Canuck Splitfest preview: My splitboard journey

Canuck Splitfest, the annual gathering of the splitboard clan, takes place Jan. 11-13 in Revelstoke and Rogers Pass. We've got a story from presenter Abby Cooper, and details on the event here.

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Taylor Pfaff, a fellow splitboarder sneaking in a tight waterfall line — oh the places these boards can take you. Photo credit: Abby Cooper

Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine is a proud sponsor of Canuck Splitfest 2019. If you’re interested in partnering with the Mountaineer on your events, please be in touch. This article first appeared in print in the January 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

By Abby Cooper, Canuck Splitfest 2019 presenter

I wake my splitboard from its summer hibernation and cannot fight the wave of nostalgia. Who would have imagined the power a couple of boards with metal edges could make on one’s life?

My first backcountry experience is etched into my memory. I was an awkward snowboarding-obsessed 13-year-old girl taking my first avalanche class. It was -23 degrees Celsius. I sat on my pack, eating my sandwich. I looked at my bag of frozen baby carrots; my toes felt like the carrots. I thought of my friends snowboarding at Sunshine Village and felt a bit jealous. With snowshoes stuck to my feet, I learned about the terrifying power of avalanches. It wasn’t exactly what most girls this age would classify as a fun weekend.

How did I get here?

Abby Cooper breaking trail with a smile, while teaching the splitboarding ropes to pal Tyler Ravelle. Photo: Kris Harris

My big-hearted older brother bought me my first snowboard when I was in elementary school. Despite being older and much cooler than I, he always made it a priority to spend a few weekends a season snowboarding with me — the highlight was chasing him through the powder. He gave me a gift certificate to take an avalanche safety class with him for Christmas one year. I was thrilled — it was the gift of powder face shots. Fast-forward to frozen toes and a serious case of FOMO, I was experiencing my first proper backcountry gig along with my first case of type-two fun. With time, I’d realize they were often one in the same, and I loved them both.

My high school years were spent bootpacking every inch of the backcountry accessed off of Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. I knew the terrain better than I knew any named runs. Always a competitive person, I challenged myself to bootpack as efficiently as men triple my age with legs twice as long as mine. A short snowshoe phase followed, but didn’t last long – my bootpacking skills were too refined to welcome the clumsy feeling of slow-shoes. I had a regular crew that I’d ride with, but I often found myself tagging along with the dad crew because they too had avalanche gear and loved the backcountry.

During university I spent the majority of my time at Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming. A patrol snowboarder had a splitboard and we often found ourselves lapping midweek powder together. Enticed by the freedom and the efficiency a splitboard seemed to offer, I gifted myself one for a graduation present, and committed to a whole new life.

Up until this point, I had been working as a photographer while in university, specializing in ski resort photography (and weddings in the summer months). Now the resorts and their bootpacking boundaries would no longer contain me.

Hello splitboarding

Abby Cooper getting ready to split her board and skin up for another lap of earned powder. Photo: Abby Cooper

Excited and a little bit overconfident, I embarked on my first splitboard mission. It included faceplants, ski tripping, gear slamming, struggles galore, and skins stuck to everything but my snowboard. Cute.

Determined to glide and transition with ease, I made friends with a cross-country skier named Wendy. I chased her up, down, and all over the ungroomed forest service roads of Northwest Montana for a month straight. She made me fast. I began to push further, building confidence in my abilities over time and formally gained more avalanche safety knowledge. It’s a big transition from resort-accessed backcountry to big multi-day traverses with camera gear, but each outing was a building block for my foundation.

The fundamentals of moving through backcountry terrain were ingrained in me while doing photography at a CAT-ski operation. SheJumps Alpine Finishing School hosted by Selkirk Lodge taught me mountaineering skills. Patient friends taught me transition hacks and skin setting skills. I didn’t have a mentor; I had an army of friends and experiences that shaped my journey. Some touring partners and experiences needed no repeats, while others have been a steady part of my life for years. Both have been instrumental in defining my splitboarding journey.

The growth of my sport was simultaneous with my photography career. If I could split there, I would bring my camera. Soon I was receiving backcountry assignments and photoshoots that were dependent on my backcountry skill set. Personal and work splitboard trips had no distinction. I promised myself to never go a season without furthering my backcountry education. Any type of skiing or snowboarding is most rewarding when there is progression. To safely pursue the unseen, I had to match my backcountry knowledge with my skills and career goals. It is a delicate balance I constantly reassess, and I will never tire of trying to reach.

Still. Always. Splitboarding.

Each trip offers a new perspective and teaches me something about the mountains and myself. It will always feel like the first time. The first time I tried to cut my skins and got scared so took them to a ski shop. The first time I lost a split-ski crampon down a bulletproof slope. The first time I took my dog touring and he loved the face shots as much as I did. My first first-ascent. The first-time sharing my newfound love of splitboarding. The first light every time.

Splitboarding is addictive because it’s always changing. You are changing. Your skills are growing. You’re seeing new things. You’re feeling new things. It’s a journey without an end; every experience is a new chapter building on the next. A journey I hope I’m smack-dab in the middle of with no end in sight. No end in learning, no end in experiencing, and no end to craving another journey.

Canuck Splitfest

Salt Lake City resident Dan Gates (left) of Chimera Snowboards talks about the company’s splitboards at the Canuck Splitfest trade show. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

Let’s be honest: if you’re a fan of the mountains you probably preach it like religion. The same is true for splitboarders – we’re obsessed. A few times a year in select mountainous regions, we collect to talk shop and get out there together. This year Revelstoke’s Canuck Splitfest will be January 11–13, 2019. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, from splitboard-curious to seasoned professional, you’ll find something for everyone here. Most importantly you’ll find a community.

Abby Cooper will be speaking January 12, 2019 at the Revelstoke Community Centre about the risk, reward, and growth from working and playing in the backcountry. Join her and other professional splitboarders for an inspirational evening.

Itinerary

The Canuck Splitfest returns to celebrate the sport of splitboarding. Highlights include an open house with food, beer, and music at Trapper Snowboards in the Big Eddy from 5–10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11. The main trade show, featuring manufacturers, guest speakers, free demos, raffles, prizes and more starts at 4:30 p.m. at the Revelstoke Community Centre on Saturday, Jan. 12. Of course, the main attraction is the tribal gathering to get out for a rip in the backcountry with friends, which happens all day long, all winter in Revy.
For more info visit canucksplitfest.com.

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