Whether you're getting bored of the hill or you just want to try something different, snowkiting is a sport that's absolutely worth trying for any snowsport lovers!
If you’re looking to freshen up your snow-bound antics, feel like skiing and boarding lacks a certain upper-body workout factor, or you just want to feel the wind rushing through the holes in your helmet whether you’re on the slopes or not, then why not consider snow-kiting? This sport is taking off — literally — just strap on your board or skis, hook yourself up to a kite (or foil, but we’ll get to correct parlance soon enough), and get going. All you need is some snow, an open space, and some wind. Heck, even the Netherlands has that! And their highest mountain is 147m tall … So sit back, listen up, and learn about snowkiting, the new kid on the block when it comes to sans-vertical snow sports.
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Entering the thrilling realm of snowkiting doesn't call for a gigantic gear arsenal. In reality, this sport just requires a snowy, open space, the adventurous push of the wind, and of course, the right attire. Arm yourself with a sturdy men's ski jacket that can hold its own against extreme weather conditions and pair it with the tailored comfort and flexibility of men's salopettes. Combined, they not only offer protection but a substantial boost to your overall snowkiting experience.
Snowkiting is the evolution of kite-boarding and is what kiteboarders get up to when the summer sun withers and the snow starts piling up.
If you don't know what kiteboarding is, it's the magnificent sport of kite flying and wakeboarding simultaneously. But instead of a boat pulling you along, it's mother nature. Using a kite or 'wing', you strap into your wakeboard on the beach, pull your kite into the air, and then use it to pull you into the water. At this point, you surf along, jumping off waves, and pretty much get as close to flying as a human can.
Snowkiting is this but on snow. First, secure your snowboard or skis while on a frozen field or adequately frozen lake, and then bring your kite into the air. Then, you just… ski. Or board. This can also be done on the mountain. Still, it is much more complicated and mixing downhill riding with kiting is best left to the pros and the clinically insane!
Your first question (and ours) was whether snowkiting is easy to learn. The answer is yes; it is easy to learn. Of course, you'll need to get to grips with flying a kite before you take your snowboard or skis out of the car, but generally, once you have the hang of controlling the wing, it's pretty quick to get going.
The main things to learn are how the wing reacts to the wind, gain speed, and slow down. Then, luffing up or bearing away are the nautical terms for steering into or away from the wind — how to launch and lower the kite, how to turn, and how to stop if things are getting out of hand. Once you can do those things, it's just boarding or skiing from there!
Yes. But so is snowboarding or skiing. Kiting is only dangerous when the person operating the kite is out of control. Suppose you can confidently move the kite around, control it in the wind, and bring it down quickly. In that case, snowkiting is no more dangerous than any other extreme sport.
The most common injuries and accidents in kiting are usually due to inexperience or improper equipment. For example, using a kite that's too large or of advanced construction means that a gust will unexpectedly take you off your feet. Then there's the issue of it getting caught up in trees or even powerlines. Yikes!
However, these risks can be mitigated with a few simple steps — firstly, get a kite that suits your experience and skill level. Secondly, get the right size for your weight, strength, and skill level. Next, ensure you have a harness that allows the kite to drop when releasing the control bar. And finally, ensure that you check the weather, kite within your skill limits, and don't push yourself too hard to do some acrobatics until you master the basics.
Follow those simple recommendations, and snowkiting can be a safe, fun, and a super exciting new hobby to pick up!
If you're looking for somewhere to snow kite, then all you need is plenty of snow and flat, open space. We recommend a field or meadow that's all grass (to avoid rock catches), somewhere that's flat, open, away from powerlines. Somewhere that's got a phone signal if you need to call for help.
Frozen lakes can be a great place to kite as they're flat and usually very open. We hope we don't have to tell you about the dangers of venturing onto thin ice! It should be safe to kite on if the lake is sufficiently frozen for skating or other ice-borne activities. Just don't go rushing onto a lake if you're not sure.
In a more nuanced consideration, places in the shadow of a mountain or mountainous regions may be prone to gusts and changing wind patterns. Therefore, the ideal place for kiting is somewhere with a predictable, steady and prevailing wind. This will allow you to board or ski with the most ease (and most fun!).
