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Kiteskiing

If you enjoy light wind kitesurfing and making high jumps in moderate to strong wind, you probably want to try kiteskiing on ice or snow.  The high speed sensation of kiteskiing will remind you of those high speed down-hill runs that those ski resorts don't want you to make. The difference is that you are likely to enjoy kiteskiing all by yourself on a frozen lake or wide open field; there is nobody there to tell you not to go fast, you don't have to wait 1/2 hour for the ski lift nor having to pay for it.


Brent and Pat kiteskiing, jumping off the kickers (transition with spin and 1/2 kiteloop)
 

Besides, while kitesurfing is somewhat a "loner" sport, kiteskiing is actually a family sport.  You can tow your kids behind you on their toboggans or on their skis.  Furthermore, kiteskiing is so easy to learn that if your kids already feel comfortable on skis, they can learn kiteskiing with a small kite.

Kiteskiing is easier than kitesurfing so if you live in a colder climate and want to get into kitesurfing, don't wait until spring, go kiteskiing now!  The skill you learn in kiteskiing will be very useful in kitesurfing.

Brent in the middle of a jump

Many people associates kiteskiing with "being cold".  On the contrary, I have found that kiteskiing is "warmer" than any other winter sports and much warmer than kitesurfing in spring and fall (and most of the summer too!).

The Equipment

snowboards104.jpg (62944 bytes)

To go kiteskiing you need the following equipment

  1. A traction kite, lines and associated control device.  Any land or water kite can be used for kiteskiing.  Inflatable kites can also be used for kiteskiing especially the new Flat Inflatable (Flat LEI or bow kites) which can relaunch very easy on snow.  For classic inflatable kites, you may want to rig up a 5th line to facilitate relaunch on snow.  In very cold days, it is wise to pump up the struts indoor such that you only have to pump up the leading edge outside.  Similar to kitesurfing, make sure you have a safety release system that you can depower the kite at any moment. Furthermore, you may want to use a kite that provides good depowering capability such that you don't have to stop and change to a smaller or larger kite as frequent. Similar to kitesurfing, you would need a number of kites to cover the whole wind range.  
  2. A pair of downhill skis.  As a rule-of-thumb, shorter skis for ice and longer skis for lots of snow.
  3. If you want to go fast, select a pair of long, stiff down hill skis around as long as you can reach with your arm fully extended.
  4. A pair of downhill ski boots.
  5. A kitesurfing or windsurfing harness (waist or seat harness is fine).
  6. A helmet (a must on ice or hard pack as you don't want to test the "rigidity" of your skull when it hits the ice).
  7. If you do a lot of jumping on hard pack or ice, protect your body with a wakeboard impact vest with elbow and knee pads or simply use the same protection equipment that a hockey player uses.
  8. Warm clothing.  You normally need less warm clothing kiteskiing than skiing.  It's best to use layers such that you can take off some layers when it gets too warm.
  9. A good pair of thin yet warm mitten.  Don't use glove as your fingers can get cold rapidly.  You may want to use a pair of thin inner gloves in case you have to use your hand to work on the lines.

So how big a kite you need for kiteskiing?  As snow and ice have much less friction than water, you should use a smaller kite as you would for kitesurfing (on the average, about 2/3 of the size you would use for kitesurfing; smaller on ice - 1/2 - and larger on powder snow - 3/4).  If you fly the kite straight over head, you should be able to feel the pull from the kite and be able to walk backward with some reasonable effort.  If you feel the kite lift around 1/3 of your weight and can barely walk backward then you have more power than you would need for kiteskiing.

The Place

The best place to kiteski is probably a frozen lake.  Just make sure you have checked the ice condition.  In early or late season, the ice condition may be conditional, so it's wise to stay close to shore in the shallow area (maximum knee or waist deep).  One of the advantage of winter kiteskiing is such that you can stay close to shore without having the risk of destroying your fins or board.

Normally, the ice is considered safe for any human activities such as walking or kiteskiing if it is around 10 cm or 4" deep.  To check the ice thickness, just take an axe and dig a hole in the ice until you reach the water.   The other more obvious sign of safe ice is snowmobile, car tracks or fishing huts on ice.  These vehicles need ice thicker than  kiteskiing (normally they need 8" to 12" around 2 to 3 times as thick as we need).

Any empty snowy field would work well.

As the pull of the kite is normally lighter than kitesurfing, going upwind on a pair of skis is easy. One of the main bonus of kiteskiing is that it's OK to kiteski in off-shore wind.  If worse come to worse you can simply depower the kite, pack it and walk back to shore (as long as you have checked the ice condition)

The Technique


Eric, a 60+ years old kiteskier, is going fast

Before starting to learn kiteskiing, it is recommended that you already have some experience flying a traction kite.  If you have never flown a traction kite, please review the Kite piloting and the Kite power controlling sections before proceeding.

How To Start?

