Just because it’s getting cold doesn’t mean that the kiteboarding season is coming to an end. In fact, a new season is just beginning! Snow kiteboarding and snow kite skiing are great ways to enjoy the sport of kiteboarding once the snow starts falling. All it takes is a little open space and a bit of breeze and you’ll be out there having as much fun as the summer season!
One of the best things about kiteboarding in the snow, whether it be on a snowboard or skis, are all the places you can ride and all the fun you’ll have finding them. While many of the pictures and videos feature mountain riding, some of your best sessions can be riding totally flat terrain. Athletic fields, farm fields, and frozen lakes covered with snow are ideal for kiting in the snow and any or all of these can be found close to home!
The single most important thing when scoping out new riding venues is to look for is clean, steady wind. Stay away from crowded area, buildings, small mountains, etc where the wind is swirling in circles. If you are going to ride on a frozen lake, make sure the ice is thick enough not only to support your weight but also your weight coming down hot from a high jump. You can normally check with local officials as to the thickness of the ice and whether or not it is safe to be out there. If you’re riding fields or parks, stay away from powerlines, trees or objects looking to eat your kites.
Kiteboarding on the snow is easier than riding on the water for several reasons. For one, unless you’re God, you can’t walk on water but you can walk on snow! This makes things a lot easier and more mobile when setting up gear, walking(not swimming) home or setting up kickers and rails for your own park. All of these things can be done on foot, which is far easier than swimming.
For the newbies out there, learning to kiteboard on the snow is easier than water because you don’t sink like in the water and it is much less intimidating. You can use smaller kites to learn since they don’t need to create the power necessary to keep you above the water. The security of being on land combined with the reduced pull of a smaller kite make snowkiteboarding a sport for almost anyone. An added bonus is that everything you learn on the snow translates directly to the water next year. You’ll be amazed how much better you’re riding level will be next spring after a good winter season on the kite.
Many regions pump out far more rideable days on the snow in the winter than on water during the summer. Travel to any place in the northern US or Europe and you’ll find riders who crave the winter season. They know their weekly session count will double or triple due to the fact that you need less wind to ride snow than water. Any breeze that keeps a kite in the air will get you moving on hard packed snow.
Snowkiting has many different riding disciplines for all riders to enjoy. Cruising, long distance, flat terrain riding and jumping, park riding with kickers and rails, powder, and also big mountain riding. For some, the simple act of having a kite pull them on their snowboard or skis can be the thrill of a lifetime. No lift tickets and no lift lines mean instant fun at anytime during the winter. Just pull over to the side of the road, launch your kite, and you’re taking a session. For others, kites can be used to cross Antarctica or jump off the side of a mountain and log close to a minute of airtime ! For the skate rats in the crowd, sliders and kickers are going off big time in this sport. With plenty of open flat terrain out there and some wild imagination, you can only imagine what these park riders will think of to take it to the next level. No wind days are great for building all of the hits and rails. Once the wind fills in, you’ll have your own private terrain park with lift ticket money in your pocket!
“What Works and Why”
Kites: Foils and blimps both work in the snow and both have their positives and negatives. Foils are far more convenient. No pumping means less time from the car to the snow. Just wind your lines out and go. Bridals can be a pain for those who don’t know them. Take the extra time to put them away NEATLY and you won’t have a problem. Foils pack up super small. Three foils take up less space than one blimp, plus you can hike with them and fly wherever without a pump. Foils are far more durable on land and in the snow / cold weather. Foils are easier (and less expensive) for non-kiters to learn on.
Blimps are familiar if you already own some. They work great, but require extra time to pump up and rig. I broke two pumps on one seriously cold day. They just snapped. Beware of the chicken loop on land, because in snowkiting, you’re on land all the time and can get in serious trouble quickly. Use the hard loop as much as you can. Reverse relaunch is the only way to relaunch blimps from the snow. This can be achieved with a 5th line system or reverse bridal system. Pump up your struts inside the house for easier valve use. The valves can get stiff when it’s cold outside. If you choose to use your inflatables on the snow, be careful with them. Kiting on land presents a world of things that can pop your inflatable in a second.
