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Mountainboarding - Any Hill Will Do

from The Idaho Statesman

Some of you live only for winter and it is still a month or so away. You hang last year's snowboard pass in a prominent place inside your refrigerator and get a little misty-eyed every time you open the door.

By the end of March, you had managed to grab yourself some big air, and you'd figured out how to dismount the chairlift without scaring the small child ahead of you. So how were you rewarded for these impressive feats? With seven months of heavy-duty withdrawal.

But another new thrill sport is gaining popularity and begging for your bodily participation. Best of all, this one is season-proof.

Mountainboarding is the next best thing to snowboarding—and to skateboarding and surfing and mountain biking. You don't need to worry about the weather when you mountainboard, and you don't have to buy a lift ticket in order to grab your fair share of adrenaline.

"I've never gone so fast while going slow," said Trevor Brown, manager of Cutting Edge Sports in Tahoe City, Calif., which sells mountainboards. "One of the great things about mountainboarding is that the sensation of major acceleration can come at a surprisingly low rate of speed." You can ride a mountainboard on asphalt, grass or dirt. The boards themselves are about 4 feet long, weigh between 20 and 30 pounds and come in both all-terrain and specialty styles. Available tire configurations range from racing slicks to mondo monsters. And some boards have brakes and some—gasp—do not.

Like snowboards, mountainboards have bindings that wed feet to board. But unlike the winter version, you can slip out of these much more easily.

For shoes, any skate shoe or light hiking boot will do, Brown said.

Safety gear is considered by one and all to be part of the basic mountainboard package. First and foremost think helmet. After that, count on buying elbow and knee-pads and heavy gloves. Long sleeves and long pants are also a good idea. Road burns are never fun.

For the neophyte mountainboarder, the initial object of the sport may be merely to stay attached to the board while maintaining an upright position—never mind actually going anywhere. For the more advanced, mountainboarding can include such pleasures as bombing down a hill.

And then there are the trickmeisters, the reigning kings and queens of the sport who go out there and make dirt-magic.

"Ross Baker kicks butt," Brown said, describing Reno's 11-year- old world champion mountainboarder.

If you put Baker on a board, any board, it seems like there is nothing he can't do. Flips, grabs, 360s and just plain flying—it's all kid stuff to him.

Baker has picked up so many championships in the three years since he first got into mountainboarding that his parents are probably the only people who can remember the names of every competition he's won.

Therefore, when Baker offers advice to beginning mountainboarders, he's definitely worth listening to.

"If it were me just starting out, I'd practice in my front yard first," he said. "Then I'd find a little cement hill somewhere that's going to run out flat, and practice making big turns and then just keep shortening them up. I 'd also make sure I learned the power-slide, which is a stop." Veteran riders like Ross get as excited about rocks as snowboarders do about moguls.

If you want to see what mountainboarding looks like before you shell out for a board, most shops that sell boards also have instructional videos. And stores like Cutting Edge or Shoreline Ski and Sport in Stateline will be more than happy to informally get you going in this new sport.

"If you haven't tried a board sport before, you might want to start mountainboarding with one of the models that offers a handbrake," said Corbett Robertson, manager of Shoreline Ski and Sport. "We rent mountainboards by the hour and the day, and the rentals include all the safety gear. And we also do some instructing before we let you out on your own."

Nancy Ng, 31, of South Lake Tahoe got into the sport a couple of years ago as something to do until snowboard season rolled around again. In addition to being a design architect, she is also a snowboarding instructor.

"I tried mountainboarding and just fell in love," she said. "The scariest thing about it, I guess, is going too fast and falling too hard.

"Some of the great things about it are being outdoors, going sideways down a hill, and being able to do it whenever you want. And, to a limited degree, you can board anywhere there's dirt."

Where do the mountainboarders go to mountainboard? In the best of all possible worlds that would be a long, downhill slope that is neither too flat nor too steep.

Best to check first with one of the board shops before you head out.

Mountainboarders' favorite hangouts can be as tricky to find as weekend raves.

"Generally you might find mountainboards in places like fire roads," Robertson said. "They don't poach the wilderness to ride their boards. The boards are pretty heavy and you're not going to find many people carrying them very far."

"Of course a buffed-out grass course would be awesome, too," Brown said.

Places such as Northstar-at-Tahoe allow mountainboarding during the summer. One can buy an all-day lift-ticket and ride down the mountain biking trails. But be forewarned, there are a lot of big rocks out there.

If you are considering city riding, mountainboards aren't street-legal in most metropolitan areas. It never hurts to check with the local police or sheriff's department before you launch yourself into traffic.

You can get into mountainboarding for a relatively reasonable cost. A new board, including bindings, can go for as little as $150, Brown said. And don't forget to tack on another $100 for safety gear.

The experts say there is a fast learning curve in mountainboarding. But it also helps a lot if you are naturally coordinated.

And if you hope to become the next Ross Baker?

"My father climbed Mount McKinley and skied down," Baker said. "So I figure that this mountain stuff is kind of in the blood for me."

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