BRUNEAU — I’ll be honest: Stand-up sandboarding looks intimidating to some of us.
Surfing on a huge sand dune might be no problem for a snowboarder. But I want the thrills without the tumbles. Fortunately, Bruneau Dunes State Park just added sled-style sandboards to its rental fleet in time for the 2017 busy season.
You can rent sandboards year-round at the state park west of Glenns Ferry, but March is a perfect time — when you’re weary of snow, ready for sunshine and tired of being cooped up. Of course, this is Idaho in spring, so the weather might be lovely one day and nasty the next.
“On the nice days, it’s just gorgeous out here,” said Bryce Bealba, assistant manager at Bruneau Dunes.
And in March, you’ll beat the crowds.
Day-use visitation is picking up, but there’s still a lot of solitude on the dunes in March. In April through June — Bruneau Dunes’ busiest months — you might have to show up early to claim a sandboard. And on the hottest days of summer, the park’s sizzling sand can burn bare feet to the point of needing medical attention.
All-day sandboard rentals are $15 for one or $25 for two at the park’s visitor center. Starting today, it’s open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park doesn’t accept reservations for sandboards.
Fishing, camping, trails and an observatory are other reasons to visit Bruneau Dunes, but sliding down those huge dunes is a growing hit. And employees say their sandboards work a lot better than any sleds made for snow.
“It’s just getting more and more popular as word gets out about it. That’s been a great draw,” Bealba said. “We were selling out last year, so we had to go out and buy 10 new boards, just to keep up with demand.”
Now the sandboard fleet totals 18, and some of the new additions are meant for sitting instead of standing. For me, that made all the difference.
Our day on the dunes
On March 3, Bruneau Dunes employee Kim Durr picked out a stand-up sandboard for my husband, Mark, and a sled-style one for me, showing us how to rub them down with small cubes of green wax between each run.
“If you’re a snowboarder, you’ll know what to do,” Durr told Mark. “If you’re not a snowboarder, you just do the best you can.”
That, Mark discovered, means you’ll fall a few times while figuring out your technique. Even the sit-down board seemed inclined to pivot on the way down until I discovered I could correct course by flexing a wrist deeper into the sand as my hands gripped the handles on each side.
No problem. This is sand — not an icy mountain of snow — so none of our crashes were spectacular.
We played on Small Dune, which is right by the road and takes only a few minutes to climb. If there’s any wind, we decided, don’t bother hiking quite all the way up a ridge; you’ll just get wind-whipped for your trouble.
While you catch your breath after each hike, just watch those plumes of sand lift gracefully, endlessly, from the ridge’s knife edge.
3 sandboarding tips
A tip from Durr: Start your sandboarding adventure by early afternoon. If you don’t arrive until, say, 3 p.m., you’ll have time for only a few runs after you rent your sandboard, drive to the dune, wax the board and hike to the top.
A tip from Mark: Bring beach shoes. The stand-up board’s one-size-fits-all bindings aren’t big enough for man-sized hiking shoes. And if you go barefoot, any sand particles trapped between the bindings and your skin can quickly rub it raw.
And a tip from me: Don’t freshen up your lip balm in blowing sand.
From the Magic Valley, drive west on Interstate 84 to the Hammett exit. From there, take Idaho 78 south then west to the park entrance, 14 miles from Hammett.
Bring your water bottle, sunscreen and bug repellent, Bealba advises. And dress for wind; anything that can blow off will.
But don’t bring cardboard. It doesn’t work for sliding on the dunes, and employees inevitably find themselves picking up abandoned cardboard.
A daily $5 motor vehicle entry fee is required year-round at Bruneau Dunes — unless you have the $10 annual Idaho State Parks Passport.
Information: Parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/bruneau-dunes or 208-366-7919.