Airboarding offers a new way down for snow enthusiasts
January 31, 2010
If you go
What: Airboarding with Boardom Bound
Cost: $50 to $100 per person, depending on the number of people and the terrain desired (from two to 20 and from tame private ground to extreme backcountry). Cost includes transportation, access to the inflatable boards and snowmobiles with drivers to ferry boarders from the bottom of the runs to the top.
Contact: Check out http://www.boardombound.com or call Tebbenkamp at 970-846-5926.
Steamboat Springs — Danny Tebbenkamp explained that it was the ease and potential wide appeal of airboarding that drew his eye to the sport.Tebbenkamp, who runs the Steamboat Springs-based Boardom Bound extreme sports excursion business, was looking for something to keep the customers coming throughout the winter that didn't come with the high demands — both technical and environmental — of snow kiting. A friend and a board-producing company suggested airboarding.
He said it's been a hit, especially with an older or less experienced population.
"We wanted something more family-friendly that didn't require experience," Tebbenkamp said. "We've had a lot of families, a couple married couples that weren't really even the athletic type."
So why then are Tebbenkamp and Boardom Bound employee Eric McClelland so intent on talking about the potential for races and jumps, barrel rolls and the backcountry?
"This is like extreme sledding," Tebbenkamp explained. "It can be as extreme as you want it to be."
Tebbenkamp has owned and operated Steamboat's Pacific Spas and Pools for five years but last winter began to search for a way to capitalize on his love of extreme-ish sports with an entrepreneurial effort. That drive became Boardom Bound.
In its first summer, the company offered lessons and trips in riverboarding (think a boogie board like you'd find at the beach, only on steroids) and several boat-based sports such as wakeboarding and wake surfing.
Initially, the plan was to keep Boardom Bound running through winter with the decidedly difficult snow kiting, where a ski- or snowboard-wearing rider clings to a kite. But facing a learning curve and an inability to operate on calm days, Tebbenkamp wanted more.
"The same company that got me going on the riverboards, I approached them about something we could do on the snow," Tebbenkamp said. "They told me about these airboards and how it was something they were trying to get going in the United States. I figured I should give it a try."
Turns out airboarding is more than the product of a quick-thinking salesman on the other end of Tebbenkamp's phone call.
It came about in Switzerland in the early 1990s when engineer Joe Steiner sought a way to stay active on the snow after injuring his knee snowboarding. He finally produced the airboard, an inflatable device about 10 to 12 inches thick with molded plastic runners on the bottom and handles on the top.
The device became a sport and before long was growing in popularity first across the Atlantic and then more recently in the United States.
It's still in the phase where its proponents — like the fans of nearly any experimental on-snow device — are quick to liken its development to snowboarding's early days, when those now ubiquitous boards drew the scorn of ski areas and were appreciated only by the periphery.
Airboards made their Rocky Mountain debut early in the last decade at Sun Dog Athletics in Aspen, where owner Erik Skarvan started leading tours. The expense of insurance led him to drop it as an option four years ago but not before his operation was featured in Esquire magazine.
"We got a great response from it," Skarvan said. "With the speed, the flotation on powder and the jumping ability, they are a lot of fun. Frankly, riding one felt like I was going back to my childhood glory."
Several eastern seaboard ski resorts have begun to embrace the fad by allowing limited use of the devices on their slopes. Back in Switzerland, there are full-fledged airboard races.
They've become popular enough that Steamboat Ski Area thought to include airboards on the list of things not allowed up its lifts.
Separated by steering
Tebbenkamp first tried the airboards in November, rushing to the Rabbit Ears Pass backcountry area as soon as the first waves of snow blanketed the high country.
He was quick to incorporate them into Boardom Bound, and he said his customers were quick to fall in love with the devices.
The idea is to hold the inflated board out in front, run toward a slope, jump and land atop and slide to the bottom. It's similar to tubing or simply sledding, though Tebbenkamp said the board's design keeps this from being any old day in the snow.
"Sledding and tubing, those are fun, but who knows what path you're going to take?" he said. "When I was a kid, and we went sledding, it was about hanging on as long as you could before you plowed into something that would hurt you. With this, you can steer right around those things. You might be able to steer a sled, but this has much quicker response."
Turning the devices isn't difficult but takes a little getting used to.
Throwing body weight to one side of the board or another is generally effective in doing the job. Trying to force the front end left or right can yield more immediate results.
Jumping with the board also isn't difficult: it takes nothing more than the brains, or more accurately, the guts to steer toward a kicker. Several factors keep injuries at a minimum, as well.
First, the land Tebbenkamp offers to riders generally starts as untouched powder fields. He and his staff pound out runs with snowmobiles to make the ride smoother, but boards easily glide above the powder, and even in the areas that have been packed, a fall just leaves the rider covered in snow and the snow bearing a person-size hole.
There aren't any trees on his runs to get in the way, and a "fall" isn't tough because even after flying off the lip of a jump, riders are never more than about two feet off the ground.
"You have more control, and you feel more safe than you do on a plastic sled or in a tube," Tebbenkamp said. "There are many means of stopping or avoiding things besides just bailing."
A three-hour session with Boardom Bound includes the sleds, helmets, transportation and rides on snowmobiles to ferry boarders from the bottom of the slopes to the top.
The trips start at $50 a person for larger groups and run to as much as $100 a person for groups as small as two people.
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