Taking the Kite to the Hills

Published on February 24th, 2017

Winter winds in California are hit or miss, with no shortage of miss. For board and kite sailor Steve Bodner, he shares this report on how the San Francisco Bay crew took their sailing to the hills.

It took a major commitment to get there and even more just to get suited up everyday at 10,000-feet but snow kiting in Utah has got to be one of the great winter trips for wind and snow lovers. Like anything worth while, just getting there was an adventure in itself.

It began as a caravan from San Francisco with half the crew flying and the other half driving 20+ kites, snowboards and skies to Skyline, Utah. Somewhere east of Winnemucca, Nevada at 3 in the morning, Johnny Heineken‘s car broke down so we packed everything into 1 SUV with 5 sets of wind and snow gear, dog and riders for the remaining voyage east. Sometimes you need to scuttle half the fleet just to get to your destination.

After 15 hours in the car, we arrived to beautiful wide open Utah. The setting at Fairview Canyon at mile marker 14 on HWY 31 aka- the Big Drift- is awe inspiring. The 180 degree Utah sky at elevation is just sublime. We rigged and had our first afternoon session in the rolling hills, meadows and steep bowls surrounding the launch site. Besides us, there was a handful of snow mobiles that might buzz by then disappear but nothing else but back country for miles around.

Snow kiting is just as it sounds. You choose either skies or snowboard and get pulled around on your kite- up, down, around and over what ever terrain you choose. It’s an absolute beautiful and pleasant way to explore the back country and get to experience the similarities of paragliding when coming down the mountain on an updraft..

I rigged my 13m foil kite, launching with ease and immediately got pulled across the meadow on my snowboard.

Holy bejesus this is fun!

It took me the rest of the day to get comfortable going back and forth and finding the subtitles of the site but I was hooked. My goal was to get more time with the new foil kite and that’s what I got – from relaunching in gullies to down looping up the mountain.

Snow kiting has all the benefits of kiting on the water without the consequences of water itself. I dropped and tangled my kite quite a few times in the 8-12k breeze and easily unhooked and walked up the line and bridle to unsort it all out. Granted, even walking the length of 15m line and untangled your kite in powder is an exercise itself. Transitions are almost effortless without the footwork required on a normal foil or directional board.

I got a bit greedy towards the end of the day and kited myself right into a gully and wind shadow dropped my kite in the process. All the waiting and pulling on my lines would not launch this kite. Then came the pack up and 1/4 mile hike back to the launch in the knee deep powder. One step at at time, I thought to myself as a huge grin spread across my face from my 1st day of snow kiting

Day 2 began just where day 1 finished except my legs already felt like rubber chickens from working muscles I never knew I had. We arrived early at the skyline launch as a major weather system was moving through that afternoon.

I went for the 13m foil kite again but this time explored an adjacent hill with the wind direction slightly more south than the previous day. Everything was starting to click and I was starting edge on port tack instead of just being dragged on the snowboard, I could now navigate half way up the hillside on the updrafts but crashed on the transition as you needed to turn your board uphill to transition to the new tack. With enough practice and lift from the foil kite, I managed to nail a few uphill turns and even unintentionally get a few downhill glides.

OMFG…what a trip. Jumping while kiting is fun but jumping while snow kiting with an updraft takes it to a whole other level.

We took a short break refueling like ski bums in the parking lot and had an epic afternoon session of white out conditions on small kites. Its an entirely different sport when you’re powered up on a kite than in light conditions when you’re searching for power. The 8m ozone edge tube kite was more enough to keep me powered in 15-20k up, down and around the mountain turning quickly and accelerating me on every uphill. Chip was even kiting with an 8m while towing his 11 year old behind on skies. Share the stoke when you can!

For day 3 and 4, we switched venues to a location called Electric Lake along the Huntington Canyon Scenic Drive as the Skyline Peak was in white out conditions. It was more rolling hills and room to explore as the newbies including myself were still mastering the basics. I had the chance to really explore some terrain and get into carving the board downhill as you would usually do without a kite. The kite just allowed you to turn around and do it over and over again and then some!

No lift tickets, waiting in lines or even crowds at this spot. I’m not sure I can ever go back to regular snowboarding at a resort again.

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The exploratory aspect was very cool. You could go practically anywhere – sometimes where you least expected – down the rabbits hole into trenches and gullies where our other buddy Eric found himself waist deep in a hidden stream and no wind to get out A cold wet hike out and he was quickly warmed with some whisky back at the base with a good story to tell.

Day 5 was supposed to be just a travel day back to SF but we woke up to another perfect bluebird day with fresh powder and a gentle breeze. We arrived at skyline early find a fresh blanket of snow as far as they eye could see and proceeded to get one the best day so far!

The 13m chrono2 foil kite wasn’t quite enough to get me up to the top where the stronger winds were but made for a perfect session as I finally mastered some big carving turns on the snow kite in the gentle hills and meadows.

I really can’t emphasize how fun and accessible snow kiting is whether you’re a newbie or a pro. The hardest step was committing and just getting there, after that the fun was nonstop.

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