Elizabeth Koutrelakos

In high school, Elizabeth Koutrelakos was introduced to the competitive side of snowboarding through boardercross. Later, rails momentarily drew her attention. But working on a trail crew in college sparked a fascination with exploring remote and wild places that only backcountry snowboarding allows.

“Working on the trail crew you see all these places that are hard to get to in the summer because they’re rocky,” she says. “I just wanted to explore those places in the winter.”

Elizabeth is originally from Maryland — where there’s cows and trees, not the city part, she clarifies. She started snowboarding in seventh grade at a small ski area in Pennsylvania called Whitetail Resort.

“I was terrible, it was icy East Coast stuff, but I made it,” she says.

Her ties to Jackson, Wyo., stem all the way back to her youth, when her parents would tote her along on month-long family vacations to the Tetons.

“All we would do is hike every day,” she remembers, “and not just a little bit. It would be like these 20 or 30 mile hikes. When you’re 10 or 11, it’s not cool.”

That outlook changed entirely when she went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and realized that she could hike with a snowboard. And her trips to the Tetons as a kid planted a seed that would bring her back to Jackson in the decades that ensued, moving to the area full-time about 10 years ago.

“What kept bringing me back were the mountains themselves,” she remembers, adding that scrumptious Teton huckleberries had a lot to do with it as well. “I just really like the Tetons. They’re so accessible. Everyone says they’re crowded now but they’re really not.”

Around 2007, Elizabeth obtained her first splitboard after becoming tired of post-holing for turns. Since then, she’s climbed and descended many of the peaks in the Tetons. Her perfect day consists of waking in the dark to some good coffee, carpooling with a friend to the trailhead while jamming out to shitty pop music and starting to skin under still-dark skies amid a sea of crystals. Then comes the sunrise as the touring crew reaches a high spot, stopping for warm beverages and a snack.

“And both people have really surprising and delicious snacks to share,” she says, adding that she prefers to avoid ski partners with shitty treats.

Then the descent — in corn, powder, that doesn’t matter so much. “I actually think any condition is good if it’s with good people,” she says.

After a season atop a Voodoo 154, she prefers the control the board offers on slick terrain, as well as the deck’s penchant to float over powder.

Briant Wiles

Wiles1

Briant Wiles graduated high school a semester early, and by the following Monday morning he was living in Arapahoe Basin ski area’s parking lot — a testament to the no-questions-asked, nose-to-the-grindstone ethic that has defined his snowboarding career. Styley, fluid and aggressive. That’s how Briant rides.

Born and raised in Lander, Wyo., Briant started snowboarding at the age of 10 at Jackson Hole. But since the nearest lift-served slopes were hours away his home in Lander, Briant and friends began looking to South and Togwotee passes for turns.

“I just find something so fascinating about traveling in a winter environment,” he says. “There’s something so stimulating about being out there and knowing there are all these inherent risks and you’re in control of your own destiny. Couple that with getting to carve a line down a mountainside, which is an art form in itself.”

Living in Summit County, Colo., after high school, Briant began competing in United States of America Snowboarding Association boarder cross and slopestyle events. Not long after, he was picked up by Kubi Snowboards and a handful of local sponsors, going on to film with Full Room Productions from 2004-2007. In 2004, Briant acquired use of a splitboard for the first time that belonged to his then-girlfriend. “I lost it with the girlfriend, but good God, it was a revolution going from snowshoes to that,” he says.

Wiles2

Living in the midst of a dedicated backcountry community in Summit County, Briant and friends frequently headed to Loveland Pass for backcountry turns. The backcountry in Summit County sparked a passion for spring snowboard mountaineering descents, which meant exploration of the nearby Ten Mile and Gore ranges. To date, Briant has boarded from the summit of nine 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, but he admits that the draw of 14ers is somewhat over-hyped. “I think there are a lot of peaks just below 14,000 that are equal to the challenge,” he says.

By 2009, Briant began competing in the North Face Masters series — racking up two top-10 finishes in just three events. The same year, he moved to Colorado’s Gunnison Valley, where he now makes his home as a graduate student in Western State Colorado University’s Master’s in Environmental Studies program.

When his nose isn’t buried in a book, Briant can be found on steep lines in the Elk, Sawatch and San Juan ranges, or hunting and fishing in nearby mountains when there’s not enough snow to ride. After completing an avalanche Level 2 class, Briant plans to begin teaching Level 1 classes this season through the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education.

For Briant, spring conditions still spell the perfect recipe for the best days on the slopes. “The perfect day is probably about mid-April, when we’ve gone through an extended melt freeze phase and a storm rolls in really warm and heavy and leaves really cold,” he says. “Then it clears up the next morning. That and I get to go ski a big couloir.”

Jaime Van Lanen

J_Van_Lanen1 copy

Jaime Van Lanen built his first custom splitboard in the year 2000. Living in North Lake Tahoe at the time, he’d watched lift lines on powder days increase to the point that the only way to gain a solid day of riding was to get in line at 6 a.m. with his MSR Whisperlite stove in his backpack so he could eat breakfast and drink coffee while waiting three-plus hours for the chairs to open.

Well, a lot has changed over the last decade and a half. These days, Jaime makes his home in Bear Valley, Alaska, working for the Alaskan state government on research and management of hunting and fishing for wild food.

A backcountry snowboarder through and through, today, Jaime is pushing the envelope as far as it will go in terms of what’s possible on a splitboard. He’s racked up countless descents on six continents and in 16 countries and has taken — with success — to hunting caribou from his splitboard — a practice that he views as helping to ensure that splitboarding plays a role in ecological and economic sustainability.

Born and raised in Lakewood, Colo., from a young age, Jaime’s father began taking him and brother Ryan to St. Mary’s Glacier, Loveland and Berthoud passes to hike for turns. The fire was ignited.

By the mid-‘90s, Jamie’s drive to arrive at the precipice of snowboarding had landed him as a professional rider, competing in freestyle. In 1999, he won the U.S. National Championship in Slopestyle and Overall Freestyle.

J_Van_Lanen2 copy

However, during his time as a sponsored freestyle rider, Jaime became disillusioned with the direction the ski scene was heading. Ski resorts were becoming more concerned with selling real estate than with fostering a deep connection between skiers/riders and the snow. And, in turn, skiers and riders were more concerned with their products and images on the mountain than with the mountains themselves. He didn’t retreat completely from the world of snow, however. In Jaime’s words, he simply “tuned in, turned on and dropped out.”

After moving to Alaska in 2008, splitboard mountaineering became a driving passion. Yet, with the inevitable close calls and loss of friends, these days Jaime is content with a good tour, some exploration, great snow and long, flowy, aesthetic lines. That said, when the snow is stable, you can find Jaime still trying to check off some of Alaska’s biggest, steepest and scariest routes.

Copyright © Coldsmoke Splitboards 2015