An introduction to Snowkiting By Eric Bridge
For getting away from the crowds and into the mountains you have a few choices, you could strap on some skins and hike your way out there. You could get yourself and a couple of mates up there in a skidoo or you could do it the easiest way and drop off under the ropes from the top of a lift.
A couple of years ago I found another way – using a kite to pull me into the backcountry and away from the crowds. I had read a lot about snowkiting but never really felt, given only a few days each year in the mountains, that it could be worth the hassle. However, after a couple of abortive attempts trying to combine it with a traditional ski trip, I decided that I needed to give it one more go and this time forget buying a lift pass and just tackle it head-on.
My first real attempts were made at the Col De Lautaret which sits midway between La Grave and Serre Chevalier in the southern Alps. We arranged to stay at the mountain refuge just on the east side of the Col. As it turned out the owner of the refuge had also just started snowkiting and was dead keen to show us the ropes. The 4 of us were all good kitesurfers so the kite skills shouldn’t have been a problem so we hiked up from the refuge about 100m and set up our kites. Our French guide started to get excited, so we watched him bemused, as to us kitesurfers the 4-5 knots of breeze didn’t constitute any sort of useable wind, or so we thought. He promptly set us straight by making slow but sure progress up the incline in front of us… and out of sight – first myth busted; you hardly need any wind for this sport.
So not wishing to be left looking stupid we raced to launch the kites and get after him. So, to answer the next question, how difficult is it? Well if you already can ski or snowboard and have a good set of kite skills from either land-based powerkiting or Kitesurfing, putting the two together is really pretty easy. At the end of our 4-day trip, all 4 of us (2 on boards and 2 on ski’s) were happily making 500m vertical ascents with our kites packing them down and making fresh turns in untracked slopes back down. To say we were stoked with this would be an understatement! And this was all on a beautiful high-pressure sunny week in March with the wind never touching more than 10 knots!
What if you haven’t done any kiting? (I am presuming you can ski or board to a good standard). Well, the good news is in its basic form, snowkiting is probably the easiest kite sport. To make things easy for yourself you need first to get yourself reasonably proficient at basic kiteflying. All you need for this is any sort of kite but best is a small ram air kite like an Ozone imp. Then get flying it on your local beach, football pitch or snowfield. Your aim is to get to a level where you can fly the kite without concentrating on it. For example when chatting with someone or getting something out of your pocket or just not really looking at the kite but feeling where it is in the sky. Get used to looping the kite multiple times left and right and become confident flying the kite with crossed lines. Now you are set to go snowkiting.
You then have 2 options; either
- Get yourself a snow kite and just get yourself to a recognised snow kite venue – don’t try to just tack it onto a normal ski trip. Then get stuck in
- Go to a snow kite school for some lessons.
If you are a kitesurfer and have good skills and have a go for it attitude then I would go for the first option. Buy a new or secondhand snow kite such as an Ozone Access or Frenzy. If you weigh under 70kg go for a 9sqm, if heavier choose an 11 or 12 sqm kite. Use your own kite judgement to choose a nice open reasonably flat area and give it a go. Make sure you know how the safety works on your kite before launching and practice packing the whole thing up and down without taking your ski’s or board off.
If you haven’t kitesurfed before you need really to get yourself some basic lessons first. There are a number of good snowkite schools all over the Alps, Norway and North America all of which can make learning the sport quick, easy and safe.
From there on I would be surprised if you did not become a convert to this amazing sport! Imagine cruising serenely up slopes of blue and red run steepness with just your kite and a light breeze pulling you up. Then find a nice spot to drop your kite, down pack it quickly into your backpack before descending back down again for another adventure. Its funny, but for me, the most exciting part is planning your route up the mountain and then making it happen.
Once you get this sorted there is so much more you can do with the kite – from 100 km long day trips around the plateaus of Norway to massive jumps gliding serenely back down with up to 1-2 minute flight times.
Beware though these high altitude kite jumps are really only for the pro’s as I was once explained by a lunatic American who’s speciality was low proximity speed flying. I asked him how his kite jumping was and he told me that he didn’t do that, it was just too dangerous!!
My best day on a snow kite was ascending almost 1000m vertically with my kite from the col to an area called Les Trois Eveche. It was a pretty busy day for snowkiting with about 20 snowkiters making the trip to this playground in the peaks of the alps with no crowds or noise just a little whir from your kite as it loops through the wind. And with so many amazing places around the alps and the world to explore by kite
you should never lack a challenge again.
An introduction to Snowkiting
By Eric Bridge, Kitesurf Examiner and owner – Edgewatersports