The temperature was 9 degrees with a windchill well below zero at Glendo State Park and a couple sets of tracks lead back to its boat launch at the reservoir.
That’s right, someone is running a boat on the semi-frozen reservoir in the middle of winter as a massive deep freeze was beginning to set in this past week. Water, ice or a mixture of both, it doesn’t matter. The airboat can handle it all.
Even so, for Mike Cushman and wife Julie, it was still a good day to rev up the 550-horsepower GM engine to 5,000 rpm on their 24-foot enclosed and heated airboat. They were about to accelerate out onto 15,000 acres of snowy and frozen waters.
“It’s just a giant ice skate,” Cushman said about running a custom airboat on a frozen Wyoming lake in January. “It’s built for cold weather.”
As to the conditions on this particular ride, the longtime rancher has seen worse.
“It seems like we’re getting a soft attitude about a lot of this stuff,” he said. “If you are going to live in Wyoming, you have to be able to take the weather and roll with it.”
Roaring Into Winter
The Cushman’s new business, 307 Airboat Adventures, is rolling and roaring in the new year offering Wyoming residents and visitors a new take on places that previously might not have been on anyone’s bucket list during the cold months.
But their plan is to make their seven- to eight-person craft available in every season.
“We are just going to take people out on an adventure,” Cushman said. “If they want to catch up with us or let us know when they will be at a particular reservoir or even on the river, we’ve run North Platte River or Boysen Reservoir or Glendo Reservoir. We are going to be in Seminoe, Pathfinder.
“Open water and ice, doesn’t matter — ice is more fun. We can just run out on ice 50 mph across a big bay of ice and have a lot of fun.”
Cushman, 62, who in addition to ranching also owns a trucking company, said he launched his airboat adventures as something to prepare for retirement. For those who ride on the boat, they understand why he wants to spend his retirement speeding across the water, frozen or not.
Cushman invited Cowboy State Daily for the ride at Glendo State Park.
Doing 180- and 360-degree turns are part of the operation. There is no reverse, and driving the boat involved Mike Cushman in the front right pilot’s seat. There is an accelerator on the floor, a small instrument panel that indicates speed and rpm of the engine in front of him. A lever next to the pilot seat operates a pair of rudders positioned behind the four blades that produce the air to propel the craft.
“It’s like a tail rudder on an airplane,” he said. “You move your tail around wherever you want to to point the plane.”
Four Bucket Seats And Bench
In addition to the pilot seat, there are three other bucket seats, and in the back a bench seat. The craft is made cozy by a heavy, canvas-like top that zips closed and allows the heater to keep riders comfortable, despite the blowing winds and snow outside.
Cushman bought the boat out of Montreal, Canada, and said it is similar to the search and rescue boats used in Alaska.
One of the other passengers for the day was Glendo State Park Superintendent Brian Johnson.
“It sounds like something new and different for the park here to have something like this coming in,” he said. “When Mike came to us with the idea, it was something that had never been done before, and we felt like it would bringing a new service to the public and something totally different.”
Johnson said he has never seen an airboat on the reservoir in his years at the park.
Cushman said the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department has a Florida-style airboat, but he was unaware of any other in the state. To operate his boat on the state’s waters he needed a license license from Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Launches From Land Or Water
While the boat operates well on water and ice, Cushman said he could unload and take off in a hayfield or football field as long as he can reduce the friction to get the flat-bottomed craft moving.
“You can transition to ice, or ice to water, or water to land — whatever you want to do,” he said.
Initial response to the business has been “tremendous,” and Cushman said those who tried with maybe a little hesitation have ended up having an “absolute blast with it.”
“We’re just now getting it out across the social networks,” he said, adding that more people are contacting him to schedule trips.
Prices for the adventure vary according to the number of passengers on the ride, Cushman said. One to two passengers is $200 an hour, three-to four is $250, and five to seven can ride for $50 a person.
“We have to have a flat fee in there in case just one or two people want to ride,” he said. “If we fill the boat up, we’ve got extra weight, that’s why the rate has to go up a little bit to offset the weight and wear and tear on the machine.”
“People love recreation and Wyoming is an outdoor state,” he said. “So, what better way to get out and on some of the large reservoirs.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.