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Snow Kiting

Snow Kiting.

Snow Kiting in Cumbria

Snow kiting is also a fairly new sport that has really taken off over the past few years due to the increase in popularity of power kiting, particulary with the kite surfing community.  This sport uses the kite to pull the rider along on skis or a snowboard and allows the rider to pretty much go where he wants to without the use of ski lifts. In terms of "extremeness" this sport takes some beating as it combines the elements of land based and water based kiting and also snowboarding and at the very extreme end paragliding - the top riders in France for example use the kite as a paraglider and literally fly back down the mountain after using the kiter to pull them to the top.  The rule of thumb for basic snowkiting with a board appears to be if you can kitesurf then you can snowkite with a snowboard, the crossover between the two sports is extremely close in terms of kite and board control.  With ski's you definately need to be able to ski first.  Depending on where you are riding it does help if you can snowboard or ski because if had to get up into the mountains to get to the snowkite area by either hiking, ski lifts or riding up, then you need to get down after your session. We've snowkited with people who'd never snowboarded before but were experienced kitersurfers and they snowkited no problem - airs and tricks in a very short space of time, but getting back down the mountain was not so easy, especially with kites on their back!  Even experienced snowboarders find it difficult with a couple of kites on their back.

There is much more to it when you get into XC riding up onto peaks and deep into the back country - mountain safety and being well equipped is key - being able to read weather is also really important as it can change in an instant - as is knowledge of the snowpack and how it behaves.  Mountain navigation is also extremely important - a map, compass and GPS should always be part of the equipment.  It's easy to get lost and disoriented even when you know the area and the visibility drops to several metres in a snowstorm.

In terms of equipment, standard snowboarding and skiing equipment is ok. However in terms of kites there are several options available. Lots of manufacturers now are making snow specific kites. These are designed to be packed small and to be carried during extended periods of hiking with board or skis or can be carried on ski lifts.   The snow specific kites are foil based kites and are pretty much the same as the land based kites but tend to be depowerable and use a bar, very much like water kites.  Water kites can be used for snow, in fact it makes a lot of sense to use the same LEI kites you use on the water (familiarity etc), however there is a drawback. The LEI can be difficult to handle (launch and land) if you are on your own, they are heavier and you need a pump, whereas foils pack down real small, weigh next to nothing and you don't need a pump. My view is that if you have to hike to and from the snowfields foils are the way forward. If you can rock up and ride from the car I would use my water kites. I use both.  There are lots of occasions where you may need to hike or use ski lifts to get to the snow area - this is where foils win.  The other big plus point for foils is that they are so much more efficient in the air.  This means that they do not need as much wind to fly and therefore you can get a session in when LEI kites will not even fly!  Most of the Cumbrian guys have switched to foils for use on snow.

Manufacturers making snow kites are Gin, OzoneAir Evolution, to name but a few. There are other brands and types of kites that can be used, closed cell Peter Lynn's for example.

There are many locations in Cumbria that are excellent for snowkiting. However the snow can be very hit and miss and you have to go on the day otherwise you can miss the snow.  The Helvellyn range probably had snow cover for around 50+ days in 08/09 and probably well over 100 in 09/10.

We've had epic conditions (powder, sunshine and good wind) however the weather is extremely changeable in the Lakes so care needs to be taken in assessing the conditions and ensuring the you have the proper equipment to head into the mountains.  In addition to this the wind in the mountain is completely different from being on the beach. 

Local knowledge is key with snowkiting.  We've spent a lot of time in the fells and we have done fairly lengthy XC trips and know some excellent spots for every wind direction.  There is a snowkiting section in our forums so if you need to know anything post up in there and someone will help you out.