Snowkiting fuses the wind power of kites with the dynamic thrill of snowboarding and skiing. However, this exciting combination does not come without risks. Heads, knees and backs are vulnerable, particularly when riding at speed or performing tricks. So it’s very important to use suitable safety gear for snowkiting.
We don’t want to sound like mum but… A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (AJSM) followed 80 snowkiters and catalogued their injuries. It found that for every 2,000 hours of snowkiting, seventeen injuries occurred. This is a high injury rate even amongst extreme sports and demonstrates the risks snowkiters face each time they go out.
The answer is to wear the correct safety gear when you’re out snowkiting on the slopes, glacier or lake. For this article we have assumed that you have the correct snowkiting gear (kite, harness, snowboard/skis etc) and that you will be dressed appropriately for the conditions. This is so we can concentrate on talking about the safety gear for snowkiting that will help you avoid injury in a crash.
According to the AJSM, most snowkiters wear helmets and they credited this with the relatively low number of serious head injuries. With a high risk of falling and crashing it would be ridiculous not to protect your head. Brands like Bolle, POC and Uvex make durable and stylish helmets suitable for both snowkiting and other winter sports, High Octane Sport stock them all so see what’s available.
In Europe ski and snowboard helmets have to meet CEN 1077 standard, in the US the equivalent is ASTM F2040. However snowkiting potentially leads to bigger airs and so bigger falls. If you are into snowkiting for the tricks and plan to be getting big air then go for a helmet that exceeds these standards. You may pay a little more but what price do you put on your head?
Torsos and backs are at high risk of injury, especially if you’re trying out tricks or riding around obstacles. During collisions and falls padded impact vests can help to prevent cracked ribs, bruising and muscular impact. Removable or modular vests or full body armor allow you to adjust the level of protection and freedom movement you have. There are a number of brands, including Demon Snow and Salomon, suitable for most snow sports.
Back protection is especially important, with a third of snowkiting injuries occurring to riders’ backs. This is often caused due to the difficulty of breaking backward falls. There are a few different types of back protector styles, including those offering specific muscular support against over extension and strain. However, some impact vest and body armor styles come with inbuilt back support too. Brands like Slytech offer a selection to suit most needs.
As well as the upper half of the body, the lower section needs looking after too. Bum pads, impact shorts or crash pants – whatever you call them – are essential to protect your coccyx and hips when snowkiting on ice, less important when in Powder. Impact shorts are especially useful for beginners – as you’re going to spend a lot of time on your backside. Ask any experienced kiter and they’ll tell you it’s well worth investing in a pair. Most skiing or snowboarding brands like Forcefield, Demon or Burton will be suitable for snowkiters too.
Knees and elbows can be in for some punishment, so pads are highly recommended to help limit bruising particularly when riding on ice or thin snow, in deep powder they are less important. The knee and elbow joints can also suffer more serious injuries which can put you out of action for a while, some knee pads offer support to help reduce the likelihood of strains and tears.
Knee and elbow protection ranges from lightweight and flexible to hardcore braces designed to stop over extension, the latter are particularly good for people with dodgy knees. Specialist winter sports brands like Black Diamond are great but some riders use motorcycle pads or even floorer’s pads, like those available from your local hardwear store.
If you are snowkiting in the mountains, or anywhere with slopes of 30 to 50 degrees, then you need to be aware of the risk of avalanches. You should have the same avalanche safety equipment as if you were snowboarding off-piste. Meaning a transceiver, probe and shovel are the bare minimum. In addition to this an avalanche airbag is well worth the investment.
Snowkiters can cover vast distances in a day. And when you’re on a glacier or frozen lake there are always dangers of crevasses and cracked ice. So, if you want to avoid having a ‘127 Hours’ or ‘Touching the Void’ film made about you, always carry a two-way radio. At the very least take your fully charged mobile and ensure where you are riding has phone reception.
When collisions and falls happen lines can often get tangled, or wrapped around a tree. Usually you’ll be able to get free but it’s a good idea to have a knife for the rare times you can’t. Getting stuck out on the ice is no joke.
When snowkiting on a snowboard then a pair of snowshoes are very handy in case the wind stops blowing, or you have a problem with your kit and you have to hike out. If you snowkite on skis then touring skis will mean you have an exit strategy. Although this is less important if you are on ice or in an area with easy access.
It probably goes without saying – but we will say it anyway – you should always snowkite with a buddy, you should know the area, or if exploring take a GPS, compass, maps etc to ensure you can get home. The sport does come with risks so it’s important to wear the right safety gear for snowkiting, but if you are kitted out correctly for the conditions and your style of snowkiting then you’ll be in for a blast.