When trying to explain my experience of volcano boarding to my friends back in the midwest I usually tell them to think of those cold winter months when you pulled your sled out of the garage or basement dusted it off and headed for the local sled hill. Usually you had to climb to top yourself pulling the sled behind you. When you reached the top you turned the sled around aimed it the straightest you could down the hill, sat down, grabbed the rope and if you had a good buddy with you he would give you hard push that sent you sailing down hill in white furry of snow for a short ride.
Volcano boarding- Replace the cold winter month with a hot sun blazing day and instead of a 1 pound plastic sled you have a 10-15 pound plywood laminated board. In Nicaragua your local hill is named Cerro Negro which happens to be 2,380 feet high and is not covered in fluffy white snow but sharp marble size gravel called volcanic scree. When you get to the top you do sit on the board about the same way aiming it down hill holding on to the rope. You might even get a push from your friendly tour guide but when you go sailing down this hill you’re in a black furry of dust reaching speeds excess of 50 mph. Oh and did I mention that the hill is the most active cinder cone volcano in the world that last erupted in 1999…..eeek!
Ok enough with the dramatics, the first time I heard about volcano boarding was from a website while I was in El Salvador. For some reason I was not really interested until I found out there is a tour group called Tierre Tours that would let you stand up and use boards that are very similar to the shape of a snowboard. Me being a somewhat avid snowboarder the idea of riding a make shift snowboard down an active volcano really excited the crap out me. So when my partner in crime and me got into to Leon, Nicaragua we met up with our friends Alex and Ashleigh and booked our trip for the next morning.
After some highway travel and 4 wheeling down a road that resembled a river bed in a sweet old school Toyota diesel landcruiser (I want one!) we made it to the base of Cerro Negra. The 50 min hike up was somewhat strenuous with backpack and board but I didn’t really mind because the views were spectacular. After getting to the top we dropped our gear and made a short trek to the crater of the beast to take a look. Once back to our steep volcano death slide we immediately began suiting up in our brightly colored jump suits as Miegel our guide busted out a good old military style safety brief.
Dawn choose to do the sit down sled board and went first being the brave women she is. In a matter of seconds she was out of sight in cloud of black dust. Ashliegh went second on a snowboard style and then there was two… Alex and me. Once Miegel strapped me in I wasted no time at the top and down the volcano I went. The first 50 yards was about a 20 degree slope after that it dropped off at a stomach wrenching 41 degree angle for 2000 feet. At first my body naturally tried to manuever like I was snowboarding which ended in me crashing and cart wheeling multiple times down the first 40 yards. Finally I realized if i crouched in surfer stance put most of my weight on the back of the board and pointed it at an angle down the volcano (no carving) I could get some wicked speed and not smash my face in to the scree every 10 seconds. Thank goodness you could still brake like a snowboard so I could control my speed on the way down. As I got a hundred yards from the bottom I let loose and bombed it the rest of the way down. Amazingly enough I stopped standing up with only fee scratches and bruises. Few minutes later Alex made it to the bottom with a big smile on his face cover in black soot looking like he had been a chimney sweep for a day. With some luck we all had made it down in one piece!
The day turned out to be another amazing adventure that we got to share with our friends Alex and Ashleigh which made it even more enjoyable. In the end I’m glad I did the stand up for the experience but if I would do it again I would pick the sit down. The snowboard style is more changeling but you can get way more speed with the sled style which in my crazy mind equals more fun!!
Here’s good vid I found of volcano boarding on Cerro Negro (Air Wolf theme music!)