Winter Update 2019
We updated this review in first days of 2019. We added reviews of the Venture Storm and the Burton Flight Attendant. We provided extensive updates to the Jones Solution and Jones Explorer reviews. The Venture Storm was quite impressive and emerged as an award winner. In addition, both Karakoram and Spark have introduced new clips and we review these offerings. Cool new construction techniques by Jones snowboards are also discussed.
Our Overall Favorite Model
Stable and solid while remaining lightweight
Amazing on powder
Bindings difficult to adjust
The Jones Solution won the Editors' Choice award back in 2016, and the updated version is even better. The new Boltless Bridge technology makes the Solution base the cleanest in our test. While this might not translate to massive ride quality improvement, the look is much more professional and high end. T
he slow speed ride quality, powder performance, and playfulness qualities have all improved. The high speed predictability and steep firm snow edgehold remain strengths. The 2019 Jones Solution again wins the Editors' Choice award once again.
Read review: Jones Solution
Top Pick for Powder Performance
Solid edge hold
Difficult to adjust the bindings
Slightly soft tail
The Venture Storm blew us away with its powder performance and all-around skills. With its large nose and taper, it floats exceptionally well in soft snow. On firmer conditions it is fun, predictable, and a great overall ride. We anticipated that the Storm would be a great powder choice and it is, but we were pleasantly surprised by how well it handles firm snow conditions.
On corn, packed trails, thigh burning exit gullies, and the occasional groomer the Storm is super fun and handles switch maneuvers with aplomb. The Storm is a great choice for anyone with an appetite for powder, but rides every mountain condition.
Read review: Venture Storm
Best Bang for the Buck
Lightweight, freestyle fun
Great powder performance
Traction Tech improves edge grip
A bit soft for large riders
Poor performance on firm snow
Binding difficult to adjust
The Jones Explorer is a more affordable option in the Jones lineup. Coming in several hundred dollars below many other boards out there, the Explorer is a welcome lower cost alternative. Even better, the Explorer rides very well. The 2019 version continues many of the features we appreciated when we first reviewed it in 2016.
While it is a directional shape, the Explorer almost feels like a mischievous twin tip, that loves to play. This is a great first model and a worthy upgrade for the experienced rider who loves a playful board.
Read review: Jones Explorer
Least Expensive and Still Scores Well
Lowest price board in test
Lightest in test
Components inexpensive as well
Not the best firm snow performance
The cap construction is not our favorite
Let's be real, splitboards are expensive, but the Voile Revelator is easily the least expensive board in the review. Voile has been around since the beginning since they were basically the first manufacturer of splitboards. The Revelator skins very well, floats in powder, and will hurt your wallet less than most other options out there.
Read review: Voile Revelator
Analysis and Test Results
We reviewed five quality models that functioned well in a wide range of snow conditions and in all types of mountain environments. As manufacturers make improvements, we re-test newer versions of the boards. When companies release entirely new models, we review and add those to the discussion. We ranked each model's performance in powder and firm snow, as well as their weight while ascending. We compared each contender on the same scale and created a weight per surface area, tested out the playfulness of each board, ranked the ease and adjustability of the bindings, and calculated a karma score, or any added features that caught our eye.
Looking up at the Cross on Mt. Tallac after shredding powder.
In order to find the best fit for you, consider what type of riding you enjoy the most and purchase a board that suits those needs. If you enjoy freestyle riding, the Jones Explorer, our Best Buy Award winner, should be high on your list. If tackling advanced terrain in the big mountains sounds appealing, consider the Editors Choice Winning Jones Solution or the Top Pick Winning Venture Storm. If you love riding everything, any and all of these boards will work well for you.
Recognize that how you experience a board will also depend on how much you weigh and how strong (both physically and in terms of skill) you are. Be honest or you can set yourself up for a disappointing experience. Choosing a board that is smaller for your weight will make it feel softer and increase its freestyle performance, while somewhat compromising its firm snow performance and float in powder. Selecting a larger size will increase the powder flotation and stiffness, but you will also be carrying a heavier board up the mountain. These tradeoffs are all a part of your buying decision. One of the main reasons to use a larger board is to have enough surface area to float on top of powder. It is somewhat paradoxical, but true, that a great floating board will allow you to size down and still stay on top. So the Venture Storm, our best powder performer, can be ridden a little shorter than the other boards, and still excel in powder.
