I learned to snowkite to get away from the crowds and into the mountains. Yes, I could have strapped on some skins and hiked, or simply dropped under the ropes from the top of a lift.
But 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 that it could be worth the hassle, given only a few days each year in the mountains.
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, forget buying a lift pass and just tackle it head on.
First attempts at snowkiting
My first 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 keen to show us the ropes.
The four of us were all good kitesurfers so the kite skills shouldn’t have been a problem. We hiked up from the refuge about 100m and set up. The wind was only 4-5 knots – not enough to be of any use on water – but our guide was excited.
He promptly set us straight by making steady, but sure, progress up the slope in front of us…and out of sight – first myth busted; you hardly need any wind for this sport!
How difficult is snowkiting?
So, 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 four-day trip, all four of us (two on snowboards and two on skis) were happily making 500m vertical ascents, before packing them up and making fresh turns in untracked slopes back down.
And this was all on a beautiful high-pressure sunny week in March with the wind never touching more than 10 knots!
Advice for beginners
What if you haven’t done any kiting? Well, the good news is that in its basic form, snowkiting is probably the easiest kite sport.
To make things easier, I’d recommend you get reasonably proficient at basic kite flying. 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!
Option 1: Do-it-yourself
If you are a kitesurfer and have good skills and have a go-for-it attitude then get yourself a snowkite and head to a recognised snow kite venue – don’t try to just tack it onto a normal ski trip.
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 skis or board off.
Option 2: Go to a Snowkite School
If you haven’t kitesurfed before you should get some basic lessons first. There are several good snowkite schools all over the Alps, Norway and North America which can make learning the sport quick, easy and safe.
You’ll be a snowkiting convert…
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 finding a nice spot to drop your kite, packing it down quickly into your backpack before descending back down again for another adventure.
It’s 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 100km long day trips around the plateaux of Norway to massive jumps before gliding serenely back down with 1-2 minute flight times.
Beware though the high-altitude kite jumps, which are only for the pros - as I was once told by a lunatic American whose 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 snowkiting
My best day on a snow kite was ascending almost 1000m vertically to an area called Les Trois Eveches.
It was a pretty busy day for snowkiting with about twenty kiters 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 looped 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.
Eric Bridge is owner of Edgewatersports