A new wild ride | AspenTimes.com

A new wild ride

Gary Pera, front, and his son, Jamal, who operate Aspen Seals, take a wild ride over Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork River while whitewater sledging Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

This article was originally published June 4, 2005.Gary Pera wants you to know that whitewater sledging is not dangerous.The sport, which offers a thrilling, up-close view of rapids as you cling to a board, or sledge, is actually the safest of all river-running activities, Pera said. The Woody Creek resident runs Aspen Seals with his son, wife and a handful of guides.”It’s actually the safest whitewater sport in the world,” he said. “No one has actually died of this sport. You might get a bang or a bruise, like you do in rafting or kayaking.”

The sport is popular in his native New Zealand and across Europe. Pera said Aspen Seals opened three years ago and was the first commercial sledging business in the United States. An immediate goal was to spread the word about what whitewater sledging entails.Aspen Seals provides full instructions on what participants will face when they hit the foam. Also included are a helmet, wetsuit, flippers, life jacket and other requisite equipment.”It’s a new sport that no one knows about,” Pera said. “Educating the American public that, hey, this is a fun and very safe sport to do, that’s obviously one of my challenges here.”

Whitewater sledging differs from the similar sport of river boarding just as canoeing is similar to, but different from, kayaking, he said.The sport’s origins grew out of World War II, when French troops used small boards to carry arms and equipment up and down rivers. Whitewater sledging has evolved a great deal over the years and now is popular enough in Europe that rafting companies offer it as an option.Pera said he is certified as a sledging instructor in New Zealand. Here, he has permits to sledge extreme Class V stretches on the Roaring Fork and Arkansas rivers.Business is starting to pick up, Pera said, as more people check out the Aspen Seals website and advertising increases.

After making a reservation, the only things one needs are a swimsuit, towel and a “go for it attitude,” he said.And the sport is certainly not reserved for the valley’s younger set. Noting the healthiness of Aspen’s older population, Pera said he took a 72-year-old down the Roaring Fork last summer.He said now is the perfect time to try the sport out. The Roaring Fork’s flows increased recently, and it’s currently at “just the perfect level.”Interested? For more on whitewater sledging, call Aspen Seals at 618-4569 or visit http://www.aspenseals.comChad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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