Going to Extremes: Glacier Boarding, a New Sport

As glaciers the world over melt, some adventure athletes are turning the ice into an extreme playground—and bringing along photographers to record their exploits. One of the new sports they are trying is called glacier boarding, but what that means exactly may depend on who you ask.

In Switzerland, canyon guides Claude-Alain Gailland and Gilles Janin recently took boogie boards out to Altesch glacier, Europe’s largest. Then they donned flippers, wetsuits and helmets, dropped those boogie boards into a freezing liquid channel carved into the ice, and careened around the snaking glacial river while photographer David Carlier snapped shots from above.

This particular form of glacier boarding is a bit like riding a boogie board through a slide at a water-park, only you risk hypothermia, being overtaken by glacial floods, getting hit by falling or protruding ice, or falling into a deep bottomless crevasse, according to a listicle of emergent adventure sports on the website of energy drink maker RedBull. Redbull assigned the sport an insanity level of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is craziest. Of course, not many people have tried it, so rarity: also a 10. Training required: High.

But the term glacier boarding is also used to refer simply to snowboarding on a glacier, typically one covered in fresh powder, a relatively common sport. A team of snow boarders over in New Zealand was recently dropped onto the glaciers of Methven by helicopter, as part of a shoot for next year’s Burton Snowboards catalogue. They spent the next 10 days exploring the best places to do tricks and get perfect shots. What makes glacier snowboarding different from regular snowboarding is that the terrain can be icier, and ice formations can allow for more dramatic boarding moves, like the one shown below.

Jeff Curtes, who photographed the New Zealand group, told Oceans2Vibe, “We pick terrain that we end up riding because it generally looks ‘right’ and ‘doable’. When Jussi [one of the snowboarders] and the team saw the ice their eyes lit up with possibilities.” They also took extensive safety precautions, he said. But it was so warm that the powder snow had melted, which made the adventure a bit more dangerous, because they “were forced to play and shoot in the ice.”

Glacier snowboarding videos abound on youtube. Here’s one, below, of some snowboarders on Farnham glacier in British Columbia in September 2013.

Glacierhub recently wrote about another extreme glacier sport that was very short-lived: glacier wave surfing. It was so terrifying and dangerous, in fact, that the guys who invented it only attempted it once, and never went back.