Airboarding at Montage

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Sometimes I like being sore. Not like, so-painful-you-can’t-function-properly sore, but that sort of good sore you sometimes wake up with the day after physically exerting yourself more than usual. I like the good sore that comes with big day hikes and lengthy cross-country skies, or that I’m-sore-in-places-I-didn’t-know-I-could-be-sore-in feeling that comes after trying something new like bouldering, or paddleboarding, when you vigorously work muscles that normally don’t see a ton of plays.

Monday morning I woke up feeling like a 90 year old man: my neck was stiff, my legs felt frozen in place, my right arm is home to a bruise that seemed to be growing steadily with the day, and my midsection feels like I’ve done 1000 sit-ups; it’s almost an even cocktail of the two “good” sores I just described above. I’m not mad, but I’m also feeling a growing need for either a full body massage or an appointment with a sketchy doctor who’s generous with the Percocet prescriptions.

The culprit? Airboarding.

What is airboarding you ask? Think of it as a grown-up version of sledding, albeit one that requires a little bit more athletic prowess. Think of the airboard itself as either a more aerodynamic snow-tube, or an inflatable boogie board, that you lay on your stomach on, and navigate head-first down a ski slope. If it sounds vaguely terrifying, that’s because it absolutely is. If it sounds dangerous and foolhardy, well then, there you might be mistaken. As with any physical activity, there’s absolutely room for error and injury, but unlike sledding, the airboards are designed to be easy to control and navigate, as the goal is to make it down the entire slope uninterrupted.

Stacks of airboards, ready for action.

My brother and I went airboarding on Montage Mountain this past weekend. Montage started their airboarding program in 2014, and it seems to remain pretty popular. I was surprised with how many other people were out airboarding this past Sunday.  Airboarding is allegedly pretty popular in Europe, but Montage is one of only six resorts in the United States to offer rentals (the only other one I could find on the East Coast is Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont). Montage also has the largest airboarding operation in the US, which is just another reason Pennsylvania is cool and underrated. Airboarding at Montage makes sense. Montage, for those of you who are unaware, is located just south of Scranton. It’s not the biggest, or steepest mountain, but its easily accessible, and it’s relatively tame slopes keep this from being downright scary. Airboards go much faster than skiers and snowboarders, and can reach speeds up of up to 80 mph.

Montage holds its airboarding sessions on Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday nights from 4-9, which is smart because you are sharing the slopes with skiers, and these are their less busy times. The slopes were pretty crowded when we started, and it could get pretty precarious (my brother and a skier did have collision); I had the most fun on our later runs when it was mostly fellow airboarders out on the slopes. It’s only $25.00, which includes your lift ticket, a short lesson and introduction, an airboard, helmet, and special airboarding boots. It did not include googles, which would’ve been helpful to have. After getting our gear, an instructor brought out a group of us, and showed us how to position ourselves on the board, and explained the etiquette. Everyone took an initial slide down a small hill, then as a group, we rode to the top of the mountain, where we jointly did the first run as a group in parts. We first did a test run learning how to stop. The next run was practicing our turns, and then our instructor once again reiterated the importance of bailing if we felt ourselves going off the slope, being cognizant of other skiers, and letting us know that the cold air will make the boards lose air, and that we were invited back into the rental area at any point if we needed to refill. We were then free to make as many runs down the two slopes that allowed airboarding until 9PM.

You could see the airboarders coming down the mountain to the right. I wish I got more pictures, but the 10 degree night caused me to prioritze keeping my gloves on.

On the chairlift ride up to our first chaperoned run, Shawn and I decided that we needed to do this with a group. It was fun, different, and we were catching the excitement from the airboarders flying down the mountain below us. When we stopped for the last time with our instructor, 3/4 of the way down the mountain, Shawn turned to me and said, “I’m glad I’m doing this, but I don’t know if I’m having fun.” I completely agreed with him. It’s hard, and as previously stated, you go fast, face-first, just inches away from the ground, and personally, I hadn’t exactly mastered the art of stopping. You’re supposed to turn your board to the side, and the grips on the bottom, which help you navigate, ideally dig into the snow, and bring you to a halt. I’d stop, but it would include what amounted to several barrel rolls, and after one such barrel roll, I got up, still a bit shaky, stepped on a patch of ice, and went down hard. I also had a few close calls with skiers, and to slow myself down a few times, was dragging my knees, which isn’t exactly comfortable (although you can rent knee pads). However, my ride down the last part of the mountain, where all the trails merge together, and thus become much wider, and navigation isn’t as pertinent, was the kind of ride that brings you the sort of adrenline rush that makes us attempt these extreme sports in the first place.

It was on my 2nd ride down the mountain that things began to gel, and I discovered just how much fun airboarding was. I realized that if I dragged my toes, it gave me a little bit more control than dragging my knees, not to mention that it was a lot more comfortable. I realized that laying farther back on my board gave me some more control, and that propping myself up on my elbows a bit gave me a better line of sight. I’m proud to say I made it down the mountain in one fell-swoop, and at that point was completely exhilarated, and dare I say, hooked.

We ended up taking 3 runs in total, just because Sunday was bitterly cold, and we’d been in Philly the night before for The Killer’s concert, and thus, had a long weekend and didn’t want to get home later than 9, but on our walk out, agreed that we are both glad we tried airboarding, and had fun. We both decided we’d like to do it with a bigger group of friends (because watching your friends struggle, and crash, or hearing about your brother taking out a skier, is really the highlight) maybe in February or March when the weather was a bit warmer, and I’d really encourage anyone who likes trying something different to give this a whirl, especially when you consider that Pennsylvania is one of the few places in the country to offer Airboarding as an option.

 

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