Like all wind-centric sports — kitesurfing, windsurfing, etc. — there are two main things to wrap your head around.
Firstly, you ride with your body weight, not with your arms. You'll likely strap yourself up with a body harness (more on the gear in a minute) which will be attached to your guidelines — the kite wires. You'll also have a control bar that will allow you to pull one line or the other to turn the kite and move it around. While the instinct is to take the total weight of the kite on your arms and pull it like heck, the thing you need to do is lean back and allow the harness to take the importance of the kite. You'll need to get accustomed to that 'position', the amount you lean back so that you're counterbalancing the kite.
With more wind, you'll need to lean further, and the same goes for a larger kite. But once you find that counterbalanced position, you can work the kite in a weightless way and have lots more control over it.
Secondly, you'll need to learn how to read and work with the wind. You may be wondering at this point how you can go in more than one direction. If you're kiting with the wind, how the heck are you supposed to back… into the wind? This is where you need to start thinking like a sailor rather than a kiter. You don't go with and into the wind; you actually kite across the wind.
By kiting across the wind, you can fill the kite with lots of air and move faster than the wind itself. We won't delve into the science of it here. Still, the principle is that you move across the wind in one direction, allowing the kite to pull you, then make a turn by pulling the kite up and directly overhead and allowing it to drop into the wind on your other side. You'll need to turn your board or skis around to begin the return journey during this.
This may sound weird, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be boarding around, making turns in no time!
There are several types of snow kites to learn about and consider when you're looking to assemble your kit. But before we get to the types, let's go over some terminology to help you get to grips with things.
A foil is a standard kite with no rigid structure and is controlled by either two or four lines. Foils are very popular as they require little set-up, won't get damaged when they hit the ground, and can be reversed launched quickly — which means they don't need to be turned over to launch after crashing.
Foils are great learner kites as they're very durable, as well as being packable. They come in a range of sizes and are easy to set up, too! But there's more than one type.
Static foils are the 'classic' or old-school way of constructing a kite. These foils will have two or four lines that attach to the control bar (the thing you hold to guide the kite), with a separate line attached to the harness. This means you can take the kite's weight with your body and control it with your arms. The downside is that it's challenging to account for gusts, and you need to modulate the kite's speed — or power — using your body weight while you control it with your arms.
De-Powering Foils are more nuanced and will have four lines, two of which are attached to the control bar and two which pass through a hole in the control bar and attach to your harness. This allows you to take the kite’s weight and keep it taught and full of wind with your bodyweight but then control both the kite's power and movement with your arms. The two lines attached to the bar run to the outer corners of the kite, which means that the bar can move up and down the lines attached to the harness to 'depower' the kite. This gives you much greater control in gusting conditions and allows you to maximise control of both speed and direction without placing all the weight on your arms.
Cheaper kites will likely be static foils, while more expensive or advanced kites will be depowering foils. This is because depowering foils are safer and easier to learn and have much less chance of misbehaving or overpowering the rider!
LEI stands for Leading Edge Inflatable and is a type of kite that requires inflating before launching. They can also get punctured and damaged by snow or the ground. They can't be launched easily once they crash. LEIs are popular for kite surfing as they don't sink in water. Not so much use in the snow!
LEIs aren't hugely popular, but you may see them around, and those who've come over from kitesurfing may be inclined to use them. Good to know what they are, even if you just want to avoid them!
Proper snow kite sizing is imperative for safety and fun! Larger kites will catch the wind more easily but are more difficult to manoeuvre and control. Smaller kites will have less pull but will be easier to manage! As well as taking into consideration your size, strength, and ability level, you'll also need to consider the average wind conditions and speed. As a quick reference guide on wind speeds, skill, and kite sizes;
Some things to remember: Smaller or beginner riders should size down to account for less body weight and experience. More advanced or larger riders may wish to size up so that the extra surface area generates more power in the kite.
Over time, you'll likely want to get a smaller kite for windy days and a larger kite for those less windy days. That way, you can ride no matter what! So start with a smaller kite until you get the hang of it, and then purchase a larger kite once you're committed and ready to level up.
Like all specialist sports, Snowkiting comes with a little bit of a start-up price tag. A static foil will cost anywhere from £150-500 depending on quality and size. They also may or may not come with a harness included, and that extra outlay could be up to £250, depending on what you go for.