Foils:

  1. Lay your kite on the ground and put enough snow on its trailing edge to keep it in place.
  2. Release the lines from you control bar or handles and attach your safety leash to your wrist or harness.
  3. If you use a closed-cell foil that has pre-inflation valves, open them now to pre-inflate the kite (close the valve after the kite is 1/2 to 3/4 inflated).
  4. Get your boots in your ski binding.
  5. Launch the kite (if you are on ice, use the edge of your skis to stop yourself from getting dragged downwind).  If you are using a closed cell foil, make sure you maintain the tension on the front lines to let the wind fill the kite for approximately 60 seconds before launching.
  6. Dive the kite in the direction where you want to go.  You may have to point your skis down wind or in a broad-reach direction first and then turn upwind once you have gather enough speed.

Traditional Inflatables:

  1. Put the kite down on snow, leading edge toward the wind, one tip of the kite is on the snow the other tip is in the air.  The kite looks like a vertical "C" with the leading edge facing the wind.  
  2. Fold the kite tip and put enough snow on it to keep it from moving around.
  3. Get in you binding now.
  4. Hold the control bar and position yourself such that kite is at the wind window edge respective to your position (the kite is either 85 degrees to the left or the right of you with its leading edge facing the wind).
  5. If you use a 4 line inflatable, adjust your trim strap to put the kite in a depowered mode.
  6. Attach the safety leash to your wrist or harness.
  7. Pull on the control bar and the line nearest to the ground to unfold the tip and release the kite from the snow.
  8. Pull the top line (the line farthest from the ground) to move the kite up.
  9. Adjust the trim strap to power up your kite.
  10. Dive the kite in the direction where you want to go.  You may have to point your skis down wind or in a broad reach direction first and then turn upwind once you have gather enough speed.

Flat Inflatable:

  • Use the same launching method as traditional inflatable
  • Or
    1. anchor the chicken loop to a heavy object (your skis, snowboard, kiteboard or a heavy bag of sand).

    2. Go to the kite and launch it at the edge of the wind window.  The kite will just hover there with little or no pull.

    3. Go back to the control bar and attach the safety leash if needed.

    4. Attach the chicken loop to you harness.

    5. Get in your binding.

    6. Pull the top line (the line farthest from the ground) to move the kite up.

    7. Drive the kite in the direction where you want to go.

 

How To Get Going?

  1. Similar to kitesurfing, if you have enough power to get going, simply lock your kite at 30 - 60 degrees in the forward moving direction.
  2. If you don't have enough power, move your kite in a sine wave pattern to get going.
  3. To turn the skis upwind, edge harder and put more pressure on the down-wind ski
  4. To turn the skis downwind, flatten the skis

It's best to keep a wide stance between your feet for maximum stability at speed.  Keep most of the edging pressure on your down wind ski for ease of control.  If your down wind leg get tired, you can temporarily shift the pressure to the up wind ski.  If the snow/ice condition is good, you can have a narrower stance and keep pressure on both skis (60% on down wind ski and %40 on up wind ski) to go faster.  Click here to view the video of a fast reach.

As oppose to downhill skiing where you keep most of the pressure at the ball of your feet, in kiteskiing, you should keep the pressure at the middle of your feet for more balance and control.  In lots of powder snow, you need to sit back slightly to let your skis float near the surface to go faster.

How To Jibe?

If you use skis, you have to learn how to jibe (which should be trivial if you are already a skier):

  1. Move the kite upward and flatten your skis to move downwind.
  2. It's best to keep a slight "stem" formation (or the pizza slice formation) of your skis while moving down wind such that you can change the edge of your skis easier.
  3. Dive the kite in the other direction.
  4. Once you start feeling the pull from the kite, do the racer skier step turn by temporarily lift up the new down wind ski, turn it slightly and step it on a new edge (multiple steps may be needed).
  5. Move the new upwind ski parallel to the new down wind ski.
  6. Edge hard and hang on to move the skis upwind

How To Jump?

Jumping in kiteskiing is similar to jumping in kitesurfing.  You can either jump with the help of a kicker or jumping with the help of your kite.  Jumping off a kicker is very easy in kiteskiing; just go fast toward the kicker and then turn your kite up when you are near the top of the kicker.


Brent jumping off the kicker

 Jumping using the kite is a bit harder as you don't have the same power from the kite as in kitesurfing; however, the faster speed on skis provides the needed line tension to jump even with less power from the kite.


"Up and Away"
Photo by Claude

If you want to jump high in kiteskiing, you should only do that in powder snow as ice and hard packed snow are not very forgiving.

Jumping in kiteskiing uses the same techniques as in kitesurfing. Check here for the techniques of jumping in kitesurfing.

How To Tow Another Skier?

Kiteskiing is a family sport where you can go kiteskiing and towing your wife/girl friend or kids behind you.  To tow another skier behind you, just attach a 15' rope to your harness and a bar at the other end of the rope.  The towed skier simply hold on to the bar (as in water skiing).  The towed skier does not have to learn any special skill except for knowing how to go fast on a pair of down hill skis.  Safety is not an issue as the towed skier is far enough from the kite and can simply drop the towing bar in case of trouble.

With a towed skier behind you, trying to make wider radius jibes and always tell the towed skier just before you jibe.


Brent on telemark skis is towing Hung on snowboard

Kite Skiing Picture and Videos

Want to see more pictures and videos of kiteskiing? Check the 2007 Winterlude, 2006 Winterlude or 2005 Winterlude event.

Related Sports

Some kite sports using similar posture and equipment:

 


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