The sun was just starting to crest over the steep hills and mountains as we drove along route 28 past the turn off for the cozy mountain town of Phoenicia. The only signs of snow were dirty oddly shaped piles at the ends of the parking lots left over from the Plows. We passed the Woodstock brewery and the barren surrounding hillside and I began to really start doubting our plan. A few weeks back I had purchased a Splitboard set up and I was more than eager to get out on it but was starting to think I was bound for the chair lift at Hunter today. However as my jeep revved up over the rolling hills and we got deeper into the park the snow coverage was starting to grow. We pulled into the small lot on Spruceton Road to find it covered in snow and completely empty of cars. Good snow plus an empty lot looked to be the perfect recipe for an amazing day on the mountain.
I had spent the last few weeks researching splitboard gear and searching for the best deal. It all finally came in and I posted an Instagram story of me skinning across the carpet. However about 30 seconds into posting it I got a plethora of messages telling me that I had the Skis on the wrong feet. Oops. Guess I should do some more research. However a good snow forecast and a free weekend meant that I would have to learn on the fly. Leading up to the weekend I watched a bunch of youtube videos, got some advice from North Country Badass Joe Miller, and read a ton about famous Splitgods Nick Russel and Jeremy Jones. While I would have loved to practice in the yard first, a lack of Southern Snow but a good early Catskill base meant it was time to drive north. Today was my first day out on the Split so I was happy to be with my brother Jeff who had never been snowboarding in the backcountry figuring it would save me some embarrassment.
It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get the skins on the board but after a few choice expletives we were on our way. The first couple miles the snow was thin, packed down, and kinda of icy which made learning to splitboard a little problematic. I found myself slipping a bit and picking up my feet more then I should have. I was just starting to get the hang of the uphill ski motion when we came to a tree with many branches blocking the path. If I had been in just my boots or even my snow shoes I could have easily stepped or jumped over the tree. However it took me a few minutes to clumsily navigate the downed tree, Jeff however got a real laugh from the entire ordeal. However a few minutes past the tree the snow started to deepen and I was able to really get the hang of the motions. As a hiker, runner, and climbers I am really used to stepping high on rough trails so the sliding motion of the splitboard was hard to pick up at first. After a couple more minutes I was able to begin to feel the benefits of the splity. I felt more efficient, had less weight on my back, and was able to glide with the snow.
As we made our way up past the turn off for the John Robb lean-to and the hard woods switched to pines the stoke really started to set it. We had beautiful blue skies, perfect snow, and the mountain to ourselves. As we continued up and fatigue started to creep in I could not help but think more about the famous Jeremy Jones saying “cost of admission, lots of calories”. This really resonated for me when I thought about the $150 lift ticket I had purchased for one day in Colorado last season. After a few hours of going up we made it to the clearing were the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower stands. Jeff quickly dropped his snowshoes and made his way up the frozen tower. I however monkeyed around with the skins for about 20 minutes before making my way up the tower. The tower made for some awesome pictures as it was completely frozen over with many layers of ice and snow. After making our way down and back to our gear we suited up and made our way to the trail. I sat down to strap into my board and sunk deep in the powder. We were blessed with deep, fluffy, and abundant snow on the upper sections of the trail. The stoke was high.
This is the fun the part! I pointed my Jones Explorer board down the trail and was quickly on my way. I picked up speed fast as I carved through the deep snow and around the tight turns. Every couple 100 feet the trail would twist, turn, or have a slight bump that made for really fun riding. About half way down we blew past a group of hikers who responded with a collective “wow that’s a great idea”. It is a great idea……..if your prepared with the right gear, training, and a solid back up plan. I won’t get into all that here but check out my previous post on my set up. After about a half hour of consistent riding Jeff and I arrived back at the Jeep feeling accomplished and fully bought into backcountry snowboarding. Check back in for more updates as the season goes on.