Bars: Simple is good. So is tacky. We stripped the foam grip off of our bars and used hockey tape for better grip with our gloves on. Use a leash to avoid having your kite blow to China when you let it go. Without the friction of water to slow it down, you’ll be hard pressed to catch it when you let it go!
Lines: The same holds true for both water and snow. Long lines create more power and jump better. Short lines are more maneuverable and require less walking through the snow. Short lines may be better for “park” riding because you don’t need lift anyway and they react quicker with less lag and slack. Make sure you don’t run over your friend’s lines when they are lying in the snow, otherwise you may be out a $100. If you see a rider and a kite down, never cross between the two. Metal edges cut lines like butter!
Boards: Any snowboard or skis will do. Go for the snowboard because you can “square off” against the kite and this makes kiteboarding much easier. Even if you have never ridden a snowboard, you will feel at home the first day if you ride a twin tip in the water. Whichever board you choose, make sure you tune it regularly. This is super important because glide and sharp edges are king! Learn how to wax and sharpen your board and do it at least once a week if you ride regularly. This will make the difference between good sessions and epic ones, especially if you ride in lightwinds, or up and down hills.
Board set-up: Center your stance on the length of the board. Most snowboards come set up 1 inch back of center, this means shifting your bindings all the way forward along their “slide”. Run a “duck” stance, you’ll be riding fakie half the time. Make sure you have little or no heel drag. You’ll be on your heelside edge 99% of the time, so boards that are too narrow will become painfully obvious right away. Wider boards are good for fitting your feet on the board without heel drag.
Boots: The lighter and softer, the better. You do a lot of walking when setting up and breaking down, plus building kickers, etc. You don’t need the support you need on the mountain, so the stiff boots are overkill on the kite and suck for walking.
Bindings: Step in’s are nice for getting into with the kite in the air. Any two strap freestyle binding will also work well, often offering more heelside support as a bonus..
Clothes: Dress like you would for chopping wood, not going to the mountain and sitting on chair lifts. You’ll be working hard and having fun the entire time. If you dress too heavy, you’ll sweat yourself into a lather, then freeze solid at the end of the day. I normally run shell pants and jacket with only long underwear beneath them, even down to single digits Fahrenheit. Bring an extra warm insulated jacket, gloves and such for rigging or hanging out after sessions. Sunsets in the winter are very, very cold!
Gloves: Less is more. Waterproof shells are ideal. Any insulation and you will be a sweaty mess. Thin gloves allow you to grip the bar better too without bunched up material.
Water and sunscreen: Consume plenty of both or else you’ll be a dried leather prune by the end of the day, never knowing it was coming!
You’re going to wreck and end up in a wheelchair. You actually have a much better chance of doing this at a lift service mountain. The kite holds you up the air, softening all of the landings. Even in the worst position, straight downwind of you, it makes you slide across the landing surface. You never hit the snow as hard as you do in the park on a mountain. Going back to the mountain makes you feel like you have a cinder block in your pants.
You can only do it in Europe or the big mountains of the western US. Actually, most of the riding we’ve done is in the Midwest and back East. Any wide open area covered with snow works fine. Frozen lakes, athletic fields, farm fields, golf courses, driving ranges, etc. The reason people think you need mountains is because most of the printed pictures come from the mountains. Non-mountain riding is where the sport is going to explode.
You only use small kites in the snow. The majority of wind in the winter is light. Sure, you remember the super windy days, but without hot days and thermal winds, the only solid breeze you get is when the fronts come though and then it nukes. 9 out of 10 days are light and require medium to big kites to ride fully powered up.
Trip Forman has been riding and teaching on the snow since the Winter of 2000.