The Voile Revelator is the most affordable split in our test. If your budget is tight and you just need a good board, this is a great choice. The Jones Explorer is a touch more spendy and a good choice if you are watching your wallet, but you appreciate a few of the attributes the Explorer brings to the party.
Performance on Powder
All the boards we tested were fun in powder, but we really enjoy powder. Over time, we did ride all of the boards on multiple powder days both in-bounds and in the backcountry.
For powder performance, we preferred the Venture Storm. The Storm floats very quickly and is stable while cruising quickly through the soft stuff. Riding powder in the Storm was a joy from start to finish. The board floats without requiring extra rear leg pressure and is eager to carve or slarve pow turns depending on your mood. We also enjoyed the Jones Explorer which was a bit softer in overall flex than some of the other boards in the test; while this can be an issue in firm or cruddy conditions, it rated high in powder performance. It features fairly similar nose and rocker dimensions but forgoes the taper in favor of equal tip and tail widths. Essentially, the Explorer is trading a smidge of powder performance for switch riding chops.
Mountain guide Tim Mincey kicking up the powder while splitboard testing in the Tahoe backcountry.
Performance on Firm Snow
Firm snow was widely available in early season at the resorts, and we dodged rocks while testing the ability of our boards to maintain edge grip on steep and firm conditions. The backcountry is often variable, so we also rode over firm wind board, rock hard melt freeze crust and refrozen surfaces of many origins.
Some of the design features that reward powder performance (like a big nose and softer flex), penalize firm snow performance. None of the boards that we tested flail at firm snow riding, but the softer boards, like the Jones Explorer, feel more comfortable at slower speeds when edging on truly firm snow. The Jones Solution was our choice for firm snow performance. It would be our choice for spring volcano missions where the chances of encountering firm snow would be high.
Side slipping through the wind scoured entrance guarding the powder below.
Testing the Jones Solution on Carson Pass.
Splitboards spend most of their life ascending; the ratio of skinning to descending is not even close. Yet, very few splitboards are designed with this in mind. Let's be honest; they are probably not purchased with this in mind either. This is a mistake. A board that climbs efficiently allows the rider to enjoy the downhill as much as possible.
Weight is the single biggest factor in climbing mountains with a splitboard, though some technical features are significant. We weighed all the boards (without pucks, but with the standard clips and hooks and slider screws on the channel boards) on the same scale and factored this into the climbing score. We created a rough weight per surface area calculation for all of the boards to understand how they measured up, literally. Since some of the boards are slightly longer or shorter than others, comparing only the weight would not entirely be fair. While the weight per surface area measurement is not perfect either, it does complement the weight measurement.
6 lb 8.2 oz weight of Jones Solution.
Since splits are tools for climbing mountains, weight matters. The weight per surface area information is included in our metrics, and the weight was factored into the climbing scores. Overall, the weight range is relatively narrow, but it is interesting to note the outliers.
Ultimately, the most critical quality that improves climbing is minimal board weight. Our winner in this metric is the Jones Solution. It is the lightest board in total weight that we reviewed and is just slightly behind the Voile Revelator in weight per surface area. The Solution is relatively stiff, which is appreciated when skinning on steep sidehills; this helps maintain both edge and skin grip in these situations. The traditional camber under the bindings (which maintains solid skin grip) adds to the lightness of this model. Based on these metrics, the Voile Revelator and Jones Explorer followed closely behind the Solution in climbing prowess.
Once we are at the top and ready to drop, weight is no longer a big concern. Now we just want to have fun. All of the models that we reviewed performed well, but certain boards excelled in different ways. Some boards were incredibly fun and invited us to try tricks and jump off terrain features. The Venture Storm was one of our favorites for jibbing on funky exits and spinning off side hits. Other boards, such as the Voile Revelator, were stiffer and provided confidence at speed in challenging or firm snow conditions.
Airing out the Jones Explorer.
Since 2016, when we first reviewd the Jones Solution, it has become a more playful ride, still not a freestyle stick to be sure. None of the boards scored the highest in both of the aforementioned categories and these are the types of tradeoffs that board manufacturers are faced with. Knowing what performance features matter the most to you will help in getting the most benefit from this review.
Perhaps we should have called this metric "freestyle" since the boards that scored highest were definitely the ones with the most freestyle DNA in their design. The Jones Explorer was the clear winner in this category. While no split makes sense for urban jib missions, the Explorer, with its softer flex and turny radius, rode like the freestyle inspired board that it is. Several reviewers found the Explorer's freestyle inclinations more fun than they expected. This model was softer in terms of flex (when compared to the rest of the review quiver), and this was the primary quality that generated the higher scores in the playfulness category.
