Many people have been asking ‘what is snowkiting?’ and when they find out the answer following up with ‘how do I learn to Snowkite?’. The beauty of using kites for sport lies in their adaptability. Attach yourself to a kite, stand or sit on something, add the suffix ‘kiting’ to whatever you’re using and there you go – you’ve got yourself a new sport!
Over the last fifteen years or so since kitesurfing’s genesis in Hawaii, we’ve seen a few examples of this taking off. We’ve had kite-buggying, landkiting, hydrofoil-kiting, stand-up-paddleboard-kiting and a handful of more half baked combinations. Though the one area that really took to the addition of a kite was the world of snowsports.
There are two main forms of snowkiting and, predictably, they correspond to the those two semi-rival groups that occupy the mountains – skiers and snowboarders. The only extras both require to turn them from terrestrial mountain sports to trailblazing kite-related madness is simply a kite and a harness. The rest of the kit just comprises your regular skis or snowboard, plus maybe some additional safety equipment.
Snowkiting can be practised in virtually any snow covered landscape so you could just give it a go on your next snowboarding holiday. From sprawling tundras or icefields that stretch out for miles to generally unexplored areas of mountain ranges, all are made accessible via kite. Even a large city park on a winter afternoon could make for a viable playground. Snowkiting is a remarkably versatile sport and could turn yopur next winter break into one of the best ski holidays.
Originally snowkiters began by using non-inflatable foil kites. Foil kites are not generally used for water based kiting, as once they hit the water they often lose their shape and are near impossible to get back in the air. However, this obviously isn’t as much of an issue on snow. Recently, though, more and more people have used the same kite gear as when heading out to sea.
When learning to snowkite it would be ideal to know both how to kitesurf and also how to ski or snowboard, as the sum of their parts is arguably more difficult than the individual elements.
The kiting is slightly harder on snow for the simple reason that falling is more of an ordeal on hard packed snow or ice than on a nice soft stretch of sea. That being said it is easier to get started on snow as its much easier to stand on that water.
For the snowboarding aspect of snowkiting the difficulty lies in the duel skill aspect. Firstly being pulled off your edge by the upward lift of the kite, while also being sent too far upwind when you do find your edge. Finding that balance is difficult when starting out but is the key to success.
Once you’re up and riding, though, snowkiting offers an astounding level of freedom. Once you’re clipped into your weapon of choice, be it a board or skis, you set off on a nonstop adventure unbound by the usual forces of gravity and limited length of slopes.
A huge flat powder-filled basin, once the preserve of snowmobiles and dogsleds, is now a veritable playground for skiers and riders alike. Some adventurous types have been known to kite up to the top of a mountain, pack away their kites and rip down an untapped virgin-powder run.
Snowkiting is going from extreme to extreme as it develops with all the other kite sports. Now there are kiters crossing huge frozen lakes on multi-day excursions, riders jumping off massive cliff edges, there’s big endurance events and course racing. Not to mention the levels of freestyle riding that’s being explored at the moment.
Snowkiting can take place in a varied selection of terrains and environments. That means that there is a whole lot of countries offering ideal conditions to learn to snowkite. There is some great snowkiting to be found in the areas classically associated with snowsports – the Alpine region of Europe, New Zealand’s south island, the long stretch of the Rockies. But for the more open minded, there are some slightly more off the beaten track destinations to be explored.
The endless snowfields of Greenland, the barren wastes of central Russia or the glacial majesty of an Icelandic winter all offer some fantastic snowkiting. And that really is just the beginning. Snowkiting could bring you to a corner of the world that never entered your mind as a possible destination. For that alone, never mind the many other great reasons, I would strongly recommend stepping out and giving this amazing sport a try.