Home Technique Snowkite Guide Part 1

Snowkite Guide Part 1

CAPTION - Clobbered, Sigve BotnenSo, you've seen the videos and the images but you're still a bit in the dark about snowkiting. Well don't fear; Kiteworld is going to relieve your ice-cream headache and give you a quick what's-what with regard to what you need to go snowkiting.
The great thing about snowkiting is that you might already have most of the kit and skills that you'll need. Chances are you can already fly a kite, or are learning, and snowkiting is actually much easier than kiteboarding anyway! In fact, going downwind is harder than going upwind and you need less wind to have fun. Sounds good already, doesn't it?
Unlike your normal trip to the snowy play-fields, local or not, you won't need to worry about lift passes, being overtaken by snow-dwelling infants on the slopes or being taken out at the knees by a newbie on an ice patch. You don't even need mountains, an area free from obstructions and with a healthy covering of snow are all you need. Well that, and the following knowledge.


As long as you're not planning on snowkiting like you're in a James Bond movie and won't be doing much freestyle riding then you should be fine to get by with a couple of lessons at your local dry ski or nursery slopes to get used to the feel of the board or skis.
You can snowkite with either skis or a snowboard; which you choose will depend on your own preferences. Skis have the advantage of giving you a more forward facing body position and can also be easier when it comes to self-launching your kite. A snowboard may feel more natural to you as a board rider if you don't have an existing preference.
You can use your existing snowboard or skis, however, there's growing availability of kite specific boards and skis made with the particular directional demands of snowkiting in mind.
The biggest factor dictating your choice will be what riding you're going to be doing; wake-style freestyle, cross-country with the odd boost or looking to kite up mountains and freeride back down. The deeper you get into any of these disciplines the more you'll start choosing kit to deliver on specific performance characteristics ? we'll have more in coming issues on this area. Equally if you're going to be lucky enough to be getting a lot of powder days you need to look at a slightly wider and longer base to improve your ride.

More and more snowkite specific boards are being released each season. Here's a couple of corkers we've picked out to give you an idea:

The ABoards kite- snowboard works for snowkiting and snowboarding equally well. As a twin-tip with a centred waist and a 100% wood core it's strong and advanced riders will enjoy it as much as beginners and intermediates progressing through the early stages.
SIZES: 158, 155 and 147cm

Expect smooth riding, a fast pace and great pop in all conditions from Remi Meum's pro model range. The hyper-flex zones increase the comfort on hard -packed snow or ice. A centred stance and symmetrical outline give familiar twin-tip riding qualities. The 163 with a little more side-cut radius is for larger riders, powder riding or riding without a kite. The 157 and 148 are pure kite-snowboards. Remi rides the 157 for freestyle thanks to insane pop and controlled landings. The 148 caters for women and smaller riders. A side-cut radius of 20cm on these dedicated snow-kiteboards means you won't be forced upwind all the time and as you're riding on your heel-side edge most of the time, there isn't the need to make as quick turns as on a regular snowboard with its much smaller radius. You'll hold more speed when going upwind and get more grip.


A little more involved than the old foot-straps versus bindings stand-off in kitesurfing, this little conundrum will basically come down to what you're going to be doing. For skis we'll assume that you won't be hacking off cross country (in which case you may want to look at an alpine touring style) but are more likely to be wanting to keep an eye on the spot that you started from. In this case any standard binding should work and you can place a riser plate under the binding to help with edging.
Issues with snowboard bindings come much more down to comfort and ease-of-access as you'll need to get in and out of them more than with skis, which you can still virtually walk with. If you get into a tricky position on a snowboard, you'll probably have to take foot out and hobble a few yards to where you need to be.
The choice is between standard, flow and hybrids. Flows are accessed from the back and will give you the same feeling as stepping into a foot-strap and can quickly be locked closed to a set tightness in a jiffy. They can only be accessed via the back, though, and that can be awkward in certain situations. Standard bindings are accessible from more angles, have quick release ratchets for tightening but are relatively easy to use. Hybrids give you the best of both worlds with rear and front access. Chasta uses them and he's quite good.

You may be kiting in severely cold temperatures, but you don't need to wrap up like an Inuit to stay warm ? thin warm layers are key. A thermal base top and bottom that will wick the sweat away from your skin (and you will sweat) goes on first. Wear a thin jacket made of a breathable membrane with good ventilation on top and a snowskirt should typically give you the protection you need (you can get snowkite specific jackets with holes for harness access for the Mack Daddies amongst you). Wear or pack a mid-weight fleece depending on your own hardiness and take a down jacket for when you take a break from riding as your body cools quickly and this can be a life saver! Remember; snow and wind usually equals cold!