Up until the last few seasons, manufactured splits basically shared the same insert hole pattern (it works with both Voile, Spark, and Karakoram systems). Slowly manufacturers are experimenting with using a channel system to attach bindings. In our review, Voile and Burton used channel systems.
Splitboard pucks and the channel system.
Previously, none of our reviewers had used a channel system on a splitboard; since reviewing means constantly changing over stances, we quickly became experienced.
Splitboard pucks with the traditional insert pattern.
The channel systems varied a bit between manufacturers, but they all function similarly. Flex patterns felt normal and no reviewers singled out the channels as influencing the ride quality of a board.
Splitboard pucks and puck systems.
We were pleasantly surprised by the ease of setup and adjustment that channel systems provide. Dialing in the exact stance you want is much simpler than using the old standard insert pattern. If the heavens part and dump multiple feet of champagne pow on your local mountains, sliding your bindings further back to increase nose flotation is quick and easy with this system. Attempting these changes in the field would be easier with a channel versus traditional inserts, but are probably best tackled in the garage or driveway. In testing the Burton Flight Attendant on a powder day, we realized our initial stance location was not far enough back to optimally float the nose. Since this board had the channel system, it was only a few minute adjustment to increase the setback and significantly improve our powder day. If you find yourself regularly fine-tuning your stance, a board featuring the channel system would simplify this process.
While the new Spark pucks to increase adjustability, this adjustability is still much less than a channel system allows, especially when moving towards the tip and tail of the board. Within the range allowed by the inserts, adjustability is simple with the Spark pucks.
The backcountry can be dangerous. Bringing some good karma with you can't hurt. This element did not influence the overall score of the board itself but did highlight something about the board or company that caught our eye. For several of the boards in our review (like the Jones Solution and Explorer) we mentioned environmental efforts by the company.
Best for Specific Applications
All the models in this review represent great all-around boards for exploring the backcountry. As with any category, certain models have different strengths. For a more powder focused rider, the Venture Storm, Jones Explorer, Voile Revelator and Jones Solution are strong choices. If big mountain lines dominate your dreams, the Solution and Storm make strong choices. If bringing the park to the backcountry is a priority, go with the Explorer. Sizing up or down for your size and weight will subtly alter these generalizations, so do keep that in mind when making a purchase.
Three solid choices.
Know Before You Go
Splitboards are awesome tools to explore the backcountry with - when used properly. To use them properly, you need to know more about the winter mountain environment than can be learned busting out laps at the resort. The best untracked terrain lies outside the ropes, but venturing out can be incredibly dangerous. Although it may be close, the nature of the snowpack beyond the ropes could be completely different than it is inbounds. In addition to purchasing a board, you'll need to invest in an avalanche beacon. It is also a must to invest in an avalanche probe - something like the Backcountry Access Stealth Avalanche Probe, as well as an avalanche shovel - an affordable option is the Backcountry Access B-1 Shovel.
Knowing how to read avalanche terrain can make the difference.
These are the essentials that everyone traveling in the backcountry needs to carry on their bodies. Since you are going to need a pack to carry this stuff, consider an airbag pack. Just like the airbags in your car probably won't save you if you barrel into a tractor-trailer, an airbag pack can't save you in every avalanche, though they have been shown to improve your chances in avalanches. Once you've gotten all the gear together, make sure you receive training for such conditions. Seek out a Level 1 avalanche course and start learning about terrain from the avalanche's perspective. Follow that up by becoming a daily reader of your local avalanche center's avalanche advisory, paying particular attention to the specific avalanche problems of the day. With practice, you should be able to get the picture of what is happening in the backcountry and learn how to get out of harm's way, while also knowing how to search out the goods.
Related: The Best Ski and Snowboard Helmets of 2019
Types of Splits
Our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution, Never Summer Prospector, Jones Explorer, Burton Landlord, K2 Ultrasplit, Voile Revelator BC, Voile Revelator.
