Tips On How To Snow SUP: The Biggest Questions Answered!

 

Written by San Juan SUP Co. Founder Nola Svoboda

Snow SUP? What's that? Stand up paddle boarding on snow is guaranteed to be just about the most fun you’ll have all winter!

Brought on by last winter’s depressingly low snow pack in the San Juan Mountains (and Western Colorado in general), we were desperate to find alternative methods of having fun on the snow. So here’s the dilemma. It’s winter, you live in a place where it’s virtually impossible to find water to paddle on, but you’re dying to get on your paddle board anyway. Answer this, is there a decent about of snow on the ground (like, say, nearly a foot)? And, are there any decent sized hills nearby? If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, you’re in luck! There is no reason to put your board away for the winter, it’s time to hit the snowy slopes!

 
Check out this San Juan SUP Co. snow sup feature, poaching powder in the  Cortez Journal !

Check out this San Juan SUP Co. snow sup feature, poaching powder in the Cortez Journal!

 

Here at San Juan SUP Co. we are always looking to find new ways to have fun on paddle boards

You’ve probably seen videos and thought, “Sick, I want to try that!” But, you’re not sure where to start. The good news is you’re not alone! I was recently asked by fellow outdoor adventure lover and Instagram follower @backcountrydiva, seven very specific questions about how to snow SUP. Which when I think back, are similar to the questions I had when I started playing around with my paddle board on the snow. Do you have any of the same questions?


Hiking stand up paddle boards to the top of Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray Colorado

1. Do you have a fin on or no fin?
2. My inflatables all have the 2 side fins, do those matter?
3. Do you inflate to max PSI? Or go lower?
4. Do you use your leash? I don’t really want to chase my board down the mountain after I inevitably fall off?
5. Helmets? Seems like a good idea...haha! 
6. When do you bail? Is it a duck and roll kinda thing or snow angel yourself?
7. Any other tips??

 

Before I dive into answering these questions, I’m going to warn, snow SUPing isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a fair amount of physical fitness, is a kick ass cardio workout and one hell of an adrenaline rush! (Please, if you have heart or health conditions, consult your physician before partaking in this physically demanding activity!)

 
Hiking a stand up paddle board to the top of the hill on Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride Colorado
 

Let’s start with the basic gear you will need to in order to SUP on snow:

  • Stand up paddle board (obviously)

  • Paddle (not totally necessary, but will help control steering and speed)

  • Appropriate foot wear (very important)

    • Most basic snow boots (Sorrels, etc…) work best. Anything too stiff (i.e snowboard boots) will throw off your balance and footing, and prevent you from being able to bend and control your board. You’ll want boots with good traction, for hiking purposes and snow on a paddle board is slippery. And you’ll want them to be warm (it’s winter after all).

  • Leash (not necessary, but also helpful)

    • Leashes can be used to help haul your board up hill.

    • A leash also keeps your board from taking off if and when you fall. If your slope fizzles out into a flat area, ends in shrubs or another hill and isn’t going to slide too far, you’re probably fine. If you fall or bail prematurely however, the board will keep going and you will end up chasing after it, which is not a lot of fun after you’ve spent all that work hiking up. Or if you’re worried about the board going somewhere you don’t want it to (like say onto a road, a crowd, or off a cliff…) you will want to keep the board attached to you.

 
Stand up paddle board snow SUP with dogs in the San Juan Mountains on Lizard Head Pass near Telluride Colorado
 

The next most important aspect is where to snow SUP:

  • What is the perfect slope? This was probably the hardest thing to find. Keep in mind, we’ve only tried snow SUPing on powder and haven’t attempted it on hard packed snow. Also, we’ve only ever ridden inflatable SUP boards and have not yet tried snow supping on hard boards.

    • What we discovered was that if a slope was too steep, it was hard to get up and stay on the board. Paddle boards get going pretty fast on snow, and speed combined with the slippery aspect made it difficult to stay on. In regards to slope angle, safety is #1! It’s important to remember, if you’re in the back country, stay away from avalanche prone terrain and slopes that are 25 degrees or more.

