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Get Some Air
Imagine lying face first on an air-filled raft traveling down a snow-covered hill at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. Sound like fun? Airboards are the newest hi-tech craze for thrill seekers. Winner of Popular Science’s What’s New Award, it gives new meaning to the term ultimate sledding. In fact, this air- rocket hardly resembles a sled.
The A-shaped nylon raft houses shock-absorbing I-beams and rides on a hard ribbed, polyurethane-coated bottom that allows steering and precision maneuvers simply by shifting weight. Stationary handles also aid in changing direction.
“Airboading is basically like ocean boogie boarding,” states Ann-Elise Emerson, President of Emo-Gear. Now snow junkies can experience the same thrills. The ride is smooth, even over rough terrain because of the design and the air filled chamber.
This trend in winter sports was first introduced in Zug, Switzerland in 2002 by Joe Steiner and was 10 years in the making. They later traveled to the U.S. ski slopes in 2003. Although airboards can be used in any backyard or local park, real challenges await at airboarding terrain parks, growing in pockets around the country.
“When snowboards first came out, they were banned, so it’s true of any new device. Five area’s in the U.S., however, have successfully gained access to airboards,” stated Emerson.
Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia was proud to be first in the country to offer a dedicated airboard terrain park, which debuted during its 2005/2006 season. They are only one of six sites in the country to offer the sport.
“Guests are required to take a fun, one-hour lesson on the Airboard before setting off on their own,” says Troy Cardwell, General Manager for Canaan Valley Resort & State Park. Guests are also permitted to use the chair lift with the airboards.
Prices start at $30 for one hour of instruction plus two hours of ride time. Additional sessions average $10-15 per hour. Rental boards are available for an additional small fee. Riders must be at least 8 years of age. For more information check out their website at www.cannanresort.com.
Safety gear is a must. Winter sport helmets are not only recommended, but they are required in all terrain parks. “The issue with every sport is the possibility of the unforeseen circumstance,” Emerson offered. Goggles, gloves, elbow and kneepads, heavy boots and protective clothing also offer welcomed protection.
“We have found folks are really loving this,” says Bryan Brown, Publicist of Brown Communications. Many riders find themselves traveling at modest speeds of 20-30mph, which feels plenty fast considering they are lying on their stomach in the head first position nearly eye level with the ground. “The terrain park has low-to-the-ground features such as jumps and burms. “Those brave enough will be able to catch major air and allow them to try their hand at the barrel roll,” Cardwell added.
The inflatable raft doubles as an airbag when airborne, taking a fall, or in the event of course collisions. Speed is controlled by making frequent turns across the slope, much like skiing. Although much faster than a snow tube, the airboard can be stopped with-in a few feet by turning the sled sideways and digging in the feet.
“Kids and adults can do this, and unlike skiing and snowboarding you can get pretty good within an hour of getting on it, ”says Cardwell.
At 6lbs. airboards come in 2 sizes depending on the weight of the rider. Although a little pricey ($150-275) for a blow up raft they are inexpensive when compared to skies or a snowboard.
Airboards can be purchased online, as well as sports catalogs and sporting stores. For more information go to www.airboard.com
The manufacturer promises durability. A hand pump is provided for quick inflation. Each sled comes with a runaway strap and includes a patch kit, if the unthinkable happens. When traveling, this sled comes with its own carrying case and folds small enough to fit into a backpack.
Whether interested in catching some air, developing riding skills, or just taking a ride on this new generation sled, it’s guaranteed to be a great time for the whole family.