A static foil with no harness will be the cheapest way to get into the sport but will require lots of arm strength as there'll be no harness for counterweighting. And you also risk losing your kite! A depowering foil with a harness may be more expensive but is a good investment if you think you want to get into the sport in a serious way. The good news is that if you already have a snowboard or skis, boots, goggles, helmet, and other ski gear, you won't have to buy that stuff again!
As well as the snow kite itself, this sport inevitably requires other equipment. But luckily, if you're a skier or a snowboarder already, then you'll have all of the necessary things to hand already. Dressing for snowkiting is much the same as you would for a day on the slopes, so get kitted up using the checklist below, ready for a day of kiting!
To snow kite, you'll need skis or a board. Otherwise, you're just flying a kite in the winter! There's no specific type of either required, but something stable and correctly sized for you is important. Powder skis or a powder board is our personal choice as the extra 'float' makes it just a little easier to pick up speed and control turns.
A good pair of ski or snowboard boots is vital as they'll attach you to your skis or board. They don't need to be particularly stiff or soft, but we recommend something comfortable and warm.
A good snow jacket and pants are vital when kiting, just like skiing. Make sure you're warm and comfy, and your gear is adequately waterproof!
Ski gloves are necessary, and we recommend gloves over mittens for added dexterity. Make sure they're warm, tough, and have a non-slip palm, too, to help you keep hold of the control bar.
A backpack is always helpful in carrying snacks and supplies and carrying the kite if you have a little way to walk!
Helmets should always be worn during any extreme sport, and snowkiting is no different. Safety first!
Goggles protect the eyes from harmful UV rays and allow for better vision in snowy conditions, and offer protection during faceplants. Super helpful when picking up a new sport like this.
A face mask will help keep you warm during those long days of standing around — which you do a fair amount with kiting. Until you get going, of course!
There's no real benefit to choosing one or the other. Still, it's probably easier to go with the one you're most comfortable with on the mountain. Skis are slightly easier to work with if you're an equal skier and boarder. You can work the control bar more evenly when it's right in front of you and lean directly backwards.
On a snowboard, you need to be angled to the side, leaning over your back foot, with the harness on your ribs, one arm bent, the other straight. It's not particularly difficult — ask any kite surfer — but if you can choose to ski and it's no detriment to your riding, then skiing with a kite is slightly easier when you're learning.
Should you teach yourself or take lessons? This is a common question and a good one to ask. Suppose you're in a place where snow kite lessons are available. In that case, taking tutelage from a professional is the fastest way to learn.
However, it'll be YouTube we look to for most of us. And that's just fine. There are lots of great resources online to help get to grips with the sport. However, we would recommend watching some videos to help prepare you for snowkiting. It's a physically demanding and highly energetic sport that requires some basic skills on a board or skis, some basic knowledge of the principles of sailing, and plenty of upper body, lower body, and core strength!
Definitely don't go into this sport on a whim. Snowkiting is fun, but it takes some effort to get the hang of it. As such, any guidance should be welcomed and certainly taken note of!
How is snowkiting different from other snow sports like skiing and snowboarding?
While skiing and snowboarding primarily focus on negotiating slopes and gravity, snowkiting imparts an additional factor to the equation - wind. It allows you to use a kite or 'wing' to harness wind power, enabling movement across flat areas or even uphill which is not typically possible in traditional skiing or snowboarding.
What are the key safety considerations while learning snowkiting?
Safety in snowkiting revolves around sound judgment, proper technique, and adequate gear. It's essential to learn and master kite control before adding skis or a snowboard to the mix. Using equipment suited to your skill level, understanding weather conditions, and respecting safety boundaries are all crucial aspects of minimizing risk.
Hopefully, this guide has given you plenty to sink your teeth into when it comes to snowkiting. Of course, for real 'how to', turning to YouTube or professional guidance is our recommendation. But now, at least you're armed with the knowledge of how to get into this sport, what it will cost, and where you might be able to do it!
The face of winter sports is rapidly changing, and snowkiting is one way to keep yourself on snow even when the lifts aren't spinning. So, get watching, get fit, get ready, and get out there! Spring is coming, after all, and the snow won't last forever.