The heritage can be traced from the snowboard, to the skateboard, and ultimately, to the surfboard. While skateboards and surfboards certainly are wonderful tools for creativity and enjoyment of gravity, they do not excel at upward travel. Splitboards solve this problem. Once cut in half, a snowboard functions as a decent ski for traveling over and up snow-covered terrain. With practice and a good attitude, you can even ski them downhill, which is actually quite useful when exploring deeper, more complex backcountry terrain. Learning to ski your splitboard is an advanced skill for moving efficiently in the mountains. If a split just replaces snow shoes, that is a win since the glide of a split is more efficient than the clomping of slow shoes, and you have removed the board from your back. Yet, with some practice skiing your split, especially without skins, will allow you to travel further more quickly and efficiently than you can without skiing your split.
This review focuses on "all around" type splits. Any of the contenders in our review could function very well as your sole splitboard. They will do everything well, but none are specifically intended to excel at any one aspect of snowboarding.
The base view of our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution, Never Summer Prospector, Jones Explorer, Burton Landlord, K2 Ultrasplit, Voile Revelator BC, Voile Revelator.
For folks starting out, the Jones Explorer and Voile Revelator are more affordable options that scored well in most categories. The Jones Solution is a great choice for experienced snowboarders looking to tackle steeper lines that require a precise and reliable ride. The Venture Storm is another great choice for experienced riders psyched on enjoying powder and shredding the whole mountain.
Our accompanying review of bindings delves more deeply into comparing the Voile Light Rail, Voile Speed Rail, Karakoram Prime, Karakorum Prime X Carbon, Spark Arc, Spark Surge Pro, and the Spark Blaze. You can mix and match any of the models we review with any of the split bindings we review. For the boards themselves, it is important to note that Venture, Burton, Voile Revelator and Voile Revelator BC use Voile split hooks (at the midpoints between bindings and the board nose and tail) as well as Voile "whale clips" at the nose and tail.
Voile "whale" tip connector.
Jones boards use Karakoram "whale clips" at the nose and tail and Karakoram Ultra clips at the midpoint between the bindings and the nose or tail. The Karakoram clips resemble a ski boot buckle and pull the two halves of the board together. The Ultra clips are an update to the original Karakorum clip design. These new Ultra clips are simpler, quieter, easier to use, and more effective at pulling the skis tight. They represent a significant improvement over the previous version.
Karakoram Ultra clip.
Voile and Karakorum whale clips work equally well. The critical part of functional whale clips takes place during the manufacture and installation of the whale clips. The distances need to be precise to achieve the correct amount of tension to ensure the clips stay closed. Ideally, splits are manufactured perfectly, and these clips snap together with enough force to stay connected and hold the tip and tail together.
Karakorum "whale" tip connector.
Occasionally one of your clips may not be perfect, and this can be difficult to adjust, or over a couple of seasons of use, the tolerances may have changed. When the clips start to fail, we have found that these clips become too loose and can rattle open while riding in firm conditions. Spark is now offering clips that are designed to address this issue and should provide additional life to your well-loved split or improve a connection that wasn't perfect from the start.
It is a different story with Voile and Karakorum split clips. One glance shows that they are different. As is the case with the competing binding systems, the Voile system, is simpler to use and lighter, but doesn't provide active clamping of the board halves.
Voile split hooks.
For the 2018 season, Spark released Crossbar Clips which provide active clamping. The Crossbar clips have yet to show up stock on any manufactured splits but are available as an upgrade. Installation was straightforward, and Spark includes helpful instructions with the Crossbar clips.
Spark Crossbar clips
The pros and cons of the active clamping clips are discussed in-depth in the binding review. The speed and simplicity of the Voile system is nice, but the extra steps to line up and close the Karakorum Ultra clips and Crossbar clips were relatively minor. We do find the original Karakorum clips to be a bit of a pain, not a deal breaker, but definitely a step down from the Karakorum Ultra clips, Spark Crossbar clips, and Voile clips. This is primarily due to more hassle when assembling your split caused by the standard Karakorum clips. These clips are showing up on fewer and fewer boards, but this is something you should evaluate if they are on your prospective split.
We would like to highlight that the new Karakoram Ultra clips are a definite improvement over the earlier version. They have a smaller footprint on the board, and unlike the originals, they do not bounce around and rattle noisily. The Ultra clips are also easier to engage, and then to disengage. Overall, we are quite impressed with Ultra clips.
Jones Snowboards has integrated the Ultra clips into their premium splits through their Boltless Bridge design. Most splits drill bolts entirely through the board to connect the clips (either Voile, Karakoram, or Spark brand clips). Jones has "cracked the code" and developed a method of installing Ultra clips without having to drill completely through their boards. This removes eight small holes in the base which cleans up the look and improves glide while reducing opportunities for water intrusion into the core of the splitboard. The appearance of a split base without these holes and bolts is dramatically cleaner and looks far more professional. It seems that Jones is on to something with their Boltless Bridge technique and other manufacturers would be well served by developing similar construction practices that result in an equally professional appearance.
