The feeling of charging down a steep, powdery slope while letting gravity do its thing is electrifying—it’s almost like flying. But what if you could add another dimension to skiing or snowboarding: what if you could harness the wind to take you faster and higher than ever before? That’s what snowkiting is all about.
Pegged by many to be the next big winter sport, snowkiting is the perfect activity for thrill-seeking snow fanatics. Here are seven things to know about the sport:
Snowkiting: A Definition
Think of kitesurfing: the water sport where a person uses a large kite to borrow the power of the wind, propelling them (and the small surfboard/wakeboard bound to their feet) across the water. Snowkiting (sometimes called “kite boarding”) is similar to kitesurfing, except for two main details. First, instead of a surfboard or wakeboard, the footwear of choice is a pair of skis or a snowboard. Second, instead of gliding over the top of the water, snowkiters glide above ice or snow—uphill, downhill, or straight across.
The Birth of Snowkiting
German Dieter Strasilla is credited with the birth of the sport, though a number of others served as inspiration and co-experimenters along the way. Strasilla spent the better part of the 1960s trying to develop a wind-propelled skiing sport, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he came up with the prototype for the snowkite. His contraption allowed him to glide along snow, but also to lift himself into the air.
The sport continued to evolve throughout the 1980s. Americans widely embraced snowkiting, and the rest of the world began to catch on, too. Equipment and technologies became more sophisticated, and the riding itself evolved to include more involved tricks.
While it’s still considered to be somewhat of a niche sport, snowkiting is growing rapidly. Just about every country that gets snow has a dedicated community of snowkiters, but it’s especially popular in countries like the United States, Canada, Iceland, Switzerland, France, Russia, Austria, and New Zealand. The culture of snowkiting now includes magazines, films, and different types of competitions.
Get the Gear
The right kite is paramount to snowkiting: foil kites are the most popular option, since they are soft without hard frames. They’re easy to pack, are quite durable, are easily controlled and are a breeze to set up. Other options exist too, like inflatable kites. The right size depends on a few factors, like the wind speed, the type of terrain (hard packed snow versus deep powder, for instance), the rider’s skill level and the rider’s weight.
For your lower half, your regular skis or snowboard (and corresponding boots) will serve you just fine. Don’t forget a helmet, ice safety gear, warm clothing and perhaps a few pads, especially if you’re snowkiting over ice (ouch!).
Skis or Snowboard?
Ah, the age old debate. When it comes to snowkiting, both skiing and snowboarding are incredibly fun. Each, however, has its own advantages. Skis can hold their edges at very high speeds and are typically easier to control. A snowboard will mimic the feeling of kitesurfing on water, giving you a ride that’s incredibly smooth and flowy.
Learn How to Snowkite
First, it helps to be a proficient skier or snowboarder prior to taking up snowkiting. Next, you need to become comfortable flying a kite. You can rent trainers to learn how to properly control a kite. Once you’ve determined that you are competent on your skis/board and in maneuvering a kite, you’re ready to try snowkiting. Your next step is to enroll in a lesson. It’s tempting to try to figure it out as you go, but you’re far better off taking the time to learn proper techniques and safety protocols. Snowkiting is a high-risk sport that requires some very specific skills, so it’s best to learn from the pros.
The Future of Snowkiting
As a relatively young sport, the frontiers of snowkiting are constantly expanding. Many snowkiters are content playing around on frozen lakes, but others are pushing the boundaries with multi-day expeditions in the backcountry, endurance racing and even cliff jumping.
Just as skiing and snowboarding continue to evolve, snowkiting, with its added dimension of air, will surely continue to grow in the years to come. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be a snowkiter.