Snow Place Like Home: Domestic Snowkiting Travel Destinations
Every winter, the temperature goes down and most of us don’t spend enough time on the water to stay sane. To get our water fix, we spend lots of money traveling to exotic locations where winter doesn’t seem to exist. Doing that keeps us happy, but it also costs a lot of money.
This year, why not do things a little differently? Here in the US, we have easy access to some of the best snowkiting available on the planet. Why head halfway across the globe, when we have such a great resource right in our own backyard? If you have never given snowkiting a try, make it a point to do it this year. You probably already own all the gear you need (your regular kite gear, plus a snowboard or pair of skis) and if you already know how to kite, then getting started on the snow will be easy.
Our suggestion to save a little money this winter is to keep things local and expand your horizons by taking a snowkiting vacation. After all, there’s snow place like home.
For more information on the US Snowkite scene, check out www.driftsnowkitemag.com
By Heather Schenck
Skyline, Utah, has become a world-renowned destination for snowkiting, hosting riders from across the country and the globe throughout the winter season. Skyline is home to the US Open Snowkite Masters, and attracts riders of all abilities to enjoy its varied terrain. The small-town atmosphere allows for a relaxing vacation while having fun on the mountain all day. Rated as “The New Snowkite Town” by National Geographic and as an ideal place to learn alpine kiting techniques by Men’s Journal, Skyline offers something for every winter kiter.
Best Time to Visit: January- March for the deepest snow and powder conditions, with an extended season from December- April. Skyline is consistently windy November-April.
Typical Winter Conditions: Skyline’s playground is naturally set up to work with any wind direction, and with a few feet of snow, most of the mountain is open to ride by December. Wind rolls over the ridge at least five days a week, typically from the southwest. Storms can bring northerly winds along with potential whiteouts. During high pressure, easterly winds provide light wind sessions on the lee side of the hills.
Skyline is located at an elevation of 10,000 feet on the exposed Wasatch Plateau, which lines it up perfectly for catching valley thermals and upper-level winds almost daily. While it offers consistent wind conditions, it is also set up to grab incoming storms, which can turn a beautiful day into a whiteout. Be prepared for backcountry mountain conditions and drink plenty of fluids to combat the high altitude. Skyline’s snowplow drivers are known as the best in the state, and they diligently work to keep the pass open, but it’s always a good idea to check the forecast and be prepared for the day.
How to Get There: Fly into Utah’s Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) and rent a car. Travel south to the outlying town of Fairview, a quiet outpost at the bottom of Highway 31. The riding area is 14 miles up the canyon and will be obvious as you crest the summit ridge of Skyline. The parking lot at Milepost 14 on Highway 31 is the spot to be.
Where to Stay: Mount Pleasant offers all amenities including a full service grocery store, the county’s only bar, and Utah’s largest kite shop along with the largest hotel in the region. Fairview boasts the closest food and lodging at the base of the canyon to Skyline. Check out Horseshoe Mountain Resort in Mount Pleasant (435-462-9330) or Skyline Motel in Fairview (435-427-3312) and stop by the Home Plate Restaurant for the best food around.
What to Do if No Wind: Kite Utah offers snowshoe rentals to check out the beautiful scenery or you can rent a snowmobile at Big Pine Sports in Fairview for the day and make your own adventures. Skyline is a huge destination for snowmobiling. You can also bring your own backcountry skis and tour across Skyline’s 100-mile ridge.
Contact for More Info: Kite Utah (www.kiteutah.com) is the local shop and school. Kite Utah is the only authorized school in the region and holds a permit from the US Forest Service to teach at Skyline. Kite Utah will be offering camps throughout the winter of 2009/2010 hosted by Chip Wasson, Guillaume Chastagnol, and Heather Schenck, along with private instruction (dates listed at www.FlyOzoneUSA.com). Kite Utah is located on the backside of the Triangle Bar, another kiteboarder-owned establishment.
Camas Valley, Idaho
By Monty Goldman
We are still exploring the Camas Valley and will be for many years to come. What makes this area unique and draws people from all over the world is the consistent wind and an unlimited variety of terrain. Rolling hills give way to mountains and beginner-friendly flats follow the road for miles. You can easily access spots with no trees, deep snow, and steady wind from your car. It is not uncommon to ride over 100 miles in a day. Many mountains and hills are positioned for perfect ascents with your kite.
