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Imagine ascending a snow-covered peak, bluebird skies above and a sturdy splitboard beneath your feet. You slide one foot in front of the other, gliding upward in the skin track. As you settle into a rhythmic pace, you hear only the rasp of your own breath and the sound of your skis on the snow. You continue this uphill slog until reaching the summit, where you are rewarded with mind-bending, panoramic views. Your euphoric buzz then intensifies as you drop into the epic line below, surrendering to gravity and carving through untouched snow until you reach the valley floor.

This is the magic that draws more than a hundred backcountry enthusiasts to the San Juan Mountains each spring for Silverton Splitfest.

What is Splitboarding?

A splitboard is a specialized snowboard that comes apart into two “skis,” allowing the rider to ascend more efficiently than with snowshoes. The board is then reassembled for the ride down. Splitboarding is not just a sport; it’s an experience. It’s a human-powered version of snowboarding that offers riders the chance to experience an unparalleled sense of freedom while exploring the backcountry. The concept of earning your turns has gained increasing popularity over the past decade thanks to the evolution of splitboard technology and an increasing desire to escape overcrowded ski areas.

The Essence of Splitfest

From Washington’s Cascade Range to Vermont’s Green Mountains and Canada’s Selkirks to the Bernese Alps, splitfest is a growing phenomenon. While set in different mountain ranges, these festivals share common elements. They bring splitboarding enthusiasts together to enjoy new terrain, educational seminars, and gear demos. The days are filled with backcountry tours, and the evenings with great food, beers, and a camaraderie born on the skin track. The weekend is generally topped off with a charity gear raffle supporting local snow safety and avalanche education causes. In Silverton, proceeds go to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Silverton Avalanche School.

A Glimpse into Silverton Splitfest’s History

Silverton Splitfest was started in 2012 by Durango’s Jason Bushey and Denverite John Keffler. In year one it was a modest gathering of only 30 intrepid souls. By 2017, the event doubled in size, and Bushey and Keffler decided to pass the torch. They asked Silverton-based manufacturer Venture Snowboards to carry the event forward. “Given our involvement as a key partner from the beginning and that this event happens in our backyard, having Venture take this on was a natural fit,” said Klem Branner, Venture’s founder and co-owner.

Recognizing an opportunity to give the local economy a boost at a typically slower time of year, Venture has since grown the event to 130 – 150 annual participants from across the region plus further flung locations like Vermont, Montana, and Canada. “It was important to us to honor the roots of the event and keep its original vibe, even while opening it up to more backcountry shredders. I think we’ve been successful in finding that balance. It’s an annual pilgrimage for many, and every year we look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new ones to the mountains we call home.”

Safety is Paramount

One of the core tenets of Silverton Splitfest is safety. Given the notoriously unstable snowpack of the San Juans, hosting the event in April is deliberate. “By then, much of the avalanche hazard has eased and it’s safer to get after some of the more iconic, higher consequence lines,” says Branner. The evenings are dedicated to learning about current snow conditions, avalanche safety, rescue skills, wilderness first aid, and other topics that help participants recreate responsibly. “We always emphasize that safety comes first, so we can all live to ride another day,” says Branner.

An ongoing partnership with Silverton Avalanche School (SAS) also underscores this focus. As the oldest continuously operating snow safety and avalanche education program in the U.S., SAS empowers its students with “the tools, technologies, tactics and techniques to make competent decisions in consequential mountain terrain.” During Silverton Splitfest, SAS offers a variety of “Edutours” that pair attendees with experienced instructors for guided backcountry tours. Combining education with adventure, these workshops help participants to acquire new skills, refine technique and deepen their backcountry knowledge.

If You Go

The 11th annual Silverton Splitfest is scheduled for April 12-14, 2024. While gear demos will be available from several manufacturers, participants are advised to come equipped with their own complete splitboard setup and safety gear, as well as a basic knowledge of snow safety (to find a course near you visit As always, this event promises self-guided touring opportunities, learning experiences, and the chance to be part of a growing community of backcountry enthusiasts that values adventure and safety in equal measure.

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