What is airboarding?

February 18, 2021 | Bodyboarding
Airboarding: a winter sport that blends snowboarding and bodyboarding elements | Photo: Airboard

Airboarding is a winter sport that blends snowboarding and bodyboarding elements and allows you to ride down the mountain just inches above the snow.

Airboarding was born in 2001 when Joe Steiner designed a light, inflatable snow bodyboard using highly resistant plastic-coated fabrics like water rafts.

Steiner is the founder of Fun Care AG, a Swiss water sports company that has also registered the brand Airboard.

Meanwhile, the new outdoor winter pastime has become a sport in its own right. But what exactly is an airboard?

Airboarding: a winter sport invented in 2001 by Joe Steiner | Photo: Airboard

The Airboard

The airboard resembles a large inflatable bodyboard, but it is manufactured to stand the test of the rocky and snowy mountain slopes.

Its flexible and air-cushioned design absorbs all the bumps experienced by airboarders as they ride downhill on their stomach.

When an airboard is folded up, it fits easily inside of a backpack. It inflates in about two-to-three minutes with a small hand pump.

The board should be inflated, so it is comfortably firm. Smaller and lighter riders may find a softer board more responsive.

On the bottom of the board, there's a series of low-profile runners that keep the equipment on track and stable while you're riding down the slope.

On the side, you'll spot runners that curve slightly outward to help riders steer left or right.

They range in volume from 100 to 180 liters and can carry a maximum load of 308 pounds (140 kilograms).

Airboard: a light, inflatable snow bodyboard made with highly resistant plastic-coated fabrics | Photo: Airboard

A Growing Winter Sport

Riders are able to control it just like a regular bodyboard.

All they need to do is shift their weight to one side or the other to turn and cut back on the powder and compacted snow.

To brake or reduce speed, airboarders turn their equipment at a 90-degree angle to the desired downhill direction.

Snow bodyboarding has quickly gained enthusiasts and regular participants, and there are already several tricks and maneuvers you can master on an airboard.

According to the airboarding pioneers, the winter sport is already being practiced by thousands of people in over a dozen countries.

Although it doesn't require a lot of equipment, there are safety procedures to be followed and taken into consideration.

Airboarders always wear helmets as they can easily reach speeds of 60 miles per hour (96.5 kilometers per hour).

In 2007, Laurent Matthey set a new world airboarding speed record by riding down a mountain at Les Arcs ski resort, in France, at 88.06 miles per hour (141.73 kilometers per hour).

Warm clothes and regular weather condition checks and updates are mandatory, too. You don't want to ride down a cliff when avalanche warnings are issued.

Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden are some of the most popular airboarding destinations.

However, airboarders can ride the inflatable sled anywhere there's deep snow and freshly snowed slopes.

Airboarding has two main disciplines: slalom and freeride/freestyle.

Airboarding: there are techniques for turning, stopping, reducing speed, and loading/unloading lifts | Photo: Airboard

Snow Bodyboard Riding Techniques

There are four main techniques you should master to ride an airboard: turning, stopping, reducing speed, and loading/unloading lifts.

The first thing you should know is that there's a safety leash that you must grab so that you don't lose the board in case of a wipeout.

You can ride an airboard sitting on it or in a prone position, lying on your stomach. If you're a beginner, you can start by riding it sitting on it.

Intermediate and advanced riders lay down on the board, lifting the upper body with the hips on the center of the board.

Airboarders turn in the direction they want to go by pushing the other hand into the downward carving edge.

You can slow down by dragging your feet behind you when lying on the board or by pushing your feet firmly into the snow when you're sitting.

There are two ways to stop an airboard.

The first is to turn the board sideways until the runners grip the snow and stop, similar to snowboards or skis, and you are perpendicular to the fall line.

At higher speeds, you can perform a hockey stop, sliding the board sideways and moving your hips aggressively over the side of the board.

The rider's lead or downhill arm is pushed out straight during the hockey stop. How fast you stop will depend on the force applied by the downhill arm.

You can also reduce speed by turning the board slightly sideways and riding with your downhill arm first.

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