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As I quickly learned last winter, you don’t have to strap on skis or a snowboard to have fun on the slopes. That’s because Canaan Valley Resort opened some of its trails to snow bodyboarding last season and--thanks to a successful first season--will do so again this winter.

Through like-minded adventurous friends, I’d heard about snow bodyboarding using an inflatable sled called an Airboard--and just had to learn more. I enjoy both skiing and snowboarding, as well as many other Blue Ridge winter sports, but I’m always looking for something new to pursue.

“The public is ready for a new winter sport,” Ann-Elise Emerson told me. “They want a cool sport families can enjoy together.”

Emerson is the president of Emo Gear, the California company that is the exclusive distributor of Airboards in North America (the unique sleds are a Swiss invention and are thus far even more popular in the Alps). Emerson also told me they’ve been successfully used in U.S. programs at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, Oregon’s Hoodoo Ski Area, California’s Sugar Bowl, Idaho‘s Schweitzer Mountain, and more. Canaan Valley is the first airboard location in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

After checking-in at our Canaan Valley Resort cabin (we love cabin stays there year-round), my wife, Cele, and I sign up for the required Airboard clinic. Our instructor, J.R. Nolan, has us out on a beginner’s slope within minutes, explaining the basics of Airboarding before we don our helmets and wrist-straps (so our boards don‘t go downhill without us).

“The learning curve on the Airboard is quick, Nolan confidently assures us,  "and most people become proficient on gentle slopes in less than an hour.” Within minutes, we knew he's right.

Riding a snow bodyboard is easy to learn. You basically just take off at a slow jog and then jump on chest first. We find it relatively easy to control our speed by simply shifting our weight from side to side and engaging the edge-like urethane grooves on the underside of the board. Emerson compares the ease of learning to body-surfing in the ocean.

On Canaan’s “Bunny Buster” beginner slope, it's actually quite amazing how quickly the board glides over groomed snow. From our first run, we find ourselves passing slower skiers and boarders (Airboarders have been known to reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour, but we certainly didn‘t). When we reach the lift at the bottom of the short run, we are greeted by other snow lovers who want to ask about the Airboarding experience--and where they can sign-up for a lesson (this happens after every single run).

For the lift ride back up the mountain, we simply hold on to our boards and sit down in the chair. At the top, it’s just a matter of belly flopping onto the airboard and heading back down the slopes.

We do a few more runs with Nolan, who helps us perfect our turns, speed control, and stopping. After about an hour, he says we're set to venture out on our own--but only on the same beginner slopes we’d already experienced. This provides more than enough fun for several more runs.

Nolan tells us that a further lesson and accompanied runs are required of anyone who wanted to progress up the mountain to intermediate or advanced slopes. They‘ve even built a small terrain park mid-mountain that includes jumps and berms. Given all of this, you can bet we’ll be back at Canaan this winter--we’ll be the ones whooping it up as we whiz by (and below) you on our Airboards!


Canaan Valley Resort (part of the excellent West Virginia State Parks & Forests system) is located high in the Allegheny Mountains in the north central part of the Mountain State.

From the north: I-79 to Rt. 33 (Weston). East on Rt. 33 to Harman. In Harman, take Rt. 32 North to Canaan Valley.

From the south: I-77 North of Beckley. Rt. 19 North to I-79. I-79 North to Weston. East on Rt. 33 to Harman. In Harman, take Rt. 32 North to Canaan Valley.

From the east: Rt. 66 West to I-81 South. Take 55 West at Strasburg to Harman. In Harman, take Rt. 32 North to Canaan Valley.

From the west: Take Rt. 50 East to Clarksburg. I-79 South to Weston. Rt. 33 East to Harman. In Harman, take Rt. 32 North to Canaan Valley.

Canaan Valley Resort and the rest of the area offer a wide array options when it comes to accommodations, dining, and activities in addition to Airboarding. Area accommodations include traditional hotels, condos, and an array of cabins. The food front ranges from fast food to gourmet to funky (see “White Grass Grows on You”). Some of our favorite winter activities in the Canaan Valley area include downhill skiing and snowboarding (Timberline Four Season Resort provides another option), cross-country skiing, tubing, and even wonderful backcountry snowshoeing when Mother Nature cooperates.

To explore the Airboard program and more at Canaan Valley Resort this season, call 304/866-4121 or visit www.canaanresort.com.


Quite simply, anyone can Airboard (though Canaan does have a minimum age of ten). It’s incredibly intuitive and very much like riding a sled. It’s the unique design that makes it so easy.

Airboards are made of a non-stretch, urethane-coated nylon fabric that creates a stable and board-like riding platform. Weighing in at about six pounds, the pneumatic design and durable materials cushion any bumps and landings (the handheld pump inflates them in minutes). Shifting your weight engages the “profile runners” for directional control, smoothing turning, and stopping. Plus, the Airboard folds up into a smallish rectangle, making it perfect for transporting to ski slopes, the backcountry, or your backyard (it comes with its own pump and backpack too)!

Due to demand, a variety of Airboard models are now available (including smaller versions for kids, which are available at Canaan Valley). Depending on the model, they run about $150 to $270 (I enjoyed Airboarding at Canaan so much that I now am the proud owner of an Airboard Classic). For further general information about Airboarding, visit www.airboard.com.


The Canaan Valley area has lots of other activities and attractions, including one of our favorite spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains--White Grass Touring Center & Café. This legendary cross-country skiing spot is so much more than a great place to try cross-country.

Opened in 1979, White Grass has grown into a destination for anyone who loves the outdoors, creative food, and interesting people. In fact, we’ve often gone there just for the cuisine and company, when Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating with the white stuff. Legendary owner Chip Chase often deals with lack of snow with what he calls “snow farming”--using snow fences to create drifts that are perfectly suited for some of their various cross-country ski trails (of which they can boast 45 totaling more than 30 miles in-season). 304/866-4114 or www.whitegrass.com.