Airboards – the freshest thing on the slopes |

Airboards – the freshest thing on the slopes

Paul Raymore
Sugar Bowl has joined approximately seven other resorts nationwide in allowing airboarders access to their slopes.

There’s sledding and then there’s “snow body-boarding,” as Ann-Elise Emerson likes to call it.

The difference, according to Emerson, is where you choose to take that airboard. Introduced in 2000 by Swiss inventor Joe Steiner, airboards are inflatable high-performance sleds that have recently been brought to the North American marketplace by way of Emerson’s Berkeley-based company Emo Gear.

As sledders slide down sledding hills, snow body-boarders ride in the backcountry or at one of the increasing number of ski resorts that are allowing the new-style sleds on their runs.

Locally, Sugar Bowl has joined approximately seven other resorts nationwide in allowing airboarders access to their slopes – albeit currently only on a limited, after-hours basis.

On Tuesday and Saturday nights, guests at the resort have the opportunity to try out one of the two airboards the resort currently owns on the groomed runs off the Nob Hill chair. Sugar Bowl’s model of allowing airboarding after the resort closes to skiers and snowboarders means they don’t have to worry about the intermixing of the different snow sports while at the same time allowing their overnight guests another on-slope activity at the resort.

Other resorts, such as central Oregon’s Hoodoo Mountain Resort, have gone a step further and opened up 100 percent of their trails to airboarders during the day, provided they take an introductory lesson and follow the same rules of the mountain that skiers and snowboarders must adhere to.

Built for the backcountry

Made of urethane-coated nylon fabric similar to whitewater raft-type material, airboards become a 47-by-28-by-9 inch sled when fully inflated and pack into a 12-by-16-by-3 inch stuffsack when deflated.

Portability was essential, Ann-Elise Emerson said, as the sleds were initially designed as a backcountry toy that would allow snowshoers to enjoy the force of gravity just as much as skiers and snowboarders on their way down whatever hill they may have walked up.

Part of the appeal of the sport, Emerson said, is its accessibility.

“If you can walk you can snowshoe, and if you can snowshoe you can airboard,” she said, while admitting that, “It does take a little skill to learn to ride an airboard. It’s a far cry from snowtubing. You have to learn how to control your direction and your speed on all kinds of conditions.”

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