Trip Report By Anna
I spent a few glorious months skiing and hiking in southwestern America after I graduated from college and worked for a summer. I always regretted that I drove right by the Great Sand Dunes National Park (GSDNP) on my way from Wolf Creek Pass to Colorado Springs. Luckily, I was able to take a second trip to Colorado a few years later. This time, GSDNP was on my list of must-sees. No driving by it this time. I also researched it ahead of time. Have you heard of sand boarding? Well now you have. And I am going to tell you how you can do it.
I flew into Colorado Springs. If you live close enough to drive to Colorado, then awesome. The drive from Alaska would be a little... lengthy. GSDNP is about a 3-4 hour drive from the Springs depending on which route you take. The freeway is the fastest, some of the back roads and state routes in the area are absolutely gorgeous. Take your pick of route. I actually came from South Fork; I had been skiing the day before.
When to Go
February was a great time for us to go. I am not a huge fan of crowds. I just run away from them as much as possible. There were maybe two dozen other people that we saw the entire day we were here. Temperatures were cool, but not cold. The sun was shining. We were the only people out there with sand boards. We made a few friends and let them try out our boards.
The sand dunes are an interesting animal. From the visitor center, you look out over brush and small shrubs. Just past the desert shrubs are miles of -- you guessed it, the main attraction -- sand dunes! Past the sand dunes, you can see snowy hills and mountains. Depending on the season, the weather can vary greatly. I visited in February. The weather at the visitor center was warm. I was comfortable in my t-shirt and jeans. However, once we got out to the dunes, there was a constant wind. Luckily, we all had light jackets and hoodies and were quite comfortable.
In the summer months, the sand gets hot. Footwear is almost a necessity to keep your feet from burning. Seasonally, Mendano Creek flows through the dunes, starting as early as April. The creek is fed by snowmelt and can vary in volume throughout the day depending on temperatures. There was no creek in February. Also, the sand was not so hot that it was burning our feet. It was actually a little cool.
What to Bring
Well, certainly bring a sand board. If you enjoy sliding down mountain sides with boards strapped to your feet, I highly recommend experiencing sand boarding. I also had a small 15 L pack with a few snacks, a liter of water, and extra socks. I figured if I did get warm, I could put my jacket in there too. The sun was quite bright and we appreciated having sunglasses.
As far as footwear in February goes, I wore some Salomon hiking shoes... Matt wore flip flops. We all took off our shoes for most of the day.
Sand boards are not snowboards. They are smaller, shaped differently, and equipped with bindings more similar to those of a wakeboard than of a snowboard. The boards we rented were wooden with a waxable bottom. These boards work on wet or dry sand. You will want to rub more dry wax on the bottom every few runs to keep things moving.
I called Kristi Mountain Sports to reserve our sandboards. They did not seem to have too many rental requests at that time of year so reserving them the day before was no problem. In the summer months, you might want to call ahead sooner. They gave us a rundown of how to wax the boards and sent us on our way with three boards and a stick of wax.
I am an ok snowboarder. I can do groomers for days. I get a little bogged down in powder. I can't ridge switch (very well). I can land (very small) jumps. I ski a lot better. My buddy Matt is an excellent snowboarder. He can charge most runs with ease. Theresa has snowboarded only a handful of times. We were all able to pick up sand boarding ok. It seems that snowboarding experience does correlate over to sand boarding skill to some degree.
Matt tried pulling off some sweet jumps. I was mostly able to make it down slopes without falling. Theresa was able to make it down most slopes. It was a blast! We took turns passing off the wax.
The boards claim to work on wet or dry sand. This seems to be true. However, gong from wet to dry sand or vice versa can be challenging. The board handles differently as is to be expected. We found that not wearing shoes provided the best sand boarding experience.
We had a great day playing in the Dunes. Next time I am in the area, I will be calling Kristi Mountain Sports and hitting up the dunes for another day of sand boarding!