Article by Tim Parish
Kite skiing is a new and exciting winter sport that’s been popular for some years in Europe. It’s also getting a lot more popular in the U.S. In fact, any country these days with a decent amount of snow has a few kite skiers skimming around somewhere!
The Americans thought of it first, with a few pioneers in the 80’s experimenting on the frozen lakes of the U.S. East Coast and Midwest. Parafoil kites were used then, and they remain the ideal type of kite for this sport. However, Europe was where kite skiing really took hold and first became a recognized sport. Many of the people who tried it were surfers who already had the needed kite skills. These days there are well-established competition circuits. At the highest level of competition, riders from Europe and the US come together to compete.
What Exactly Is Kite Skiing?
You could call it a combination of sailing, skiing and kite flying. That makes it sound much more complicated than it really is. In fact, if you’ve got the basics of skiing down, learning to kite ski is relatively easy. Taking kite lessons is a good way to enter the sport safely.
It’s nothing like alpine or downhill skiing. Funnily enough, ordinary downhill skis are the usual equipment though. The skier wears a kite harness to take much of the effort away. Handling the kite is a lot like using the mainsail in a sailing boat. In common with sailing boats, kite skiers can make progress upwind by tacking into the breeze.
However, snowkiting is not all sedate sailing along chewing up long distances. All sorts of tricks and stunts can be done while the snow kite is flown high, supporting the weight of the skier during a jump. It’s not unknown for some skiers to find a snow-covered golf course and launch themselves off the bunkers!
What’s a perfect day for skiing with kites? Try somewhere not far from the arctic circle, mid-year, where the sun shines for 16 hours each day, with an average temperature of -10°C (14°F) and consistent winds of around 30 kph (20 mph) or so. Perfect! If the breeze gets up a bit more, speeds of 100 kph (60 mph) are not unheard of.
It’s probably worth mentioning here that not everybody kite skis on snow! There are such things as grass skis and sand skis. These are a lot less efficient than snow skis, so travelling upwind is out of the question until better technology comes along.
Amazing Places For Kite Skiing
Some kite skiers consider mountain ridge tops to be the ultimate playground. That’s because of the open terrain and smooth consistent winds. Here’s a roundup of some other awesome places that are being used by kite skiers.
There’s a number of big lakes that are popular in the US. Two biggies are Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. There’s some more near Madison, in Wisconsin. Lake Mendota to the north and Lake Monona to the south of the city. The long winters and heavy snowfalls of this area make it heaven for cross-country skiing, with or without a foil kite.
Canada, being further north and more sparsely populated, has many great locations too. For example, there is Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island. This area has a reputation for being one of the best spots for this sport in Canada. Here, it’s possible to travel across sea ice for hours on your skis, taking in the coastline views and fjords of the Bay.
Joining Canada is the US state of Alaska, which is home to the incredible Bagley Icefield. An icy wilderness just perfect for kite-powered skiing. In fact, it is one of the biggest icefields south of the Arctic Circle. It’s been used for a lot of training trips for learners.
What about Europe? Chamonix in northern France is famous for all sorts of Alpine sports. It has a huge flat area of glacial ice way up above 3500 meters (8500 feet), called the Col du Midi. At that altitude, there’s always snow! Plus the usually windy weather, and you can see why it really suits skiing with kites.
There’s another mountain plateau, this time in western Norway. In fact Hardangervidda is the largest high-altitude plateau in Europe. The weather is very cold, and often windy. The flat terrain and small hills are perfect for kite skiing! Particularly around the town of Haugastol.
Tim Parish and his family are rediscovering the joys of kite flying. Also, this site will introduce you to many kite flying activities, including kite skiing, complete with great photos.
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