How kitesurfers survive the winter ~ Snow kiting

January. This year one day is ice cold, the next day sunny and warm in New York City; followed by another ice cold day. On springlike days we check the wind forecast every other hour to find out if there might be enough wind for some kitesurfing. Maybe tomorrow? Dreams of summer, beach and kitesurfing.

Luckily some great minds had mixed and matched gear according to seasons and invented snow kiting. The basic recipe for snow kiting includes a big chunk of winter: snowboard or ski and snow clothes.  Add a good lug of  summer: the kite which was used for kitesurfing so far. Everything mixed together on a wide snow-covered field or if available: a frozen lake. Now turn up a constant wind and you are ready to go.

I  tried it for the first time on the Tug Hill Plateau during the annual snowkite event. Wrapped in layers of clothes to survive -11°F.

Snow kiting Tug Hill 2012


Clothes and Gear:
First of all I realized that my harness was way to small. My legs in snowboard pants went easy into both straps of the seat harness but two sweater and a snowboard jacket were more than the harness belt could handle. It’s perfect for the summer bikini or the fall wetsuit, but it refuses winter activity. Ok, so I borrowed a larger waist harness.

After head and face were well protected by fleece mask, hood scarf, goggles, and helmet, I finally put on snowboard gloves and boots. Ice crystals from frozen breath already decorated the mask from the outside.

Kite setup:
Watching a lot of sand trickling out of the kitebag without starting to day dream of summer and beach is the another challenge.
Inflating the kite and walking the lines is possible with gloves on, but getting the knots through the pigtail loops is tricky. All twiddling was unsuccessful so I pulled off the gloves. Until the lines were attached, my hands were stiff and numb; dull pain in the fingertips. Fists inside the gloves helped defrosting them after a while. Note to self: Bring pocket heaters next time!

Launch help:

With all the snowboard clothing and the helmet, there is a lot more stuff around you where the lines can hold onto. During my first attempt to lift up the kite and flip it over one line got caught by the goggle clip on the back side of my helmet and it took a while to untangle myself.

The white kite lines are easily overseen on the bright white snow, but orange goggles help here. Maybe polarizing goggles would be helpful as well, I haven’t tried yet.

Board and Kite:

My Kiteboard, the one for water, has two foot straps where my feet slide in and out easily. That means, I can launch the kite, walk into the water, slide feed into the straps on the board and start. In case the kite pulls me over, my feet are out of the straps immediately.

To close the straps of my snowboard bindings I need both hands. Feet and board are fixed together. Because of the gusty wind we decided to get the board on first and then launch the kite. When the kite pulled me forward over the board, my knees were the first to hit the ground. No chance to get a foot on the ground first. The surface is a lot harder than water, so a really good idea for the next time is to bring kneepads!

Besides a lot of falling, I can report some beginners success too. It might not have looked beautiful but I was on the board for a couple of meters. Mean dirt bumps are hiding in the snow waiting for newbies.

I’m still dreaming of summer, but meanwhile I check the weather forecast for snow, wind and the snowkite community for good snowkite spots.

Things to bring next time:

  • Snowboard,
  • Snowboard clothing,
  • Googles, mask, helmet,
  • Gloves without wrist protector
  • Pocket heater,
  • Kneepads,
  • Kite and harness (big enough for snowboard clothing)


How to begin snowkiting on a budget

Tug Hill Snowkite Rally 2012

Picturing the Americas: Kitesurfing in North Carolina

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