Wearing just the glove inners will make it easier to work with your lines etc. whilst you set up and you can then pull a good pair of gloves or mittens over the top. Helmets and goggles are essential, headphones and the Prodigy are optional extras. A hat will help keep you warm when you're resting or can be worn under your helmet, depending how cold it is.
A word to the wise. Padding. If you want to avoid walking like a pensioner with a back problem get some padding, at the very least to cover the base of your spine, though if you're going hard you may want to protect other areas and your back as well.
The Grunt jacket is fully taped with detachable 'Biggie' profile hood, dual adjustment, removable powder skirt, pit vents, wristy gaters and scores 10/10 in the Vansguard department.
The trusty Encore boot returns for a fifth season, famed for its closure and support, comfort and cushioning and now an all-new Trifit Asym-X thermal liner and internal web harness.
The B2 Snow is a skate-styled helmet, quickly becoming a favourite for its feature-loaded value.

There are specific snowkite harnesses from snowkite innovators like Ozone now available. Their Access XC (check www.ozonekites.com) combines a kite and climbing harness to give you what you need in comfort and safety and keeps the harness hook where it should be. You don't want your harness to ride up at all but the harness can be worn under or on top of the jacket. A jacket with the right holes in will help, but you can usually work around this situation.
Windzup, US snowkite pioneer, Brian Schenck, says, 'I use different harnesses depending on the journey. If I am going light weight and plan on touring a long distance, I will use a climber style harness that packs down small. If I am freeriding near the car I will wear the same waist harness that I use in the summer as it's easy to transition water style tricks to the snow when using the same gear. If I'm chasing Chasta in search of big flights I'll double up and wear a waist harness that spreads the load across my entire back and a climbing harness for back up and leg support.'
Such is their commitment to snowkiting, Ozone have also developed a snow-specific harness, designed like a climbing harness in a comfortable design that won't ride up. It's lightweight, strong, has plenty of padding for the back and leg straps. Choose either a D-ring hook or a spreader bar and hook.

We're not talking about the size of you Quaver. If you're going to venture from the car any distance a backpack is another essential item. We sneaked a peak in Brian's to see what he carries. Here's his breakdown:
? Maybe a second kite depending on the conditions and distance I expect to cover.
? Snow shoes or skins if I am going further than I want to walk back.
? A second pair of gloves in case the first pair get wet, or if I need a thinner pair for connecting lines, etc.
? Spare fleece top / mid-weight layer in case the temperature drops.
? Snow shovel. This is part of my avalanche kit, but I also use it as a kite stake for hooking off brake lines). Could also be used to dig emergency shelter.
? Beacon, probe and avalanche kit for predicting snow conditions on steeper slopes and for signalling for rescue.
? Munchies. Tuna, beef jerky and Clif bars are my favourites.
? Beverages. Stay hydrated, especially at altitude. Most packs accommodate a Camel Pack. I prefer a vacuum bottle with hot tea or soup.
? Webbing strap and carabiner for hooking the kite off to trees, posts or whatever shrubbery I can find. Basically it's a safety line for when riding solo.
? My Little Friend. For some this might be a lucky gnome, for me it's a seven-shot .357 bear killer*. You never know if the bears are really hibernating and it stops the red necks from making jokes about my purple kites!

* In most European destinations we have to advise that you don't carry bear killers or kite near red necks.
Check out Mat Blanchard's Foil vs. LEI advice further on to get an idea of what you need to go for. Chances are you can take your existing kite and use it on the snow, but if you want something specifically for the job check these out:
Giving you performance on snow and land, the Crest is highly responsive and manoeuvrable, designed to make quick, sharp turns and give the rider greater control and freedom. A strong focus has been placed on safety offering maximum depower, extreme stability and easy relaunch across a wide range of wind conditions. The Crest's profile is designed to maximise the airflow in order to maintain the speed of the kite without losing any stability or performance.
SIZES: 12.5, 10, 7.5 and 5m The Outback purely provides you with the freedom to ride and has been developed to help you enjoy your first ride on land or snow and keep you happy for years after that. Stability, easy relaunch, safety, smooth power and control are the key aspects of this kite.


The open cell structure of the 2COOL makes it the perfect kite for land and snow usage with well-tempered flying characteristics, tight turns and a steady power generation. Appealing to beginners in nature it also offers the advanced rider a cost-efficient kite for all-round application. The FDS (full depower safety-line), offers a very effective safety system, which Flysurfer say makes it the 'safest open cell kite on today's market' while also reduces complexity. With the four-line system, changing to handles is simple and still allows the rider to take full advantage of the kites depower ability.
SIZES: 9, 6 and 4m
All Flysurfer's kite are suitable for use on snow. Check them out in this issue's Stuff of Life feature on page 88 and in next issue.
The Apex 2 is a beginnerfriendly depower kite that still packs plenty of performance in its cells as a back-country tool. Key checks on the Apex are: stability, easy handling, good turning speed, a wide and usable wind range, high-quality construction and 270kg (595lb) coloured Dyneema flying lines.
SIZES: 10, 7.5 and 5m
The Montana is into its fourth generation. Faster and more responsive, wider tips and a slender profile provide more lift and stability. The light wind performance and increased depower make the Montana a contender for nestling neatly among your freestyle quiver. The composite control bar is completely new, the Dyneema Y-shape front lines provide minimal drag and the redesigned two pulley speed system provides the massive depower range. Progressive pressure on the bar provides good feedback and the general high quality construction will impress the serious snowkiter.
SIZES: 12.5, 9.5 and 7m
The Access XC is for getting beginners enjoying the glorious back-country ASAP. It's the ultimate personal ski-lift. For '09 it's updated with a new 54cm bar for all sizes, a completely new backpack and all new colours. One of Ozone's most successful designs to date, giving new riders un-matched peace-of-mind and security and is the choice of every leading snowkite school in the world.
SIZES: 19, 8, 6 and 4m
Ozone head, Matt Taggart, was raving to us recently, 'Boys, the FYX is a technical masterpiece!' He does get excited, but the FYX combines performance and ease-of-use, sharing the same technically advanced Ozone 'speed system' as the Manta II with a double pulley on each side that allows the angle-of-attack (DPower) to be changed minutely. What you get is a silky-smooth progression from full power to full D-Power. The FYX is a solid, mid-aspect, stable performer with unbeatable turning speed, low end power and impressive D-Power.
SIZES: 13, 11, 9 and 7m
The high-aspect Manta II is Ozone's kite of choice for experienced riders and is the ultimate back-country tool for those in the know. It's Chasta's kite of choice, so you know you'll be dialling into some serious performance hooking into this one. Updated for '09 with an improved trim for more performance, a new patent pending control system, new technical back-country back-pack, safety leash and new colours.
SIZES: 15, 12, 10 and 8m
All Ozone kites come with their 'leash-less re-ride safety system, so no more leash tangles or hassles. See last issue's Most Wanted.

INTRO - Flexifoil's Mat Blanchard explains the differences that choosing a foil or an LEI kite make to your riding
I tried riding with an LEI a few years ago but it was just too powerful for what we needed on the snow unless you set it up with very short lines. I started using an LEI on snow properly last year; my hybrid Atom08 four line. I like the four line set-up for snow; it's very simple and I appreciate the huge depower. I now ride an LEI most of the time as they are more performance oriented than a foil and give you more possibilities with your freestyle riding. When I'm riding up a mountain to then pack up on top and freeride back down without the kite I take my foil. I have three foils in my quiver; a ten, five and two metre. I use the ten mostly for trekking and switch to the five when conditions get really hard. I've actually used it only once for an uphill climb on Mount Etna which was really tough!
Foils are generally much lighter, you can easily pack them into really small and convenient backpacks and most of the time you'll be fine on a ten metre. They are incredibly easy to self-launch; simply pull the kite out of the bag, unwrap your lines (as you'll have already attached them!) as you ride away from the kite and then reverse launch it. Self-landing is also simple and safe by just pulling on the back lines, collapsing the kite. Foils are also good for beginners as they really teach how a kite flies as they are a bit more technical. They are also stronger when being subjected to lots of crashes on the snow. For back-country riding and freedom, foils are really the only option. They are just so easy to self-launch and land, which you'll often need to do.

As I mentioned, LEIs are for those wanting higher performance levels for tricks. The hybrids and bows actually have more depower, more gliding stability in gusty wind, better turning, more pop and are much easier to ride unhooked for freestyle. The down-sides of LEI kites are that they are big and bulky when packed up and you have to bring a pump! The plus points for me are that they are just so easy to fly; you drop the bar and the kite just waits for you on the side of the window. Most people ride on flat fields during their first sessions rather than taking on the mountains, which means that the performance of the LEIs is a real bonus.
Be honest with yourself about your level. Are you really going to be busting out a load of unhooked freestyle? Can you really be bothered with the impracticalities of pumping up an LEI and figuring out the selflaunch each time or finding a buddy to chuck you up? If not, it's worth investing in a foil, as they'll always come in handy throughout your snowkiting career, but by all means take your LEIs with you.

