Culture Cancelled: Sandblast, 1972-2003

This is just silliness.

Twenty years ago, early July 2003, the last Sandblast event took place in Prince George, British Columbia.  It was a summer “skiing” event held annually from 1972 until 2003. It ended after an infamous accident (below the fold), after which insurance companies refused to back the event.

This was sheer lunacy.  Skiing down a steep gravel embankment of sand and gravel that ended on a ditch and a roadway, what was locally called “the cutbanks”.  The link is to google maps.  You can see the effect of the event’s 32 year history on the hillside in the satellite view.

They used old skis, snowboards, bicycles, or (in the final year) furniture, hoping to win prizes (often, a paid trip to and hotel stay in Vancouver) and maybe some bandages.  Some participants dressed for the event in ski clothes, leather, or at least jeans, while the most foolhardy wore little more than t-shirts and shorts.  Amazingly, in 32 years of events, the worst injuries were a few broken bones, “mild” concussions, and countless severe raspberries from bare skin sliding on gravel.

More below the fold.

From the local newspaper:

Whatever happened to Prince George’s Sandblast?

One of the most unique things to happen in Prince George has to be the Sandblast — the annual race down the cutbanks using skis, snowboards, bikes or just about anything.  The Prince George Citizen has unearthed some photos from the mid-2000s and is looking to speak with anyone who was involved with this iconic event to stroll down memory lane to get a first-hand account of what it was really like to participate in the Sandblasts.

But first, here’s what we do know: The Sandblasts eventually became an event where people raced unconventional objects down the cutbanks, but it actually started in 1971 as a summer skiing competition. The first Sandblast saw participants race down the sand on the steep cutbanks using snow skis. The Exploration Place actually has the pair of skis that Bob Nelmes used to win the first-ever Sandblast competition.  Although the Sandblasts are now a relic of a bygone era, memories and old footage of the events resurfaces on the internet once in a while.  YouTube video footage of the final Sandblast event held in 2003 sometimes trends on Reddit. The clip shows a crash, which sent five people to the hospital and ultimately ended the competition.

I was never a skier, I couldn’t afford it and wasn’t reckless enough; I used my mountain bike to do that through trails in the area.  But I did attend and watch a few times.

Warren Miller, the famous skiing filmmaker, came once to film the event.  What else was he going to do in summer?  Clips from the event can be seen in this video from 1:15-1:18, 1:50-2:00, and 2:17-2:22.


Here is the infamous video in question, from a 2008 episode of the TV show, “Destroyed In Seconds”: