If sandboarding is somewhat already established – or at least, widely practiced – as a sport, sand skiing could very well become the next big thing after Swedish olympic freeskiers Jesper Tjäder and Emma Dahlström filmed themselves with a GoPro while skiing down Cerro Blanco, Peru’s tallest sand dune. 

As part of the Amazon Associate and eBay Partner Programme, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Man sand skiing
Sand-skiing. Photo courtesy of Martin GH.

What is sand skiing

As the name suggests, sand-skiing is the practice of skiing on sand dunes, generally on beach or desert terrains. It can be practiced with regular ski gear such as ski poles, or with a cable ski setup while being carried by a vehicle, similar to waterskiing. It is different from sand dune surfing mainly in the type of equipment used (sandskis instead of sandboards).

Can you ski on sand?

Skiing on sand is totally doable! Like sandboarding and sand sledding, you will likely need to apply sand wax to the bottom of your ski poles in order to reduce friction. Sand has a dynamic coefficient friction of 0.55 compared to snow’s 0.03, which makes it almost 20 times less slippery compared to snow. You will damage your skis if you use them on dry sand without proper waxing, so make sure not to skip this essential step. 

Sand skiing vs snow skiing

There are two different ways you can practice sand skiing: sliding down a dune (sand dune skiing), or cable skiing across the land (desert skiing). The former is virtually the same as sandboarding, except practiced with a pair of skis instead of a board. As long as your equipment is properly waxed, sliding on sand shouldn’t feel too different from sliding on snow – except that you won’t be wearing heavy winter clothes. Desert skiing with a rope will feel more similar to water skiing except that you won’t get wet, but rather covered in sand. Sand kite surfing also often makes use of skis paired with a kite and the power of wind to move you across soft sand.

Desert skiing is practiced with a cable attached to an off-road vehicle. Photo courtesy of Olivier Lepetit.

Is sandskiing dangerous?

There have been many reports of people having sandboarding accidents and even dying, sand skiing poses the same risks. Whenever you go ski on sand dunes, make sure to follow local instructions, wear proper clothing and double check that your travel insurance covers sand skiing. We recommend the insurance from WorldNomads.com, which covers a wide range of activities and extreme sports on sand.

Where can you ski on sand dunes

The aforementioned Huacachina oasis in Peru is easily one of the best spots for sand skiing (and any sand related activity, really). That said, Namibia can possibly be considered the capital of sand skiing, it is there – on the dunes of Swakopmund, that the current Guinness World Record holder for faster sand-skiing got his achievement. Other locations where sand skiing is practiced are Monte Kaolino in Germany – the only sport facility in the world dedicated to sand skiing – and in the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. In the US, the man-made Sand Mountain near Fort Meade in Florida used to be a popular sand skiing spot in the 50s that unfortunately does not exist anymore. Pretty much any other location where sand surfing and sledding are practiced is also suitable for sand skiing, and some people even attempted skiing on active volcanoes.

Man sand skiing on Monte Kaolino, Germany. Photo courtesy of Skinarr.

History of sand skiing

The earliest recorded attempt at sand skiing dates back to 1927 when French athlete and military aviator Marie Marvingt created special aluminum skis for an experimental medevac airplane to land in the Sahara desert. Some time later, she started a ski school in Morocco, advocating for the use of aluminum skis on sand dunes. More recently, German-born athlete Henrik May popularized the practice of dune-skiing in the country of Namibia, while at the same time the sport started trending across the United States, particuarly at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Sand skiing equipment

Most regular skis aren’t really suitable for sliding down sand dunes, but they can still be used with a few modification or by applying a healthy dose of sand wax before hitting the dune. Henrik May, who entered the Guinness World Record book for fastest skiing on sand in 2010, used a pair of HEAD skis with plenty of applied wax. Keep in mind that sand skiing can ruin your skis, so it’s best to use an old pair you don’t care too much about (or that needs a good sanding). The base of your ski will end up getting smoothed at every ride, wearing off gradually. The best way to slow down this process is to get your hands on a sand ski built with a laminated base that will resist sanding.

Where to buy sand skis

Metal Laminate Skis for Sand



Volkl 2021 Mantra 102 Skis


K2 Mindbender 99 Ti Skis 2021


Nordica 2021 Enforcer 94 Skis


Kastle 2019 MX 99 Skis

Sand skiing is still a very new and niche activities and you will have a hard time finding sand skis for either rent or sale. You can make your own sand skis by adding a layer of Formica or similar laminate material at the bottom of an old pair of wooden skis (mind that this won’t prevent your skis from wearing out eventually, but it will make sliding much easier on sandy terrains). Sandboard wax still needs to be applied before every ride.


Intrigued? Check out Jesper Tjäder and Emma Dahlström’s awesome adventure skiing down Cerro Blanco:


Sources:

History Proves Skiers Will Ski on Anything — Especially Sand by Jeff Blumenfeld. Skiing History, March-April 2021.

Leave a Reply