The Spark Crossbar clips are a little larger than the Ultra clips but identical in weight.
Karakoram Ultra clips
Spark Cross Bar clips
While the Ultra clips pull in line (similarly to the original Karakoram clips), the Crossbar clips use a rotational swing to apply pressure and pull the split together. Fine tuning the clamping tension is possible with both systems, but a touch simpler and more precise with the Spark Crossbar clips. The ability to adjust the tension is a welcome addition to these clips. Minor gaps between the skis can be observed shrinking when both clips are closed. We created a demonstration of this tight clamping by placing a light under beneath the clips. When the boards were pushed together but the Ultra clips and Crossbar clips were not fastened, the light is clearly visible. Once the clips are fastened, the two skis are pulled tightly together and the light is no longer visible because the gap essentially disappears.
Karakoram Ultra clip, unfastened with light below gap in splitboard.
Karakoram Ultra clip fastened. There is a light below the gap, but the connection is tight enough to basically eliminate any visible light.
Spark Crossbar clip unfastened with light showing through gap.
Spark Crossbar closed, the light is no longer visible through the gap.
In our testing, we did occasionally observe some rattling noise from the Crossbar clips while touring. The more substantial part of the Crossbar clip folds away and stays quiet, except for when we either neglected to properly fold it away or perhaps it got jostled out of position by something along the trail.
Spark Crossbar Clips sticking out
When this occurs, especially in firm snow, the Crossbar can produce some rattling noise. If you are rocking out listening to tunes, then you wouldn't notice and if the noise disrupts your reverence with nature, rotating the Crossbar back away resolves the issue. This can be done easily with your pole, but the noise was noticeable relative to the quiet Karakoram Ultra clips and quiet Voile clips.
Spark Crossbar clip tucked away for tour mode.
These type of active clamping clips are improving in ease of use and are becoming more common. The classic Voile clips are light, simple, and have a solid track record of working well. While a clip upgrade likely does not promise significant performance benefits, the Karakoram Ultra clips and Spark Crossbar clips do not have a large weight penalty. These clips require a few more steps, unlocking and locking each clip, at every transition. If there is a performance gain, then there is also a loss of transition efficiency. We appreciate that these new Ultra clips and Crossbar clips are straightforward to use, but they do require more steps than the traditional Voile pucks. In a totally ideal world, clips would be easier to use and provide higher performance. It is up to boarders to decide if they value possibly improved riding performance at the cost of slightly slower transitions. Perhaps in the future, manufacturers will develop clips that are higher performance and quicker to transition.
Up until a few years ago, almost all pucks (for a split) were flat. This has recently changed, and more models are coming with canted pucks (or at least providing that option). In our review, the Voile Revelator and Voile Revelator BC arrived with 2.5 degree canted pucks.
2.5 degree canted Voile channel pucks.
These cants are angled inwards to help move the knees closer together. Some riders find this more comfortable and those will knee issues may find it a requirement. Other riders prefer a flat attachment to the board. In our testing, the 2.5-degree canted pucks from Voile were pretty minimal, and very few reviewers commented on them negatively or positively. Some reviewers only noticed when sliding on or removing their bindings, but couldn't really perceive much influence while riding. Our 40-something-year-old reviewer (with good knees) found he liked the canted pucks for a touch more comfort. One of our 30-something-year-old reviewers (with bad knees) was happy to try anything that eased the strain on his knees. We were generally pleased with the canted puck options, but if you find you don't like them, flat options are readily available as well.
Spark now manufactures their own pucks. These pucks feature an aluminum center disk for additional stiffness. They offer both traditional flat and 3-degree canted pucks. These pucks are stiffer than traditional Voile pucks.
Our favorite attribute of these new Spark pucks is their ease of adjustment. Coming from Voile pucks, the improvement is significant and very welcome. Anyone who has changed stances on a split with traditional Voile pucks will appreciate the ease with which the Spark pucks allow alterations to angles and stance width. These new puck options significantly simplify setting up a split or making adjustments to one's stance.
We created relevant categories to evaluate each splitboard and then compare the results against the other splits in our review. We included a mix of fun and practical categories to try and capture a full picture of what makes a great splitboard.