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Kitesnowboarding

If you enjoy kitesurfing, making high jumps in moderate to strong wind, you definitely want to try kitesnowboarding.  Kitesnowboarding is very similar to if not identical to kitesurfing.  The difference is that you are likely to enjoy kitesnowboarding all by yourself on a snowy field or a frozen lake, there is nobody there to tell you not to jump high or to go fast and you don't have to wait 1/2 hour for the ski lift nor having to pay for it.


Kitesnowboarding

Kitesnowboarding is a bit harder than kiteskiing but much easier than kitesurfing so if you live in a colder climate and want to get into kitesurfing, don't wait until spring, go kitesnowboarding now!  The skill you learn in kitesnowboarding is identical to kitesurfing.


Kitesnowboarding using similar body position as kitesurfing
Photo by Brent

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

The Equipment


Except for the rail, see how similar a snowboard and bidirectional kiteboards are?

 


Hyperlite Roam 2006 (left) and Hyperlite Roam 2007 (right).
Even wakeboarders now start using finless boards which look and feel like a snowboard

To go kitesnowboarding you need the following equipment

  1. A traction kite, lines and associated control device.  Any land or water kite can be used for kitesnowboarding.  Inflatable kites can also be used for kitesnowboarding 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 snowboard (any standard snowboard would do).  If you want to go fast, select a long, narrow snowboard.  If you want to jump and doing tricks, select a short, wide snowboard.  You need to reposition the bindings to be as centered as possible with 6 to 21 degrees duck stance (similar to a kiteboard).   Also, as you lean mostly backward, reposition the high back of the binding (less forward leaning as in normal snowboarding) to make it comfortable.
  3. A pair snowboard boots (step-in snowboard boots are the most convenience; regular boots and bindings may be tighter but you don't need the same tightness in kitesnowboarding as much as you may need in snowboarding) [I have used the regular winter boot in the Flow binding one size larger than mine].
  4. A kitesurfing or windsurfing harness (either waist or seat harness is fine).
  5. 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).
  6. 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.  As long as you have more than 6" of snow, the fall is not that bad.
  7. Warm clothing.  You normally need less warm clothing kitesnowboarding than snowboarding.  It's best to use layers such that you can take off some layers when it gets too warm.
  8. 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 kitesnowboarding?  If you can edge properly, you should use the same kite size as for kitesurfing.  Use a smaller kite (around 3/4 of the kite size for kitesurfing) only if you cannot edge properly (ice, almost ice or some bare spots of ice)


A kitesnowboard, a board made specifically for kitesnowboarding

The Place

The best place to kitesnowboard is probably a very large snowy field with clean wind (the minimum is twice the size of a football or soccer field).  The second best place is a large frozen lake with snow on top.  If you kitesnowboard on a 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 kitesnowboarding 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 kitesnowboarding 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 (from 8" to 1') than  kitesnowboarding.

Even though you can kitesnowboard on ice, it is more desirable if you have some decent snow coverage (as long as you can edge properly). 1" of snow fused into the ice is good enough for cruising and 2-3" of snow is good enough for jumping.

As the pull of the kite is slightly lighter than kitesurfing, going upwind on a snowboard is easy. One of the main bonus of kitesnowboarding is that it's OK to kitesnowboard 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

Before starting to learn kitesnowboarding, 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.

It is also recommended to review the whole HowTo section of kitesurfing as the techniques used in kitesurfing (a bidirectional board) and kitesnowboarding is identical.


Jump & grab

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 snowboard binding.
  5. Launch the kite (if you are on ice, use the edge of your snowboard 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 snowboard down wind or in a broad-reach direction first and then turn upwind once you have gather enough speed.

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. If you are not using step-in binding, 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 sand.
  8. Pull the top line (the line farthest from the ground) to move the kite up.
  9. Step in your binding if you have not done so in step 3.
  10. Adjust the trim strap to power up your kite
  11. Dive the kite in the direction where you want to go.  You may have to point your snowboard 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/snow/ice).
    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
    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 snowboard upwind, edge harder and put more pressure on the tail/back of the snowboard
  4. To turn the snowboard downwind, flatten the snowboard

It's best to keep a wide stance between your feet for maximum stability at speed.

As opposed to downhill snowboarding where you keep most of the pressure on your front foot, in kitesnowboarding, you should keep even pressure between your feet for more balance and control.  If you keep too much pressure on the front feet, you may fall forward the front of your board.

In lots of powder snow, you need straighten your front foot and bend your back foot to let the front tip of the snowboard float above the surface to go easier and faster.

How To Jibe?

With a snowboard, you don't need to jibe, just move the kite up, stop and then move the kite in the backward direction to move backward.  You can perform a more "glamorous" jibe by simply jumping and then landing moving in the other direction (only do this once you have learned how to land smoothly as hard packed snow and ice are not very forgiving).  The other option is to perform a fake jibe as when jibing a bidirectional board:

  • Move the kite up and carve the board downwind
  • When the kite is almost a zenith, edge the windward rail and slide the board down wind; the back foot now become the new front foot;
  • Dive the kite is the new direction to get going

Also, read the Jibing a bidirectional board section of kitesurfing.

How To Jump?

Jumping in kitesnowboarding is identical 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 kitesnowboarding; just go fast toward the kicker and turn your kite up when you are near the top of the kicker.


Jumping off a kicker
Video by Brent

Jumping using the kite is a bit harder as you may have slightly less power from the kite than in kitesurfing in icy condition; however, the faster speed on snowboard provides the needed line tension to jump even with less power from the kite.


Claude in middle of a jump & spin

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

Jumping in kitesnowboarding uses identical techniques as in kitesurfing. Read the Jumping section for more information.

How To Land?

Landing smoothly is somewhat optional in kitesurfing (especially when you are learning new tricks); however, it is a must in kitesnowboarding unless you want to break your bones.  Read the Landing section for the technique of smooth landing in kitesnowboarding and kitesurfing.


Landing time!
Photo by Brent

Frozen Wave Riding


Riding the frozen wave in Winterlude 2006
Photo by Claude

One of the main bonus of kitesnowboarding is that you can ride the frozen wave similar (similar to kitesurfing in wave) almost anywhere you can find a snow bank.  Riding a frozen wave is fun and it's always there for you.

Except for lacking the dynamic feature of a wave, the frozen wave provides the same feeling and needs the same wave riding techniques.

 


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