Snowkiting – like kitesurfing you are moved by the wind. But over snowy mountain landscapes and cold temperatures.
Snowkiting is practised especially in the Grisons and in Central Switzerland. Often you go to a pass height to find the best wind conditions.
How did snowkiting originate, where does it come from?
Snowkiting, like kitesurfing, developed from kitesailing. Kitesailing means flying with a stunt kite. The kite is called a kite. The first developments were made as early as 1826, but it was not until 1990 that the first kite buggy was developed.
The buggy, which is officially called a parakart, can also be used with floats, runners or skis instead of wheels. Dieter Stragilla, who advanced paragliding with the development of the first paraglider, also experimented with parachutes on skis at an early age. After the invention of kitesailing, more and more variants were developed. These include kitebuggying, kite landboarding, kite surfing and snowkiting.
How is snowkiting practised?
Snowkiting is practised in winter on snow-covered, open areas. You need a towing kite and skis or a snowboard. If the wind is strong enough, you fly the kite, which pulls you over the snow on your skis or snowboard.
What is the difference between snowkiting and kitesurfing?
When kitesurfing, a board is used with the kite on the water. Today, twin tips are usually used as a board, with the feet in loops. Directional boards (also called surfboard or waveboard) are used without loops. The size of the board becomes smaller with increasing professionalism. On the water you can use both the waves and the pull of the kite as support for jumps.
When snowkiting, the temperature is usually below freezing point. Water has turned into ice and snow. This increases the risk of injury when jumping. On the other hand, you are safer on the snow in your skis or snowboard than on water because the ground does not move. You can also snowkite at lower wind speeds than on water. Wind speeds of 12 km/h and above are sufficient. What both sports have in common is the kite.
Who is snowkiting for, what kind of condition and experience do you need?
Snowkiting requires an average level of fitness. You do not have to be a top athlete to practice this sport. Previous experience in kitesurfing is an advantage, but not absolutely necessary. It is more important that you have already been on skis or snowboard and are reasonably safe on them.
What do you need for snowkiting and how expensive is the equipment?
For snowkiting you need:
- Skis or snowboard
- Kite (tube kite or mat kite)
- Kitebar (handlebar)
- Hip trapeze or seat trapeze with leg loops
- Kiteleash (safety line to the kite, preferably with neoprene cover)
- Clothing, helmet, ski goggles and boots, windproof and water-resistant gloves
- Protectors on the knee, butt, elbow, head can be useful especially for planned jumps and when there is little snow
The skis should preferably be Freeride or Race Carver. It is important that they are curved upwards at the end of the ski. If you have to reset with the skis after landing in the backcountry or on a slope to restart the kite, they will otherwise dig into the snow slightly and you would tip backwards.
The skis would also get caught in the front between the kite bar and the lines. Especially in the beginning you will surely use the skis or snowboard you already own and know how to use. You should note:
- The longer and straighter the skis or board are, the faster you can kite.
- The shorter and more waisted the skis or board are, the more agile you are when kiting.
Soft kites (also called foil kites or ram-air kites) are best suited for snowkiting. Soft kites are constructed like paragliders. They have upper and lower sails, which are connected to each other by profile ribs. Soft kites fill up with air when they are launched and thus build up a stable wing surface with an aerodynamic profile – just like a paraglider. Their advantage is also a very small packing size.
The trapeze serves to relieve the arms. For beginners, a seat harness may be the better choice as it has leg straps. This prevents the harness from slipping up, which happens again and again with the hip harness. The kite leash connects your kite to your harness by attaching it to the safety ring of your kite bar. It has a quick release for emergencies, which is released at the kite bar and takes the pressure off the kite.
The kite is then still secured to the harness via the kite leash and is thus prevented from flying away. One-piece suits are often used for clothing, as they cannot slip and keep you warm. Protectors can be improvised with pads in the trouser pocket, but there are also protector trousers to buy. In addition, a back protector is an absolute must in order to prevent serious injuries.
In the beginning it is better to work with the material you already have. For the kite you will have to calculate about 1.000 CHF including accessories. You can always buy more suitable clothing, other skis or a different board later, if you are sure you want to continue practicing this sport. You will then need two kites: a smaller and a larger one, depending on the wind conditions.
Many snowkiting schools rent out kites with proven training.
How long does it take you to train?
There are professional snowkite schools for snowkiting training. For safety reasons you should not try to teach yourself. In a professional school you learn not only the correct use of the kite and important manoeuvres in the snow, but also how to judge wind and weather correctly.
In a snowkite school, courses are given for beginners and advanced. Those who are already experienced kitesurfers will be given a transitional course for the use of foil kites on the snow.
Even as a beginner, you will have the first sense of achievement after just a few hours. What is important is the expert guidance. Even if you can already be pulled by the kite quite well after a one-day course, a second and maybe even a third day of training is advisable to deepen the procedures. However, jumps and extreme freestyle tricks require a lot of time and practice.
Is snowkiting dangerous?
As long as you only let yourself be pulled by the kite, snowkiting is not dangerous. However, there is a higher risk of injury in falls than in kitesurfing, as ice is very hard. This is especially important when you are daring to jump. Then protectors on your clothing are also important, especially in the back area.
A helmet is compulsory for the head. In your training at one of the professional snowkite schools you will learn how to behave best in emergency situations, when to release the pressure on your kite via the kite leash or when to disconnect completely from your kite for safety reasons.
Where can you practice snowkiting?
For snowkiting you need a lot of space and some wind. You should definitely avoid ski slopes. Snow-covered meadows, flat valley floors or a frozen lake covered with snow are suitable. Snowkite spots can be found far away from the crowds.
You can also use a slope to get pulled up. You can go down with or without a kite, which you can easily stow in your backpack.
In snowkiting the term “backcountry” is often used. It stands for hinterland and remoteness. It is very important for the right choice of the area that there are neither obstacles nor power lines.
On the unhooked.ch website, snowkite spots are displayed in winter and kitesurf spots in summer with their current weather forecast.