares quite favorably to purchasing a splitboard set-up (including board, bindings, and skins) that costs in the neighborhood of $1500! Also, snowshoeing is a much easier and more familiar movement to the uninitiated, compared to skinning.
Second, the wider snowshoe surface area allows for more floatation and easier movement when breaking trail in deep snow compared to the thinner planks of a splitboard.
Third, backcountry snowshoes are built with an aggressive and comprehensive crampon system that provides much more traction and stability compared to the single underfoot crampon attachment for a splitboard or skis. This allows for steeper ascents directly up a peak, without having to considerably lengthen a journey by criss-crossing a mountain face up numerous switchbacks. On a related note, snowshoe crampons replace the need for skins altogether, and with it, the awkward process of applying and removing skins to skis. No more frustrating stops to re-affix skins when moisture negates their ability to stick to your skis!
Atlas backcountry snowshoes, in particular, offer numerous features to help snowboarders find that perfect powder stash. The Endeavor and Aspect models each have a wide binding that allows a snowboard boot to fit seamlessly into the shoe. Together with the backcountry utility strap, the boot is held firmly in place. Additionally, the Reactiv-Trac construction aids travel with tons of traction on the side rails and the elliptically formed nose is great for breaking trail.
When it comes to crampons, nothing beats the traction and grip of the Atlas backcountry line. The underside crampons run up the entire base of the shoe and include a toe crampon to dig into hard-pack or icy terrain on steep ascents. The heel lift bar on the Endeavor and Aspect (just over 2” when engaged) also exceeds the lift provided by most alpine touring binding setups, another advantage in ascending steeper slopes. Finally, the PackFlat binding system of the Endeavor and Aspect makes it easy to pack the shoes away for the descent.
Snowshoeing as a means to access backcountry snowboard adventures, in particular, is a solid alternative to skinning. Snowshoes make one of the biggest barriers to entry for backcountry snowboarding moot, by reducing the start-up costs significantly. And the crampon system in the Atlas backcountry line opens up whole new possibilities for ascending steep and rugged terrain. For those thinking about getting into alpine touring for the first time, and for those already seasoned in the art of skinning, adding a pair of Atlas backcountry snowshoes to your quiver is a great idea.
See you on the trail (and on the ascent)!