Up-slope goat skillz from the world's ultimate freeride snowkiter, Chasta
Here's a few of my top tips for climbing a mountain: It can look pretty easy to climb the mountain with a small kite, but the most Important thing to making it easy for yourself is to make sure you know how to ski or snowboard. This isn't essential for riding around on the flats or gentle slopes, but for pushing the button and elevating up serious peaks, it helps!
Know a few things about and respect the inherent risks in the mountains (something we'll be developing in the next couple of issues). We have some pretty hairy and steep mountains here in France such as the Lautaret Pass and while being a kitesurfer already will certainly help a lot, don't think that climbing slopes such as these is going to be as easy. It's completely different ? for one it's steep and for ANother the winds can be really gusty as they wrap around, drop and climb up mountain faces.
Being a confident kite looper is essential. On a light wind day take a smaller kite and try to draw some figure 8s in the air, or kite loop two or three times one way to see if you can still manage your kite. Concentrate on making the kite go right through the central power zone when you do your kite loops for maximum power and drive uphill.
For sure if you want to be a mountain rider (and I mean real mountains, not just small hills like in Norway for example), you need to use a foil kite. They will give you better security, are easier to launch and easier to kill at the top of mountain. They are also way easier to pack in your bag when you're ready to ride back down the face.
Remember that in general the wind gets stronger as you climb the face. I usually take an extra kite with me. I might start climbing with a 12 metre and then if it gets really strong on top, I'll launch my eight so that I can ride more safely and be able to kill the kite more easily when I need to.
When it's really gusty it can be very hard to manage the kite. The wind can also stop for three or four minutes and then come back in really strong. So just be patient, land your kite and wait for the gusts coming through to stop. If you can see a huge gust approaching, just stop and hold the brake. Alternatively with your kite up you can do kite loops non-stop or perhaps with some upside down figures of
eight, not up, otherwise the gust can pick you up in the air. When it's steep, you go really fast at 30 metres up. This is why I learn to fly with my kite ? just to be able to manage those kind of conditions!
For your first runs when you don't know the area, try not go too fast; there's always a danger lurking, whether it's rocks, crevasses, holes, trees or even animals! Once you can see a really open face, just squeeze your ass cheeks together and go for it. After a while you'll see that speed is your friend.
Once you're aware of all these things start to try and feel for the wind direction at the bottom of the face and spend some time trying to imagine what the wind will do as it goes through the valley as you pick your line. You may find a really nice bowl on your way up, so don't be afraid to stop off, play around there and put your tracks all over it. Sometimes you'll go up the face in sections. I might play around in a section before traversing at full speed and then start to go up again.
Initially it can be hard to get your head around being able to snowboard in three dimensions. You have power and you can use it in any direction you want. It's even possible to ride uphill when the wind is coming down ? just think about how you ride upwind.

Each issue we'll bring you our top spots for a legendary snowkite experience

Four hours from Oslo airport is the classic. Snowkiters used to insane conditions at home in the US, Canada, France, Switzerland and New Zealand head to Norway every year and are blown away by the quality of the riding. Big mountains, huge, flat areas, monstrous bowls, there's even cabins to jump over and the talent of the local riders is renowned across the world. The Hardangavidda is massive and whatever your level, you'll find somewhere to kite. It's also pretty remote. Snowkite heaven it is, epic nightlife it isn't, but the more throbbing resort of Geilo is just 30 kilometres away. Sell your house before you come though (if it's still worth anything!), even a pizza can set you back ?16/$30!
A two hour drive from either Milan or Zurich will see you to Silvaplana. Perfect thermal southerlies averaging between 10 and 18 knots brush over a frozen lake that is perfect for beginners. Bernina is further up the mountains and has a smaller lake set amidst big hills. An awesome spot for freeriding and freestyle. It's massive and you can watch the top riders go for some insane flights. The valley itself is huge with loads of places to stay and socialise.
America's best snowkiting location accessible by car is three hours from Salt Lake City and sits at over 3000 metres. Skyline has a variety of terrain from flats to gradually sloping hills to big mountain slopes. Kiters of all skill levels can ride here and enjoy the steady winds and light, Utah fluff. The local hotel is in Fairview, twenty minutes from the riding site where the nightlife is non-existent. Head to Provo to party with the college students if that's more your bag.
Believe us when we say that the guys at snowkitefilm.com know their snowkiting ? check out 'How To Snowkite' in the Kiteworld shop for a top notch introduction to the sport. Find the trailer in the 'Trailer Park' section on www.kiteworld.tv While you're there check out the snowkite introduction videos that we've got in the new snowkite section. Encore! Encore!

This article was taken from Kiteworld magazine issue 36. To find out more click here

Added: 2009-11-06

Category: Technique

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