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Searching for Snowkiting's Secret Stash

Oct 11, 2007

Author: Aaron Sales

Finding kiteboarding locations on the water has been relatively easy. Windsurfers did most of the work. They found beaches worldwide with ideal launching and landing areas and consistent wind. Finding the perfect snowkiting locations, on the other hand, has proven to be more difficult since the only people we share the locations with are icefishermen, farmers and snowmobilers. It has taken a pioneering effort to find the locations we currently ride, but as the scene has grown, there are more people finding places with smooth wind and bottomless powder, and word is spreading fast. North America has an unlimited amount of snow-covered land in the winter that has barely been tapped. And soon you could be making fresh tracks across it all.

How to find the ideal snowkiting location

Wide-open, snow-covered areas free of obstacles are the main things to look for. The most common locations are frozen lakes, farm fields, state parkland and gradually rolling terrain. Generally, the bigger the area, the better it is, with as few obstacles in your riding location as possible. Look for obvious hazards downwind of you such as rocks, trees, cliffs, powerlines and roads. But keep in mind, there could be hidden hazards, like barbed-wire fences, just below the snowline.
Once you’ve spotted what looks to be a sweet snowkiting spot, make sure it has steady wind. The longer the wind has to travel without encountering a terrain feature, the smoother it will be. If you plan on riding a frozen lake that has tall trees along its perimeter, ride in the middle to downwind side of the lake. Reading the wind on snow can be harder than on water since you don’t have any references such as whitecaps and gust lines. However, it’s still possible to read the wind on land. Wind travels over land in a similar way that water flows down a river. When water runs into a rock in the middle of a river, the water bounces off to either side and creates turbulence on the backside of the rock.
Try to imagine how a 30-metre wall of water would flow through the area you’re going to ride. How would it flow over the mountain upwind of you? Through the canyon, or over the trees? If you think the wind will flow smoothly and you have plenty of room to ride, you only have one more issue: permission.
Veteran snowkiter Alex Peterson once said, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” This generally applies to parkland or locations where there is no one around to ask. Frozen lakes are usually fair game, and it’s rare to run into someone in the backcountry who doesn’t think what you’re doing is pretty cool.
One bit of advice when checking out farm land: farmers have big guns, and they’re not afraid to use them. Definitely ask for permission; chances are they will let you ride. You might even get a hot apple cider or home-cooked meal from Farmer John at the end of your session.

Riding in the backcountry

As you become more comfortable with snowkiting and your skills progress, mountainous terrain can become appealing. It’s hard to beat the feeling of riding the face of a powder-covered mountainside. Skiers and snowboarders are trained to think that riding downhill is the only way to go. With the right wind, snowkiting allows you to ride downhill, across the hill, and even uphill at mach speeds.
I used to dream of snowkiting to the top of the mountain, packing it away, and making fresh tracks all the way back down. Many of us have found it’s equally fun to ride downhill with your kite by putting it in a neutral position much like you would when kiting in the waves. This way the action never stops for endless face shots.
A general rule of thumb when riding in the backcountry: never ride farther than you’re willing to hike out. You don’t want to get caught in a situation where the wind dies and you must pack your gear through a mile of two-foot-deep powder. This can take hours if you’re not packing snowshoes. Some of the more serious backcountry kiteskiers are using Randonee gear, which allows them to lock their heel down to kiteski and free their heel to tour out. Snowboarders can pack snowshoes or have the option of using a splitboard. Splitboards are snowboards that are cut down the centre of the board lengthwise. They use regular snowboard bindings with a pin that frees the heel and can be used like skis to travel long distances, then put back together to ride like a regular snowboard for kite-snowboarding.
The stakes are raised when snowkiting in the mountainous backcountry, so be prepared. It’s only recommended to ride the mountains if you’re an advanced snowkiter riding with an experienced partner. Be aware that you are now dealing with a three-dimensional sport and you need to understand that your kite is a wing. On big terrain, that wing can be a quick recipe for flight and is not advised for the newbie snowkiter. Make sure you pack plenty of food, water, sunscreen, extra clothes, a cellphone or radio, and a first-aid kit. Remember, safety first. Once all your bases are covered, snowkiting in the mountains can take adventure to a whole new level.
The more you search for snowkiting locations, the better you get at choosing the good ones. You might even find yourself scouting locations in the summer and thinking to yourself, If that hill only had snow. Sometimes you come back six months later and it’s perfect. If you find a local spot that works, claim it and name it, then spread the word.

