Ever wondered what it’s like to Sandboard? You might have seen it. People strapped on a snowboard sliding down a big sand dune in some desert somewhere. As an avid snowboarder who’s tackled more double-blacks terrains than all the bottle of beers, he’s popped, I’m very curious.
I was making my way up towards Argentina and had to have a layover in San Pedro de Atacama. I had a whole day to spare, but I’ve already biked in the Valle de la Luna and explored most of the city and its surrounding area.
What to do?
I saw a flyer for full-moon sand boarding upon arrival, and it piqued my interest. It cost $25 with free beers thrown in for good measure. I’d rather glide on untouched powder lines in a pristine backcountry somewhere in the mountains. But I’m in a desert, and I miss snowboarding!
I followed the directions on the flyer and found the outfit offering the tour. I paid $25 bucks then went back to my hostel to take a nap. I overslept and missed the tour. Fuck. I missed out on all the beers and the possibility of a drunken stupor in the sand. Oh well. Might as well pay for the day one and bake in the sun instead.
The tour takes you Valle de la Muerte or Death Valley (not to be confused with Death Valley in California) with an experienced guide. The valley has a big sand dune nestled in a rocky cordillera where you can slide down with a snowboard.
There are no chairlifts. You have to hike up the dune with your snowboard. The Atacama Desert’s elevation is at a whopping 8,000 ft!. The air is thin. If you haven’t acclimated, running up and down the dune can be an exhausting affair. The tour of the Salar de Uyuni, which took me some of the highest plateaus in South America got me acclimatized. Some of my tour mates weren’t so acclimated. I can see them laboring at each step up and down the sand dune.
You were given some options for snowboards sizes and a few smelly boots. Then you take your pick to match your size. You were then instructed on how to use the Sandboard and given a few safety precautions. There’s nothing scary or dangerous about it. I’ve crashed a few times and wiped out often. Not a scratch. Fall on your ass; you’re okay. It’s a safer and lot less painful sport than snowboarding where you can tear your vertebrae and break your wrists. You might end up eating a fistful of sand but nothing to cry home to mommy about.
How does it compare to Snowboarding?
Quite different in fact. Edging and carving are non-existent. It doesn’t feel like you’re in complete control of the board. But maybe that’s just because it was my first time. There’s also a difference in friction. The physics won’t allow for sand to have less resistance than snow. Because of this, you can’t go as fast as you can as with a snowboard in the snow. Also, a sand dune can never match a vertical drop of a mountain.
Regardless of all its shortcomings, I still had a blast sliding down the dune. I found several features (kickers) that allowed me to be catapulted up into the air like a clown shot up the sky on a personal canon. I was having so much fun I didn’t even notice the massive sunburn on my neck. Bring sunscreen!
Ride the Valley of Death
- There are several tour operators in San Pedro De Atacama sells the sandboarding tours, but I think they’re all contracted through Sandboard San Pedro.
- I bought mine at Atacama Inca Tour at Toconao 421- A, +56 55 2851062
- It can get sweltering in the afternoon, so I recommend you take the morning tour.
- Bring sunblock and layers of clothing.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SANDBOARDING?