Often, what looks like the top of a mountain is actually another large expanse of ideal snowkite terrain with more peaks and features looming in the distance. No matter how far one riding area is from another, it all seems interconnected. Once you discover a few ideal places to ride, the real fun is connecting the dots and getting to ride where no one has ever ridden.
Best Time to Visit: Head to Idaho late December-March for the best conditions.
Typical Winter Conditions: Expect lots of snow in January and February with plenty of sunshine between storms to keep you smiling. Temperatures plunge at night and remain in the 20s on most days. In March, spring kiting is in full swing with lots of sun and snow. This is snowkiting, not resort riding, so bring clothing that keeps you warm but doesn’t restrict your movements. Remember, even though your body is in constant movement, your extremities aren’t. In Idaho, the snow can get deep so a wider ski with lots of contact under the foot can keep you laughing on the surface. Alpine Touring (AT) bindings have releasable heels which make setting up your kite easier and keeps you safe for return treks to the car if the wind shuts down.
Snowboarders should take advantage of the boards with reverse camber recently released by kite companies, or grab your resort board and make modifications on your stance. Releasable snowboard bindings work wonders for all ability levels and can be picked up for next to nothing. Advanced skiers should bring touring skins and advanced snowboarders should bring a split board or snowshoes. Small snowshoes, while convenient, may not be the most reliable means of transport. Opt for a larger size to keep from getting stuck. Kite sizes range from 6 to 14m with the majority of days spent on the 12m.
How to Get There: Boise (BOI) and Sun Valley (SUN) airports are close to the Camas Valley. From Sun Valley, take Highway 95 north and Highway 20 east (about an hour and a half ). From Boise, take Highway 84 east to Mountain Home and then Highway 20 west to the Camas Valley (about an hour). There are no markers or signs that say “Camas Valley,” but most of the kiting is west of Hill City. We only started naming areas to kite a few years ago. Just look for kites in the sky and pull over or pop your head out of the car and find your own sweet spot. For a map, check out www.snowkitesoldier.com
Where to Stay: The resort town of Sun Valley offers a large variety of accommodations for all budgets. The Prairie Inn in Fairfield (www.theprairieinn.com) is the most convenient. Mountain Home is 30 minutes away with lots of cheap places to rest your head.
What to do if No Wind: Soldier Mountain Ski Area is 10 minutes from Fairfield and offers great riding. The mountain operates Thursday – Sunday so look for amazing powder days on Thursdays. Sun Valley Ski Resort is world-class riding at its best and is only a couple of cups of coffee away.
Contact for More Info: Snowkite Soldier (www.snowkitesoldier.com, 208-484-1620) offers a variety of programs to suit all abilities, ranging from basic snowkiting techniques for crossover kiteboarders and newbies to backcountry-guided services. You can also contact Idaho Mountain Sports (www.idahomountainsport.com).
Big Hole Valley, Montana
By Joel Beatty
The Big Hole Valley is a high-altitude remote valley that holds varying snowkiting opportunities. With only three small towns and 900 residents populating this 60-mile swath of land in southwest Montana, the Big Hole offers up a snowkiting experience that is unique to Montana. The valley is surrounded by three separate mountain ranges with ample terrain on public lands accessible by car, hiking, and snowmobile. The valley floor is mostly open rolling hills and gullies on private ranch land that can be accessed with landowner permission. The elevation ranges from 6,000 feet at the valley floor with some of the surrounding peaks reaching over 10,000 feet.
The locals are friendly and there is a long history of winter recreation in the area. At the northern tip of the valley is the well-established Mount Haggin. Its miles of open and challenging terrain make it one of the premier kiting areas in Montana. At the south end is Big Hole Pass, which produces consistent thermal wind and is a launching point to some bigger terrain. In recent years, most kiting has remained on the outer boundaries of the valley with much of Big Hole left unexplored. The massive landscape combined with consistent wind and snow make the culturally rich Big Hole Valley a unique snowkiting destination.
