What Is Splitboarding and How Does the New FJELL MT1542S Ride?
Cliff notes on the emerging snowboard subgenre plus a hands-on gear test in the backcountry of Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Ed Note: Splitboarding offers a way to access potentially dangerous backcountry terrain beyond the reach of ski patrol and any other such safeguards inherent to resort riding. To navigate the backcountry safely, a high level of on-snow ability is required and avalanche safety education is seriously suggested. Splitboarding, and backcountry travel are not for beginners or casual boarders. Get educated and stay safe.
A splitboard is a snowboard that separates into two ski-like halves that, when used with climbing skins for uphill traction, can be used to ascend a slope like a traditional ski touring setup. Similar to cross country skis, special splitboard bindings detach and reattach at the toe allowing for free heel movement, which makes forward progress natural. Splitboards are most often used to access remote backcountry terrain beyond the reach of ski lifts and snowmobile tracks.
That’s the technical talk. More casually, splitboarding is a peaceful, human-powered way to access terrain outside of the ski resort boundaries. Allowing the user to move near silently through rugged, snowy terrain, splitboarding combines the zen-like approach of backpacking and the physical workout of hiking, with the reward of a powder run. It’s like going for a nature hike, only you get to snowboard a little bit too.
Despite the original Voile DIY split kit being introduced in 1994, splitboarding has gained significant traction in the past decade, fully moving from niche to mainstream in recent years—a cursory look around Outdoor Retailer tradeshow this past January saw dozens of snowboard brands offering at least one split design in their upcoming 2020/21 line. But not all split boards are made equal—you can’t just cut a snowboard down the middle into two french fries and call it a day. Poorly made splits require extra effort on the way up, and perform loose like duct taped noodle on the way down.
FJELL MT1542s Splitboard Review
Which brings us to the FJELL MT1542s, a 160cm fishtail powder board we recently put to the test in the backcountry of Montana and Wyoming. Made in Switzerland by Norwegian newcomers FJELL, an aesthetic-driven brand offering expert quality snowboards produced with sustainability and environmental impact in mind, the MT1542s is a stable all-mountain board with a big nose, tapered shape, modest fishtail, and hybrid rocker camber (primarily under the front foot for increased float in deep snow).
Over the course of two weeks we skinned a solid dozen miles and earned a similar number of powder runs, and the visually beautiful board performed extremely well. As a “freeride” board, the FJELL felt best in bottomless snow. The stubby tail and exaggerated nose made for nimble riding in tight trees and big swooping turns in open powder fields—throwing up a jaunty few S turns felt as good as straight lining into a hockey stop slash. At speed it felt stable both in deep snow and on fresh groomed corduroy.
In other words, the MT1542s rides exactly how we would want a powder board to ride, split or not. And aesthetically, it doesn’t get much better than the solid black sintered base with semi-transparent topsheet.
Word is in 2021 the model will be phased out in favor of the new MT1365s, designed and ridden by legendary snowboarder—and recent FJELL investor—Andreas Wiig. We’ll be sad to see it go, but psyched to try more designs from this emerging indie brand.