Story by Jason Slezak
Photos by Gregg "Tekko" Gnecco
In December 2002, while driving through Wyoming on a windy sub-zero winter night the REAL Kiteboarding Storm Chasers snowkiting tour came to an abrupt end. The truck we were traveling in heading east on Rt. 80 fishtailed out of control due to the black ice and high winds causing the truck to launch end over end before coming to a rest on the snowy shoulder of the road. The crew involved; Kristy Moller, Lew Simmonds, Gregg “Tekko” Gnecco, and myself walked away with a scare and only minor injuries compared to the truck! Subsequently, when Gregg emailed me in November about an early season snow trip I was a both scared and excited about getting back to the snow!
Fast forward exactly five years to 2007 and you have the REAL Kiteboarding/Liquid Force Storm Chasers reunion tour. This time around Tekko and I were joined by Liquid Force kite designer Julien Fillion. Julien is a Québec native and is no stranger to snowkiting. Although he spends most of the year doing R&D on the water, he looks forward to getting on the snow each winter. We were all eager to get the new 2008 Liquid Force kites onto the snow to see how they preformed!
The three of us started our journey in Hood River, Or where we loaded Tekko’s LF snow rig with all the gear and toys that we could fit. Tekko and I sported full quivers of 2008 LF Havoc’s from 6m to 16m and Julien was running with the LF Sessions 6, 9, and 12m’s. After a quick trip to Dakine for the essential snow accessories we hooked up the sled to the truck and headed straight east bound for Philipsburg, Montana. Philipsburg was our first destination due to the already large and quickly growing snowkite community in the area. The local shop, Underground Kite Sports, was organizing a season kick off event at Georgetown Lake, Mt and we were joining them to rip some turns in the snow.
The three of us arrived just in time for the Friday night kick off party for the event in classic roadtrip style . . . just in time for last call! We were welcomed by the local snowkite crew with some strong cocktails and warm smiles. Everyone was buzzing due to the solid snowpack and optimistic forecast. Underground Kite Sports owner, Cole Russell was more than hospitable and provided us with accommodations in the cabin located just behind his shop and house. We were face down and passed out within minutes dreaming of fresh tracks the next day!
Saturday at Georgetown lake was beautiful! The crew gathered early grilling burgers and serving up beer by noon but unfortunately the wind never quite filled in enough to ride for more than five to ten minutes at a time. Julien, Tekko, and I pumped up two 16m and one 14m 2008 LF Havoc’s for the other kiters to tech out on with hopes of riding. Tekko, the forever optimist, insisted that he thought the wind was “coming up” all the way until the sunset. As the last glimmer of light faded away from the distant hills across the lake the temperature plummeted. The entire group of kiters that were still at the lake unanimously agreed that it was time to get somewhere warm, get cleaned up, and gather for the nights festivities. Cole organized another great gathering where we held the Liquid Force raffle stoking many of the attendants with fresh LF swag!
During the evening there were many discussions about Sundays forecast. Georgetown Lake looked to be on the light side again, so we were in search of a plan B. After sitting down with Jacob Buzianis and Billy Bordy from the Best snowkite team and doing some web research a group of us decided to wake up before first light and make the 4 hour trek south to Island Park, Id. Island Park is a popular snowkite spot located a short distance from Yellowstone National Park and boasts the “longest main street in America” and a whopping 33 miles in length!! The great thing about Island Park is that all of the ranchers are required to drop all of their fences in the winter time to allow the snowmobile riders and snowkiters to access all of the land for recreational purposes.
We arrived that day to blowing snow and sunshine, it was on! Julien tossed up his 9m Liquid Force Session and headed off into an untouched field for some fresh tracks. I threw up a 12m Liquid Force Havoc and took off to explore terrain in the distance finding a nice run down cabin to jump and cruise around. I was amazed at the performance of the new kites on the snow! The Union inflation system made for an easy setup and the performance of the SLE relaunch was phenomenal making for a much more enjoyable session than the old four line kites that I had snowkited with in the past. Julien’s designs for Liquid Force excel both on the water and the snow.
By mid-day the wind started to back off and a dozen or so riders packed up and took off. Just as the sun was setting the leading edge of an incoming storm front hit us and the wind picked back up and the snow started flying. The Best snowkite crew broke out their portable rails and we setup for a fun rail session in the dark! Julien, Jake, Billy, and I got into the groove and sessioned the twenty foot flat bar for hours. Props to Jake, Billy, and Best for providing the most fun session of the day.
Our next session came a few days later at the Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area, a short drive outside of Anaconda, Mt. “Haggin”, as the spot is referred to by the local riders, is a snowkite paradise! The area is over 56,000 acres in size with much of the land open to snowkiters. There is every type of riding that you could dream of; windlips, cornices, bowls, hills, flats, roadgaps, valleys, snowdrifted fence lines, the list goes on FOREVER! Also the road in is state maintained and the plow trucks plow parking spots for snowkiters! We sessioned from nine am straight through until dark and then ended the day with a picnic table jib session. The three of us drove away from Haggin with perma grins on our faces. One of the other kiters riding with had a GPS on his arm and recorded doing over FIFTY MILES during his two sessions that day. When conditions for snowkiting are good you can truly ride untracked powder for miles and miles!
As we pulled back into Hood River, Or to end our adventure I was stoked that we had not only bagged many fun sessions and made a bunch of new friends, but that we made it back in one piece with a the truck staying on its wheels the entire time.