How to Snowkite

WHAT IS SNOWKITING?

Snowkiten is a fast-growing new snow sport taking the mountains by storm. It’s easy to see why: by harnessing the kite’s raw power snowkiters can access previously untouched backcountry powder; they can even ride up the mountains. They do tricks which blow even experienced snowboarders away, hanging seemingly motionless in the air or whipping themselves around effortlessly with the kite’s pull as huge powdery expanses become their private snowpark.

How to Snowkite Video:

 

WHERE CAN I SNOWKITE?

You can snowkite anywhere with wind and snow however the best places are those with few obstacles upwind to disrupt the wind (trees, cliffs, buildings) and no dangers downwind such as rocks, power lines or steep drops. Large open fields, frozen lakes, rolling hills, plateus and glaciers are the most popular – that’s a lot of space!

You, your kite and your board. No lifts needed; you don’t even need a steep slope.

WILL THE KITE PICK ME UP INTO THE AIR?

Not unless you want it to. Relatively little power is needed to get going on snow because there is so little friction and the kites used are extremely stable and easily controlled. If you do get in to trouble every kite has a quick-release handle which when pulled immediately stops the kite pulling at all.

Even with all the safety measures in place you need to be aware of the terrain around you: the ground can quickly drop away from you when you jump on a slope and uneven terrain can make the wind turbulent.

The kite’s power can be directed and controlled to boost your jumps, power through tricks and float to gentle landings even on flat terrain.

ISN’T IT REALLY COLD?

With the right gear, no, or at least you won’t be cold: even if it’s a bit chilly outside you will heat up as your muscles work and your insulating clothes will keep the heat in. Unlike skiing or snowboarding there’s no waiting around on lifts while your sweat cools and your fingers freeze. Just try to keep as much skin as possible covered to avoid the cold wind.

CAN I GO UPWIND?

As there is so little friction on snow and you have such a sharp edge on a snowboard or skis going upwind is easy, in fact some people find it easier than going downwind.

HOW MUCH WIND DO I NEED?

Usually you need as little as 6kts of wind to get going. That’s like what you feel on your face when you sprint or enough to make leaves rustle. The lower limit does depend on the size of the kite you are using, your weight, your board and the type of snow you’re on.

CAN I USE ANY OLD SKIS OR SNOWBOARD?

Yes you can. The kite is the special bit, it can be used to power you nomatter what you’re riding. Snowboarders may want to change to a duck stance as you’ll find yourself riding switch a lot, in fact some snowkiters don’t even notice when they’re freeriding switch!

DO I NEED LESSONS?

Yes, you should always take lessons from a qualified instructor. This sport can be dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Check out our snowkiting schools and holidays to find one near you.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN?

Courses are usually run over 3 days however experience in sports such as snowboarding, skiing, sailing, surfing and paragliding will really speed up the learning process.

DO I NEED REALLY STRONG ARMS?

No, the pull of the kite is taken off your arms by a harness which you wear around your waist and legs like a climbing harness. Your hands are only used to steer the kite by pulling on the control bar.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?

You need a kite (including control bar and lines), a board or skis, a harness and safety gear including a helmet and normal snowboarding clothes such as an insulating windproof jacket, trowsers and gloves. If you already have all the kit for skiing or snowboarding all you need extra is a kite and a harness.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET SET UP?

A new kite (with control bar and lines) will set you back €580 to €1250 depending on the model and size. Bigger kites, needed by heavier people or for riding in lighter winds, are more expensive than smaller kites. Even with a top-end harness at around €70 snowkiting is not an expensive sport when compared to skiing or snowboarding because an expensive lift pass is not needed – the wind is free!

Back country Safety

Altough snowkiting allows us to enjoy the backcountry powder while floating over it instead of trudging through it we are still susceptable to its dangers. Always exercise extreme caution when enjoying backcountry snowkiting and take a recognised backcountry safety course.

RULE 1
is always snowkite with friends. As well as being more enjoyable with your friends they are the ones who will help you if you get in trouble. Nominate a leader in your group so that decisions can be made quickly in the event of an emergency.

RULE 2
is always check the weather forecast. Check the wind forecast, as you would for any kite sport, as well as any avalanche warnings. Never kite in avalanche prone areas, especially at times of high risk.
You can always make your own checks with tests such as the Rutscblock test, the compression test and the shovel shear test http://avalanche.org/-nac/slideguide/new_slides/compression.html

RULE 3
is always carry appropriate gear. As well as your normal snowkiting gear each member of your party should have an avalanche transceiver, a snow shovel and a probe. Take an avalanche safety course to be sure how to use them and practise regularly.
If you are kiting deep into the backcountry make sure you have a means of getting back to base should the wind die or a problem with your equipment develop.
Snowkiting turns even the most basic rolling terrain into a playpark so most snowkiters avoid avalanche areas as there is so much potential elsewhere.

Understand the weather

Knowing when and where to go to bring wind and snow together to snowkite can be baffling.

There are a variety of weather models that one can examine. Some are of a short time span; others will model the weather for a week out. The further out the models predict the less reliable they become. Still they are indicative of what may occur in the coming days, helping me plan my kite days ahead.

Finding one new weather resource on the WWW always seems to lead to another dozen links that await our attention. These secondary and tertiary links can be very helpful and will often become part of the daily weather forecasting routine.

Understanding the wind

Snow Kiting on the back side of a steep sloping high Col in Chamonix one year, it occurred to me just how much in depth meteorological knowledge we really need, to truly appreciate the potential dangers we could be putting ourselves in during our power kite activities.

A good starting point is to try and imagine that the wind behaves like water, that is to say it flows over and round obstacles in its way and tries to take the easiest path available. Several effects, which I will explain in depth, such as wind gradient, venturi effect, dynamic lift and turbulent rotors, greatly affect the air in which we are flying our kites. In addition to these effects, changing weather patterns on the large scale, such as gust fronts (when giant cumulus clouds or thunderheads are approaching), as well as localised effects such as thermals or dust devils, can also have huge impact on the behaviour of air surrounding us.

- by Ozone – www.flyozone.com