North America’s Top Snowkite Destinations

Georgetown Lake, Montana
Georgetown Lake is the first snowkite destination resort in America offering a 10-room lodge with hot tub, full-time snowkite lesson centre, and a Montana-style restaurant and bar with gambling. The lake freezes in mid-November and is frozen through April. This is great beginner/intermediate location, but also offers a small hill to play on and has amazing backcountry terrain on the continental divide just 30 minutes away. On non-windy days Discover Ski Resort boasts some of Montana’s driest powder. The Georgetown Lake Lodge is home to the annual Montana Snowkite Rodeo, featuring free demos, free snowkite clinics, kiter-cross racing, and a railslide/freestyle expression session, Feb. 17-20, 2006. Georgetown Lake is located 10 miles north of Anaconda, Montana.
For more info, contact Keith Kallio at Montana Kite Sports, montanakitesports@yahoo.com, (406) 461-5302, or georgetownlakelodge.us, (406) 563-7020.

Tahoe, California
Tahoe has it all: record-breaking snowfall, picturesque scenery, flat terrain for learning, big-mountain terrain for advanced riders, and everything in between. The Kirkwood region on Tahoe’s south shore hosts the majority of sick riding locations, with five unique spots accessible by car. There are cheap flights into Reno, with an hour-long drive up to the casino resorts where there are free drinks, $5 prime-rib dinners and topless Vegas dancers. From the casinos, follow the signs to Kirkwood. Halfway there you will enter Hope Valley, offering three different flat riding locations with some small terrain features to use as kickers. This is your best bet to ride beginner/intermediate terrain. Continue heading up the pass. Just before you get to Kirkwood at the top of the pass, there is a turnout called Red Lakes Ridge. Park there and load up your backpack for a 20-minute hike to the top of the ridge for Tahoe’s best snowkiting. At the top of the ridge, your view opens to another ridgeline with over 1,000 feet of vertical terrain and the area’s most predictable wind. It’s a good idea to contact the local shop before heading up to find the best location of the day.
For more info, contact Graham Sanders at Lake Tahoe Kiteboarding, ltkb.com, (866) 359-5852.

Skyline Drive, Utah
This is North America’s best snowkiting location. Where else can you drive to over 9,000 feet, rig right next to your car and snowkite more than eight months out of the year? Skyline has a variety of different terrain, from flats to gradually sloping hills to big-mountain slopes. The wind usually blows straight up the mountain, making it perfect to explore the mile-long ridgetop in any direction. At the top of the ridge lie some hills perfect for learning to ride. Skyline has an assortment of natural features shaped like perfectly groomed X Games kickers for amazing freestyle sessions. Skyline is an hour-and-a-half south of Provo, so plan on staying in Fairview or Mount Pleasant, which is 20 minutes from the riding site. Once you reach Skyline Drive there are no facilities, so bring a lunch and be ready to ride all day.
For more info, contact Brian Schenck at Windzup, (435) 462-5303, or Ryan Allen at X Nation, 1-800-688-2802.

Skyline Snowkite Summit December 7-9th, 2007


Kite Island, Minnesota
Minnesota’s huge winter snowkiting scene has much to do with its 10,000 frozen lakes. Kite Island is one of many locations, but it seems to be the centralized spot since it has steady wind, is just 10 minutes outside of Minneapolis, and you can ride five miles in any direction. Kite lessons are available, and there is even a greenhouse, the Slingshack, built for warming up and hanging out. Minnesota has little vertical terrain, so new-school kiters are pushing the freestyle scene by building snowkite parks filled with railslides and kickers.
For more info, contact Larry Freeman at Scuba Center, scubacenter.com, (612) 925-4818, or Jason Jones at Minnesota School of Kiteboarding, kitemn.com, (866) 502-8200.

Other top snowkiting locations
Sanitarium, Colorado (Breckenridge)
Mammoth, California
Madison, Wisconsin
Pemberton Icecap, BC (Whistler backcountry)
Fairfield, Idaho (Sun Valley)
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Park City, Utah
Burlington, Vermont
Mt. Hood, Oregon
Keswick, ON

International spots
Geilo, Norway
Snow Farm, New Zealand
Semnoz, France

Shortly after writing this article for us, Aaron Sales took a job editing Kiteboarding Mag. It's OK, we still talk to him.

Photo by Richard Hallman



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