High pressure. No, I’m not talking about some critical job interview or political discourse. I’m speaking about high atmospheric pressure – sunny, usually cold, and worst of all – no wind. Sure you can find things to do on these days: Nordic skiing is one of my favorites. However, if you are a snowkiter, you learn not to take no (high-pressure) for an answer. Fortunately, when this hated blob of high pressure anchors itself over the northern Rockies, kiters know there’s a spot that works.The high pressure mecca I’m talking about is Antelope Flats, Idaho. Located on US Highway 26 east of Idaho Falls, Antelope Flats consists of many square miles of gently rolling fields that accumulate large amounts of snow. It even has its own Idaho DOT weather station. We park right at the station. The area north of the road, out towards the South Fork of the Snake River is full of easy beginner kite terrain and dozens of creamy wind lips, ideal for ramped boosts.It’s a magical spot for its reliable, steady and consistent wind. A two mph variation between the average wind speed and the peak flow is typical. It’s these daily katabatic winds, beginning in the middle of the night, that flow reliably across Antelope Flats during high pressure systems that make kiting here so magical. However, be warned: Like a ticking clock these same winds will shut down in moments, usually around high noon, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. Just be ready. Be near the highway or be prepared. Preparation for kiting away from the highway is seen on the backs of every experienced kiter around there (skins and poles). Not that you’ll need them, but if you’re caught a few miles out at noon, you will be glad you prepared for the skin back to the highway.
My decision to hit Antelope Flats was easy. I had watched the exiting snow storm, I had seen the ‘transition day’ set up and the weather models were all clear for high pressure. It was then I made my decision to drive to the ‘Flats’. My arriving early meant getting up pre-dawn and making the drive in the dark. Still I arrived before 10am and got in a superbly powered session on my 12m Ozone Summit. There were a few kiters already there and together we roamed the hills out towards the Snake River. Here we put on a boost-fest for ourselves smashing every wind lip and grinding every cornice line we could find. With wind that is so smooth and consistent, snowkiting becomes a different sport as one can really use every kite handling skill they knows with unfailing confidence.
The post-kite-session activity for me is soaking in the nearby hot springs. Heise Hot Springs is located fifteen miles away from Antelope Flats and for three days I made it my afternoon recovery ritual. The hot pool is 106F and the cool pool is 89. It’s a no frills soak and that’s all most of us need after an intense, fully lit snowkite session.
Days two and three at the ‘Flats’ were a notch stronger — 20mph gusting to 22mph. It was still 12m Summit conditions but with my knowledge of where my favorite wind lips were I made sure I was fully exhausted by the time noon rolled around. A few different kiters showed up each day and even a beginner or two came to get a taste of how much fun kiting Antelope Flats can be.That brings me to a reminder for every experienced kiter; if you are out there and see a beginner, take a minute and observe their progression, then, introduce yourself and see if you can give them a tip or suggestion to improve their skills. It’s a small gesture that’ll mean a lot to them and help bring them along in their path to self-sufficiency.So next time you are ‘feeling the pressure’, remember there is a place that works reliably and has a hot springs waiting to soak your tired bones.As a finale, on my drive home to Montana, I could see the first signs of a weather change – high wispy Cirrus clouds – were forming at one of my favorite ‘local’ spots. The high pressure was beginning to break down and a local katabatic wind was cranking. The wind was solid, there was a couple feet of untracked powder and the sun was shining. I pulled out my 15m Summit v4 UltraLight and was scored a superb solo session. This was a fantastic finale for my four days roaming the Rockies.
Words by Noah Poritz
Look for Noah Poritz’s latest article on Montana’s wild and wonderful backcountry in the winter 2016 issue of Tkb. Now available.