    • Visa versa, slopes that weren’t steep enough made it impossible to get moving. Though it is possible to push along with your paddle, it’s not that much fun.

    • Also, for the sake of not damaging you or your board, try to stick to hills that you know are covered in grass.

    • Our conclusion was to find a slope that is similar in angle to our favorite childhood sledding hills! Or, if you’re relating it to ski slopes, this would be your steeper green run… A 15 to 20-ish degree slope is perfect, depending on how fast you want to go.

    • Lastly, we discovered temperature plays a big role in whether or not your SUP board will slide. A warm day with fresh snow on a sunny slope will cause the snow to stick to your board, preventing you from going anywhere. Go on a cooler day or wait for the temps to drop a bit and you’ll be good to slide!

 

To answer a few more personal preference things, back to the original seven snow SUP questions:

Snow SUP on Lizard Head Pass near Telluride Colorado

1. Do you have a fin on or no fin?

This is a personal preference. Both SJSC ambassador Christianna Maurer and I ride Hala Gear boards that just so happen to have removable fins. I choose to remove all of my fins and Christianna chooses to leave her stomp box fin in (because it’s retractable,) as well as her 1” side river fins. What we’ve found is that without fins, I go quite a bit faster, but she has more control over her speed and going straight. If you must/choose to use fins, only do so if the snow is soft and deep enough otherwise you risk damage to your board.

2. My inflatables all have the 2 side fins, do those matter?

Just make sure the snow is deep and that there are no stumps/rocks that could damage your fins and board.

3. Do you inflate to max PSI? Or go lower?

In all honesty, I don’t actually know what my board is currently inflated to. I haven’t touched a pump since winter began, which back then it was inflated to max capacity from last summer, minus any it’s gone down over winter. I’d say the stiffer the better!

4. Do you use your leash? I don’t really want to chase my board down the mountain after I inevitably fall off?

Yup. I always wear a leash. It’s a giant pain in the ass to go chasing after a board!

5. Helmets? Seems like a good idea...haha!

This, much like skiing, snowboarding and any other adrenaline sport is personal preference. Helmets are always a great idea! Especially if you’re near trees or know there are hidden stumps or rocks below.

6. When do you bail? Is it a duck and roll kinda thing or snow angel yourself?

Knowing when to bail is a personal preference that depends on the slope, speed and obstacles. In the case of our favorite hill, if we don’t stop, we’d keep going, right out into Highway 145. Other times I’ve had to bail to avoid running into bushes. How is really up to you, but I tend to fall/bail more like how you’re supposed to fall into a river, more like when surfing...as flat as possible so my feet don’t hit anything under the snow.

7. Any other tips??

Be prepared for a HIKE! Like, a wicked serious workout. Water is a good idea! The deeper the snow and the longer the hill, the harder the hike, but the more worth it the run will be!

Also, it’s easier to keep your grip on the board if you stand with one foot bracing on the rear deck pad kick (like river surfing) and the other right up against the center handle to keep your foot from sliding forward.

It’s really just like with sledding, basically that’s all it is! Think of stand up paddle boarding on snow as the funnest over sized sled you’ve ever ridden! Why isn’t everybody doing it?

Oh yeah, it’s more fun with friends..and dogs!

 
 
 
A little liquid courage never hurts! Thank you for warming our bones and giving us the courage to take on adventures  Telluride Distilling Company !

A little liquid courage never hurts! Thank you for warming our bones and giving us the courage to take on adventures Telluride Distilling Company!

 
 

We are determined to grow the sport of #snowsup as a new favorite winter activity throughout Colorado! So dust off your boards, get out there, have fun and don’t forget to share your adventures by tagging #sanjuansupco!

 
 
Stand up paddle board snow SUP wipe out in the San Juan Mountains on Lizard Head Pass near Telluride Colorado