Snowkiting

Winters in Syracuse are known for being bleak and dreary. So on one glorious sunny Sunday in February, my brother Jim and I went out to Oneida Lake to walk on the ice. We had a trek to Frenchman’s Island in mind. From the boat launch at Oneida Shores Park, I was surprised to see what looked like a large kite being flown off to the east. Since the shoreline blocked our view of the lake ice, we decided to go investigate to see what was going on.

After perusing the gazetteer and negotiating several back roads, we ended up at Borio’s restaurant parking lot. Here we left the car and followed snowmobile tracks around the back of the building where the kites were being flown. People were attached to them and were gliding across the ice effortlessly, something neither one of us had seen before. This was such a novelty I decided to talk to one of the kiters before hiking over to the island.

Perfect moment for us, one of them had stopped not too far out from Borio’s to adjust his kite. After we introduced ourselves, Brian Vanderslice, aka “Slice,” gave me the lowdown on one of the fastest growing winter sports, snowkiting.

Relatively easy to learn, you can be zipping along in no time with just a pair of skis or a snowboard and a kite. Snowkiting, also known as icekiting, can be done in any icy or snowy open area. Considering that kiters can reach speeds of 30 mph, having plenty of maneuvering room is essential. Also, it helps greatly if there are no overhead obstructions like power lines to get the kite tangled in. Most people can learn to icekite within one day, with many beginners learning to go upwind as well as downwind.

History and equipment
From what I recall Slice telling me, it seems some alpine skiers used a parachute to ski on a frozen bay in Erie, Pennsylvania, back in the mid 1980s. Stunt kite flier Lee Sedgwick and a group of fellow enthusiasts are credited as some of the founding fathers of icekiting. Since then, the sport has grown tremendously with a groundbreaking journey to the North Pole and back, and guided kite-powered adventures through Alaska.

A word of warning, however: snowkiting can be very hazardous and should be learned from an instructor and practiced with care. While it helps to be in good shape, it does not require as much upper body strength as one might think; it’s actually more about skill than brute strength. A harness worn around your waist enables you to “hook in” to the power of the kite. This gives you the advantage of having most of the kite’s pull absorbed throughout your body, not just in your arms.

First you’ll need a trainer kite; something around 2 to 5 meters is a good size for a beginner. Next, use any skis that you have or a snowboard. Use what you have used on the ski slopes, because anything will work except ice skates. Skis offer you the advantage of being able to walk around, so you can walk back to launch your kite. Downhill ski boots are required of course, and a helmet is a must unless you want to test your skull hardness against the hardness of the ice! I noticed that all the kiters had knee and elbow pads as well – not a bad idea when you think about it.


by Phillip Bonn