The Newest Mecca- Snow Kiting in Utah
By Steve Mayer
Published Feb 2004
How many different sports call Utah a Mecca?
Add a new one; Snow kiting. Utah has become the destination spot and fastest growing population base for snow kiters in the country.
Most of us have seen or heard about kite surfing, using a huge kite (think Wal-Mart Snoopy Kite on crack) and a surfboard to pull you around the ocean. Kite surfing quickly surpassed windsurfing and is the fastest growing water sport in the world. Well before the sport existed on water, there were a group of kiters using the power of wind to pull them along on land, either on a 3 wheel buggy, an off-road skate board, skis or snowboards. The kites were low tech. The pull from the kite was very jerky and when a gust of wind came, the kiter often got yanked off planet earth, leading to either injury or stories that would scare even the most hardened “extreme” junkie.
As the sport grew in the late 90’s, dozens of companies entered the market, creating an explosion in R&D. The concept of “de-powerable” kites came about as a result- the kite can be sheeted in and out, much like a sail, to spill or create power. About this time, companies like Ozone Kites saw the potential for kiters to use this technology and the first dedicated snow kites emerged in the last decade. The kites of today are unreal - powerful, versatile and finally truly safe. A new sport is born! Cloud 9's founder, Steve Mayer was lucky enough to be around for the birth of the sport and spend times with designer legends like Robbie Whittal to help hone in the new designs and test new ideas.
Snow kiting appeals to a vast range of people. The hard-core kite surfers are a natural cross over candidate, often just picking up a kite and instantly being proficient. Skiers or snowboarders are the next natural group of kiters. If you already know how to ride a plank or two, all you need to do is learn the basics of flying a power kite. The third and elusive group is the enormous demographic of potential kiters living in the non-mountainous interior of the world. The Kansas Warrior who doesn’t have a mountain to play on or a beach to surf, now have a sport they can pick up and enjoy with the freedom that the wind provides. They can ride as fast as you can imagine and jump higher than the hero from the latest Warren Miller film- in their corn fields or frozen duck pond. (yes, I grew up in Kansas)
To snow kite you don’t need a mountain, a flat field or frozen lake are where the majority of kiters play. Next you need some wind, how much is complex. Like wind surfing, most that get into the sport find they will need 2 or even 3 kites. One for light wind days, and one for high wind days and another for "most" days. , small kites can handle winds in excess of 30mph. A small kite is from the 5 to 9 square meter range; large kites are 14 meters up to the 21 meter giants. In Utah, most kiters use a medium sized kite most of the time, and if you can only swing one kite, somewhere around a 10 meter'ish kite is the way to go, depending on your weight. There are 2 main styles of kites, foils (preferred on land) and inflatables (preferred on water). Then comes size, larger guys need larger kites… a half hour education at the Cloud 9 (shop's called Adventure Toy Store) really helps to decide what is right for you. The third item you need is a kite harness. Be sure to try them on first, as the fit is different over your winter clothing! Snowboarding is more natural, and feels more like kite surfing on water, but skis are a bit easier to learn on as you can move around easier if you need to move up to the kite or back up when launching the kite. Add some wind and you are set!
Ok, I’m sold, how do I learn? The gang at Cloud 9 (shops called Adventure Toy Store) in Draper broke it down for us. There are 2 ways to go about learning; the “right way” is to sign up for a lesson. They’ll start you out on a training kite, a small 2 or 3 meter kite, to get you used to flying a power kite on a bar. Sounds easy, but this is the hardest part of the whole thing, being able to fly a kite and steer it without looking at it. Next they move you onto a small snow kite, working on the safety systems and re-launching the kite off the snow, and soon you are off and riding. By the end of your first 2-3 hour lesson ($195), the majority of Utahn’s with some ski or snowboard background are staying up wind and ripping around unassisted. The other way to learn is actually the most common, the Go For It Method. True snow kites are so safe and user friendly these days that this does work for most athletic, adventure minded souls. You’ll need 2 extra pieces of gear, your own trainer kite is invaluable, (you’ll end up loaning it out to all your friends so the $100ish price tag isn’t so bad) and a “how to snow kite” DVD. As long as you follow the steps and don’t skip to jumping and riding up mountains the first day, this is a viable way to go. Cloud 9 offers a free “informal” lesson when you buy a kite- watch the video and fly your trainer first- then they’ll meet you at a kite spot and make you’re set up correctly and get you rolling while they help others and get some much needed riding in as well.
