I picked up a Jones Hovercraft Spliboard as a dedicated powder stick. Rumored to ride well in all conditions, I was curious to see how this legendary shape from Jones really performed.
Jones Hovercraft Shape and Sizing
Although my board is now a few years old, in terms of performance the Hovercraft has essentially remained the same. The Jones Hovercraft has a long, rockered nose, with camber between the feet, and a stubby tail. Waist width is wide without being exaggerated at 26cm for the Jone Hovercracft 156cm model. Both internal and external edges are serrated with “Traction Tech”. Clips and hooks are provided by Karakoram.
Jones’ sizing guidelines state that you can ride the board 4-8cm shorter than your normal freeride board, and their chart puts me bang on in the middle of the range for the Jones Hovercraft 156 length (at 70kg / 153 lbs.).
I tested the board initially with older voile-style bindings, and later with Spark Surges, and the Jones / Pocoma pre-cut skins with quick-tension tail-clips.
The uphill performance of the hovercraft as split skis exceeded my expectations for a powder shape. As split skis, the Hovercraft Split maintained enough stiffness for the skins to provide solid purchase. The lack of a proper tail contributes to the relatively low weight. The 122.5cm effective edge and serration provide the grip to hold an edge on icy traverses, allowing you to postpone installing ski crampons in some situations.
The nomad skins provide great traction, however, I perceived them to be heavier and draggier than my preferred Kohla skins despite the same 70/30 Mohair/Synthetic mix. The quick-tension tail-clips conveniently nestle into the notches in the skis’ tails.
When the going gets steep enough to require kick turns, I immediately noticed how top-heavy the skis were, requiring a bit of finesse and a proper kick to avoid getting the nose wedged in the snow while switching directions.
Splitboarders skin up to shred down, and the hovercraft offers up a killer ride towards the valley floor. The float in the powder is as expected, which is to say, fantastic. While I was hoping to be able to keep my weight more centered on the board, but the nose still dives as normal when it’s deep. Still, you are required to shift much less weight to the rear leg than on a traditionally shaped board, saving a ton of leg power for the fun stuff. Wide arcs, quick weaves, and powder slashes are all pleasurable on the Jone Hovercraft.
A more compliant binding and boot will allow a surfy, playful feel in these conditions, or stiffen up your setup when you want to charge.
Where this board really surprises is harder snow, groomers and variable conditions. If you should happen to find yourself on a groomed slope or spring corn and fancy some carving, the hovercraft rails!
It rides like a much longer board; its effective edge angle, long sidecut and plump waist allow you to lean into the turn and bang out elongated, elegant arcs. Even on a powder day, towards to bottom of a run the backcountry shredder often comes across heavy, variable and / or chunky snow. I find that the hovercraft is stable, and its nose powerful enough to charge most of these conditions, and nimble enough to quickly scrub speed and change directions when necessary. Similarly, the Hovercraft handles less-than-ideal conditions, such as crusts and sastrugi as well as I could have believed possible. With a stiff setup like a 32 Jones MTB boot and Spark Surge binding, you can really charge, even over choppy conditions.
Tree riding or steep/techy/no fall turns are also mightily facilitated by the short tail. Backcountry snowboarding generally requires a different technique than on-piste, i.e. pivots or pops. While carves are long and arched, backcountry turns on this board elicits a feel like kick-turning on a skateboard, which is to say quick and nimble.
What can be Improved?
It’s 2020 and hardware is still visible through the base? Come on Mr. Jones, show this classic some love with your boltless bridge. Speaking of hardware, while I love the Karakorum tip and tail hooks for their smooth, sturdy action and satisfying tactile “click”, I find the K-clips to be finicky. They do torque the board together nicely somewhat increasing torsional stiffness, but they make the board halves difficult to align on a windy peak.
Sizing for the board felt spot-on. I’d advise against downsizing the Hovercraft too much, as you would lose a lot of its float and edging power. Properly sized, you get big-board capability in a nimble package.
Jones constantly strives to improve the sustainability of their manufacturing process and longevity of their boards with details like oversized edges, to ensure that they will hold up for years. Considering this shape has become such a classic, there’s no reason you can’t keep railing, shredding pow and drawing creative lines on the mountain for years on end on the Jones Hovercraft Splitboard ($879.95).