The Northeast might not come first to mind when exploring backcountry skiing or snowboarding. There’s no arguing the incredible terrain that spans from Colorado to Washington, countless destinations scattered throughout. Still, there’s something to be said for the Northeast, the unique terrain, and the mentality of the true-grit natives who stay committed through rollercoaster weather patterns. It might not be on your radar, but backcountry skiing and riding in the region, especially splitboarding, is thriving across mountain communities. In Vermont alone, resorts have placed more focus on uphill travel policies and have designated resources to backcountry focused gear demos and events. At the center of the action, we found Mike Girard of the Northeast Jones Snowboards contingent.
The Jones demo fleet from the day. Josh Bogardus Photo.
What introduced you to Splitboarding?
MG: I’ve been snowboarding since I was a kid, and this is now my 4th winter as the New England sales rep for Jones Snowboards. When I started working for Jones, learning about what our brand represents, Jeremy’s snowboard career and our product line, it was pretty clear that splitboarding is arguably the biggest part of the what we do. It really opened my eyes to a whole new side of snowboarding.I’d always been into outdoor sports and fitness, so that tie-in, combined with my environmental and sustainability focus, made a real personal draw for me. Splitboarding started as a way for me to authentically connect with and learn more about the Jones brand, and I’ve been really enjoying it ever since.
As a snowboarder and rep in the Northeast, have you seen a rise in splitboarding through recent seasons?
MG: The growth has been substantial and noticeable from the rep level. When I began as a Jones Snowboards rep 4 years ago, I only had a couple accounts buying splitboards. It was brought up in reference with retailers, known about in the catalog, but generally skipped over when it came to the buying. The interest was there, but a barrier existed for people wanting to experience splitboarding and having no real opportunity to try gear.
Being that Jones Snowboards is the number one splitboard brand in the world, and I’m the rep, there was an obvious and natural opportunity that really led me to invest in a splitboard demo fleet and make a step toward giving the general public access to this gear. My accounts in the region who had been buying a couple boards were seeing those move and the interest across the industry was definitely growing, so it was a pretty easy call to make. The majority of my dealers are now buying splitboards, and whenever I’m visiting shops, it’s a safe bet that there’s a local contingent of people I can meet up with for a splitboard tour. A few years ago I could count that group on one hand, and it’s easily more than tripled.
It’s awesome to see that growth, and on the resort end of things as well.
MG: Definitely, it seems most resorts now have an uphill travel policy and there are some really well established backcountry zones developing with support from organizations like Granite Backcountry Alliance and R.A.S.T.A. On any given day, it’s really common to see people skinning up a resort, exploring the sidecountry, and putting in a real effort to expand public access to backcountry, all sorts of terrain.
We’re also seeing more backcountry focused events. I think Bolton Valley Splitfest was the first to kick-off the direction, and this last winter a small handful of brands in New England had reps or marketing crews with a solid splitboard demo inventory. There’s now a handful of well established demo opportunities from Bolton Valley Splitfest, Jay Peak: Split The Peak, Mount Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, Granite Backcountry Alliance: Wild Corn, and the event I host, Pico Hiko. All are well attended, legitimate opportunities that really represent the continued growth here in the Northeast.
Mike finding the goods out in the Northeast. Josh Bogardus Photo.
Fair to say splitboarding is alive and well in the Northeast. You recently hosted the 2nd Annual Pico Hiko event at Pico Mountain in Killington, VT?
MG: After investing in the demo fleet, and seeing events pop-up I sort of had this eureka moment and decided to host a demo of my own. It’s one of my highlights of the season, 100% splitboard focused with multiple different brands in attendance. We found a great fit at Pico Mountain, as they’ve really established themselves with a permissive and welcoming uphill community. Something extra special, they’re open to only uphill travel every Tuesday and Wednesday. Pico has naturally become an epicenter of uphill travel, as they’re a resort with lift-access, but two days per week, every single week, you can go explore with no down-hill traffic, aside from people that skin up. It’s sort of your own private venue. Tapping into that vibe, somewhere that’s already welcoming that type of community, and including every splitboard brand that has a real presence in New England is definitely what makes Pico Hiko so special. Bringing the demo environment to a resort that has proven its support of splitboarding and offers some of the best terrain in the Northeast was really important.
Say I’m a first timer - what are my first steps to try out this gear and get involved with splitboarding?
MG: Really the best advice I can give is just to find a splitboard demo in your region and show up! Entry fees for these demo events are generally very affordable, and all you need is yourself and your snowboard boots.You can expect to test boards, bindings, skins, poles, packs - everything to get you out splitboarding that is provided by each brand. There’s a lot of gear involved, it all costs more than a normal set-up, and it really deserves to be test ridden before buying blindly. The purpose is to make it really simple to get out on the product and find something that is suitable for you, and connect you with trusted retail partners and resources.
Running with that energy, TGR is stoked to announce that we’ll be heading back to the Northeast for the first ever TGR Mountain Takeover where we’ll have private access to Pico Mountain in Killlington, VT. Join us on March 27th for an exclusive day of skiing and riding with TGR athlete Dash Longe, live music, backcountry and uphill travel mini-clinics, apres and more. See you there!