Utah was put on the snow kite map in 2003 when the gang from Ozone Kites found the dream site just an hour and a half from Salt Lake. Skyline Drive sits at the top of Fairview Canyon off Hwy 6. Until then most snow kiters were kiting on flat fields, riding uphill was only done by the best kiters, and once you got on top of a hill or mountain, it was difficult to ride down without taking off and flying away like a paraglider. Skyline offers a blend of flats and above tree line hill riding. Sitting at 11,000 feet along a plowed paved road with a new parking lot built for kiters and snowmobilers, and a constant supply of wind, Skyline can’t be beat. As more and more good kiters starting riding up the hills of Skyline, soon a few with paragliding backgrounds began “flying” off the top of the hills, they kite up, boost the kite at the right time and with the right amount of speed and off they go, gliding down hundreds and hundreds of feet! The terrain at Skyline is like a 10,000 acre terrain park! Soon kiters from around the world came to Skyline to enjoy the vast possibilities. Robbie Whittal the designer of the leading Snow Kite manufacturer, Ozone, moved here and before long new kite spots began springing up all over Utah. Last year local and Cloud 9 groupie Kevin Steen traveled to Norway and won the overall World Snowkite Championship. The first ever Ski Resort to allow kiting at a resort is Utah’s own Powder Mountain. Cloud 9 has seen sales numbers double every year for the past 10 years, selling well over 200 kites a year, mostly to locals in Park City and Salt Lake.
Anyone thinking about learning to kite surf in Utah should get into snow kiting this spring. March and April are the best months for wind and snow in Utah, and with the water season right around the corner, learning the basics on snow makes the transition to water kiting easier. Rush Lake, Utah Lake and Deer Creek Reservoir offer fantastic kite surfing for those of us without the beachfront condo in Maui! Check out Cloud 9 Toys (801-576-6460) in Draper or visit www.paragliders.com for more information on gear or lessons.
WHERE TO RIDE:
Wind is the key ingredient. Call Cloud 9 for wind conditions or learn how to forecast wind speeds at the major 5 kite areas in Utah.
- Skyline Drive- Take I-15 South to Hwy 6 (Price), follow for about 10 miles to Hwy 89, go South for about 30 miles to the town of Fairview. Go Left (east) onto Skyline Drive and follow road for 14 miles, go ½ mile over the summit to the large parking area. Great for all wind directions and the most consistently windy spot.
- Park City – several fields, a few of which are off-limits to kiters. Please check with local kiters or Cloud 9 for more information. Most popular spot is the “Lama Field”, Take I-80 East past Park City to the Hwy 40 Exit, Go south toward Heber and get off at the fist exit ramp, go left over the highway, and take your next right (in front of the Home Depot), go 1 mile just over the top of the hill and you will see kiters parked there if there is any wind. Best on a north wind, but pre-frontal south is more common and works as well
- Strawberry Reservoir- Hwy 40 East through Heber, and over Daniels Summit. There are over 10 different spots to kite here. Drive down the road and often just look for other kiters and park. If kiting on the lake- make sure it’s frozen! Best on a north wind, but a strong south flow works as well.
- Secret Spot - We could tell you, but as the saying goes, then we would have to kill you.
REMEMBER TO RESPECT PRIVATE PROPERTY. SWANERS PRESERVE IN PARK CITY IS TOTALLY OFF LIMITS TO KITERS.
Steve Mayer is the founder of Cloud 9 Paragliding / Power Kites (www.paragliders.com). When not teaching flying sports or kiting, he can be found traveling the world speed flying, kite surfing, paragliding, motorcycling, climbing, biking, sliding on a skeleton sled, or enjoying being a single dad of 2 little boys.