Voilé and the Splitboard: Pioneers of the Backcountry

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Chris Fryer routing splitboards. Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Since the dawn of skiing, human beings have been looking for newer and better ways to get far into the untouched backcountry. Machines like snowmobiles and helicopters have been the dominant means for years, but the high price tag and risks involved have kept backcountry access to a minimum. In 1991, Brett Kobernik brought an idea to Mark Wariakois, founder of Voilé, to combine the snowshoe and the snowboard into a single revolutionary tool for accessing and shredding the thousands of acres of snow not found within the boundaries of any ski resorts. That tool is known today as the splitboard.

Voilé (pronounced vo-lay) was founded in Salt Lake City in 1980 and originally started making skis only. They’ve been making and shipping their own product out of their humble warehouse on the west side of the valley ever since. Sales and marketing manager Dave Grissom has been with the company for 12 years, and has seen the evolution of the splitboard from the beginning. “We designed everything from scratch. We eventually were able to design a reliable hardware system that worked, but you still had to cut your snowboard in half,” says Grissom.

It wasn’t until 1994 that they began selling their splitboards wholesale to dealers. Burton came up with a competing hardware system that regularly failed and soon turned to Voilé, as did many other snowboard companies, in order to get their hands on the best known splitboard technology. Today, Voilé sells their hardware to Rome, K2, Never Summer, Unity and many others as well as producing their own line of splitboards. “We do 100 percent of the design and sourcing of our bindings, and if a snowboard company of any size anywhere on the planet wants to buy our hardware, we’d sell it to them. It benefits everyone when you collaborate,” says Grissom.

This led to a level of growth within the company that allowed them to double the size of their production, as well as design and manufacture their own bindings specifically for their boards. They also make an attachment for the binding mounts that allows the rider to mount any regular snowboard binding to the splitboard once they reach the top. For the journey upwards, the rider applies a pair of nylon mohair skins to the bottom of each side of the splitboard, then clips in to a pair of telemark style bindings. Often referred to as “touring” mode, the splitboard allows the rider to walk easily on top of the snow instead of trudging through waist- or neck-deep powder. Once the rider has reached the destination, the two sides clamp together and the bindings are mounted, allowing the rider to shred sideways on the powder, which we all know is the best way.

“Untracked powder is the appeal, and if people want to make turns on fresh lines, you’ve got to earn those turns,” says Grissom. Splitboarding offers a fun, tough and eco-friendly means of accessing the backcountry, which many are finding is much more appealing than towing a snowmobile up to the hill or paying the big bucks for a ride in a helicopter. “I think the sport is not only here to stay, but we’re going to see a ton of innovation in the technology in the near future,” says Grissom. For the 2012/2013 season, Voilé has a variety of men’s and women’s directional and true-twin splitboards, all with varying types of rocker technology. Grissom took me on a walk-through tour of their facility, and I was able to see just how their splitboard hardware has evolved over the years. With the recent explosion of splitboarding into the market, there’s no doubt Voilé will continue to improve upon the technology that they have pioneered. “We’ve grown 10 times the size since we started, and a good portion of our sales comes from splitboards and splitboard hardware,” Grissom says. “Everything about our company is the backcountry.”

With all the potential for endless lines of untouched powder that splitboarding brings, it’s companies like Voilé that make this an exciting time to be involved in the sport. Their skis and splitboards can be found in retail shops around Utah and online at voile.com.

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