Best Time to Visit: The winter kiting season can begin as early as October and last into May, but the best time is February-April.
Typical Winter Conditions: The Big Hole is a high-altitude valley, so it can get pretty cold. The valley is fairly remote and unpopulated. You can kite all day and only see the occasional snowmobiler, hunter, or rancher. Prepare as if you’re going into the backcountry in the middle of winter. Snowshoes are a good idea as the snow can get fairly deep.
How to Get There: The Big Hole Valley is a 60-mile-long valley in southwest Montana. It consists of three small towns, Jackson, Wisdom, and Wise River. The valley has two state highways intersecting it, MT43 and MT278, and can be accessed from Interstate 90 from the north and Interstate 15 from the south and east or Highway 93 from the west. The nearest airports are in Butte, MT (BTM) or Missoula, MT (MSO). A four-wheel-drive vehicle is suggested. The roads can get drifted in fast and the snowplows take their time getting around sometimes.
Where to Stay: There are two small towns in the heart of the valley, Jackson and Wisdom. Jackson Hot Springs (www.jacksonhotsprings.com, 406-834-3151) has great accommodations with a lodge, restaurant, bar, and terrific natural hot spring pool so you can soak after a long day of fun. In Wisdom, there’s the Pioneer Mountain Lodge (www.bigholevalley.com/Pioneer_Mountain_Lodge.html, 406-689-3229), which is located in the center of the valley with kite spots nearby in every direction. In the northern tip of the valley, the Sugar Loaf Lodge (www.sugarloaflodgeandcabins.com, 406-491-3748) is located on the boundary of the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area which is one of Montana’s premier snowkiting locations.
What to Do if No Wind: The Big Hole Valley has a long history of winter recreation. There is ample opportunity for snowkiting, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing in almost every part of the valley. Every year, there are multiple events going on in the area during the months of February-April, including Winterfest in Wisdom, a Nordic Ski race at Mount Haggin, and the Montana Snowkite Rodeo at Jackson Hot Springs, March 29-April 4, 2010.
10,000 Lakes, Minnesota
By Nathan “Northstar” Borer
Minnesota is an amazing place for snowkiting. The accessibility for snowkiting here is unmatched with over 10,000 lakes that freeze over and offer the perfect environment for snowkiting. The frozen lakes allow kiters to drive out onto the ice and rig right next to their vehicles. On Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Minnetonka, and White Bear Lake there are normally ice roads from the fisherman that you can use to get on the lake without a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Swede Lake does not have many fishermen, so the NorthStar Kiteboarding crew plows their own road and sets up a terrain park with a variety of rails and kickers, including one huge kicker that also serves as a warming shack. Minnesota hosts a range of events including the Red Bull Kite Freeze, Mille Lacs Crossing, and the Snowkite Rally. You can also check out the north shore of Lake Superior, which offers awesome skiing and snowboarding with great lake-effect snow at the Spirit and Lutsen Mountain Resorts. If you are up for a cold-water challenge, bring your drysuit for some kitesurfing or surfing on Lake Superior, as the jet stream brings in north winds which kick up huge swell in Duluth and surf on the points of the north shore.
Best Time to Visit: The best conditions are in late January until early March.
Typical Winter Conditions: Minnesota has a bad rep for being cold and well, it is. In the winter you can expect below-freezing temperatures and blisteringly cold winds. A vigorous jet stream brings high and low pressure systems through quickly, which causes large temperature variations over a short period of time. In mid to late February, Minnesota starts to get zonal flows in the jet stream, which bring warmer weather and a nice break from the cold, so it’s really not that bad. Bring all of your gear because the weather changes quite often, but the most common kite sizes are 10-13m. Make sure to bring your serious winter gear as this is as close to the North Pole as you can get in the Continental US!
How to Get There: Fly in to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), located across the street from the Mall Of America. The NorthStar Commuter Rail can take you to downtown Minneapolis and 40 miles west of the cities. The airport is connected to several major highways for easy access to your destination.
