Seas and Summits

By Eric Davis

snowboarding on a sand dune

The wind is crisp, cold, and churning up a cloud of snow in the distance. The ground beneath my feet is a familiar crunch. My snowboard is cinched up in my backpack, out for the first time in too long. I’ve always been driven to see what’s around the next bend, to make it to the summit of every hike. That’s the drive that is pushing me up this coastal sand dune.

view of the snowy oregon coast

Sand dune? At a beach? This dune overlooks the ocean on the Oregon Coast—the 45th parallel to be exact—a spot that’s usually temperate year-round. We are located halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The conditions are usually good and ideal for most outdoor recreational activities; from sea-kayaking and paddle-boarding, to surfing, and even sandboarding. For me, having come from a snowboarding background, trying sandboarding was a must.

Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City is a spot to practice all things beach, from the Pacific Ocean to the top of the Great Dune. This area is also a photographer’s dream spot and a stop on the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Haystack Rock prominently sits a mile offshore, greeting everyone who makes their way off the beaten path to stop and enjoy the views.

hiking to top of sand dune to snowboard

Every once in a while, though, it does get cold enough here to freeze. We’ve seen the rain turn local roads into ice skating rinks. But on this rare early morning, there was snow! I’ve always wanted to snowboard the Great Dune at Cape Kiwanda, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before it happened. I was immediately motivated to gear up before first light, head over, and start the hike. It was around the freezing point, but it was a crisp and refreshing morning. I made it up the 240-foot dune prior to sunrise, jammed my snowboard upright through the inch of snow (and further into the soft sugar sand), and said to myself, “That’s all I need.”

There was a top layer of fresh powder over the beautifully wind-sculpted terrain. I grabbed my camera, knowing I’d need the photos later to prove this was all real. The landscape was both battered and breathtaking, and the sun was starting to paint everything in early morning pastels.

oregon coast coated in snow

Just then, a dog climbed over the top of the Great Dune on one side and approached me. After giving him a few pats on his head, I heard a whistle, and he took off running towards his human. I could not believe my eyes: it was another snowboarder! We didn’t know each other at all, but loved sharing the excitement at this once-in-a-decade phenomenon. We shared a few laughs, a fist bump, and said, “See ya in 10 years.” I snapped a photo of him and his dog shredding down the south-facing slope, and that was the last time we saw each other. I had to hike back up and get in a couple more runs, try snowboarding different routes, and enjoy the moment in nature’s terrain park before the sun would melt it all away in the next few hours.

Mount Hebo is less than a half-hour drive from this beach spot. It is a mountain with a high-enough elevation to have a good amount of snow in winter. But, for anyone looking for a bit of backcountry coastal snowboarding, Cape Kiwanda’s Great Dune is a fantastic place to learn to ride without leaving the coast, and from up top, you have a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Seas and summits; truly the best of both worlds.

Photos courtesy of Eric Davis.

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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Volume 35: March/April 2023.

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