We’re in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my dad and Sarah, staying with Ann’s uncle Jon. Dad has bestowed upon me a piece of gear I’ve dreamed about for years, a Voile split board. It splits into wide skis with skins for touring up the hill, then joins into a snowboard for bombing down. I can’t wait to try it. We decide to start on an easy trail near Uncle Jon’s place: the Cache Creek ski trail that starts at Wood’s Canyon. This trail follows Cache Creek up the forest road that leads to the Gros Ventre Wilderness, where my friend Pete and I camped out for most of the summer of 1991. I’ve never seen it in the winter, but I’m hoping to find a good inaugural backhill run to try with the split board.
Dad and Sarah join me for the first few miles of skiing up the mellow groomed trail, skaters passing us now and then. It’s cold out, below zero Fahrenheit, but perfectly clear – a great day to experiment with my new board as even total failure would be pleasant and beautiful.
I try using the skis with the straight edge on the inside first. This turns out to be a mistake, as the pointed tips tend to catch each other, but that’s easily fixed by swapping left and right so the tips are pointed out. We all start with climbing skins, which makes us slow, but prevents physically draining backsliding. On the way back I find that climbing even a gentle slope without the skins is exhausting.
After a few miles Dad and Sarah stop for lunch. I continue to the end of the groomed trail at mile 5, then start up a draw towards some attractive slopes. I almost decide several times to start up a nice slope to the south, but there is always something more enticing a little further up the draw. I end up climbing 1700 feet to the end of the draw. It’s almost 4 pm, intensely cold, and I can tell my remaining light is limited. I have to force myself not to start up a ridge toward the little peak above me. It’s time for my first ride on the split board.
I never ate my lunch. I worked so hard getting up here that my appetite for food is gone. I’m only hungry for turns.
The transformation from touring skis to snowboard goes pretty smoothly. Losing a ski down the hill is the biggest danger. I stick the ends into the snow, peel off the skins, stick them together, and stow them. The bindings come off easily after removing the slider pins. Because it’s so cold I don’t have any snow sticking to the skis. They just slide right together and hook. A plastic hook fastens the tips, and the bindings slide over plastic “pucks” into my snowboarding stance, anchored at the toes again with the stout slider pins. My only problem during all this is that my bare fingers get frozen numb, and I have to blow into my mittens to thaw them out.
I have to admit, the slope I picked for my first run was looking considerably steeper now that I was poised to descend. Partly out of hesitation I fuss with my camera, strapping it to my shoulder strap and starting the video recorder. I get about two turns in before I cross a gully, hit a nasty crust on the snow, and bite it. So much for my glorious first run. I lose another couple hundred feet figuring out that I need to stick to the north slope of the gully to keep on good snow. Lesson learned, I fly down another eight hundred feet in the good stuff. Effortless, blissful turns.
Then the effortlessness ends. I have to fight like a buckaroo to get through a grove of aspen saplings in the crust. Then I get sucked into the gully and have to swim out twice, kicking my feet in the powder while trying to keep my body afloat on the board. It’s tiring and slow. By the time I get back to the groomed trail I’m ready for an easy cruise down, but the road is not quite steep enough. I labor much of the way back on the touring skis, pushing hard with my poles. I get back to the trailhead after dark. To my great relief I get a good phone signal, and my wife agrees to come pick me up. I’m completely spent.