Where to Stay: In Lake Mille Lacs, try the Garrison Inn (www.garrisoninnsuites.com), and the Country Inn and Suites (www.countryinns.com/plymouthmn) for Lake Minnetonka and Swede Lake. If you are looking for night life, downtown Minneapolis has an abundance of places to stay, but prepared to spend a few extra dollars.
What to Do if No Wind: Don’t worry about a lack of wind, as Minnesota is a winter wonderland filled with many outdoor activities such as hockey, ice climbing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and of course skiing and dnowboarding. Visit www.exploreminnesota.com/snow-activities for more info on winter activities. If you are into urban snowboarding or skiing, Minnesota is one of the best states in the US. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth are filled with hits everywhere and many pro snowboarders are making it a destination to film and ride. If you want to get out of the cold for a day, head to the Mall Of America where they also have the Water Park of America with a wave machine and a wave pool. Minneapolis also has a thriving music scene (www.minneapolismusic.com/minneapolis-venues.htm) and is home to a lot of local talent including Brother Ali, Atmosphere, and Molly Maher, who is hometown Slingshot rider Laura Maher’s sister.
Contact for More Info: For more info on snowkiting in Minnesota, visit www.northstarkiteboarding.com, www.velocitykiting.com, www.midwestmtn.com, www.scubacenter.com, www.lakawa.com, or www.mnadventure.com
By Tom Fredericks
Anchorage, Alaska, is the last major city on the Northern Frontier. Within a two hour drive, you can find endless snowkiting opportunities. The wind in Alaska is very dynamic and changes from day to day. The weather here is very complex because of the mountains and mountain ranges that surround Anchorage. Generally, you can expect to snowkite during frontal and high-pressure winds. Located about an hour from Anchorage, Portage Lake is a great place to kite because of the pressure difference between Turnagain Arm and Prince William Sound that creates a dependable wind flow combined with an annual snowfall of 240 inches.
At Portage Lake, be aware of open water and thin ice. If you don’t mind riding a mile and a half upwind to get back to your car, the far end of Portage Lake offers mind-blowing freestyle terrain. If you venture to the far side of the lake, wear your avalanche beacon. If Portage Lake is too windy, head to Turnagain Pass, 20 minutes towards the town of Seward. Turnagain Pass is a natural snowkite park. There are fun terrain features everywhere to play on, including quarter-pipes, table tops and glide slopes. Avalanche transceivers are a requirement here too, because of the natural avalanche chutes that rise above Turnagain Valley.
Best Time to Visit: Head to Alaska in February-June for the best conditions. Portage Lake is best from January until the beginning of April.
Typical Winter Conditions: Conditions will be cold. There is a chance that the afternoon will be sunny and warm, but the weather will soon become very cold again. Plan to dress like it will always be below freezing. Bring ski clothes, a down Jacket, three pair of gloves (one pair of light gloves), warm socks, thermals, a helmet, pads, backpack shovel, avalanche beacon, avalanche probe, skis with skins or a splitboard, sunscreen, hand warmers, and two-way radios. If you are heading for the backcountry, also pack a four-season tent, stove, water bottles, and a sleeping bag rated for below 0°. Bring two kites, one 12m or larger and a 6-8m and you should be covered.
How to Get There: Fly to Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage has all of the amenities you will need.
Where to Stay: There are a number of choices for places to stay in the area. Portage Lake is a 20-minute drive from the town of Girdwood and an hour drive from Anchorage. In Anchorage, try the Spenard Hostel (www.alaskahostel.org) or any hotel near the airport. In Girdwood, you can go for a budget hostel (www.hostelgirdwood.com or www.alyeskahostel.com) or rent a cabin (www.alyeskaaccommodations.com, www.alyeskamountainchalet.com, or www.girdwoodhotel.com).
What to Do if No Wind: If you get skunked for wind, you can go skiing at Alyeska Resort (www.alyeskaresort.com) or give skiing the backcountry a try by snowcat or helicopter (www.chugachpowderguides.com).
Contact for More Info: Contact Alaska Kite Adventures (www.alaskakiteadventures.com), the local experts on snowkite instruction, guided snowkite trips, and local knowledge. For information on weather and snowkiting in southwest Alaska, visit www.eastofanchorage.net