noun \ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi-\
: something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone
: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something
The Bighorn Snowkite Summit was an attempt to not only bring together snowkiters from all over the world, but to discuss the future of the sport. Themes for discussion were site preservation, marketing, safety standards, growing the number of participants and determining just how many snowkiters are out there. Nearly all of these discussions were fueled by Julian’s microbrews, Noah’s moonshine and various other intoxicants.
On the first day, we arrived at the conclusion that Snowkiting could benefit from a formal association that could represent it’s members. In France, there is a Snowkiting Federation that helps deal with the issues we were discussing. We were feeling pretty smug about the idea until it was pointed out that not only did an association already exist, but it had been in place since 2010! Snowkite enthusiasts David Grossman and James Brown had pioneered the idea and the website was already up and running.
In addition to being longtime snowkite enthusiasts, Dave and James are also prolific journalists and authors. Drift Snowkite Magazine was, the country’s first snowkite magazine. I remember being blown away by the quality and content in the first issue. Interviews, features and even gear reviews! Unheard of in the US up until that point. It was an idea that was ahead of it’s time.
It is this level of enthusiasm and involvement that I would love to see us get back to in the US. That is one of the reasons we held the Summit. I think it is time we re-visit the idea of an association. In addition to having bad short term memories, most snowkiters are an independent lot, whom generally don’t like being told what to do. We discussed issues like would the association have dues? How could it help? How could we raise awareness for it and how could we convince people to participate? These are all good questions. Right now, it costs nothing to sign up and maybe we can create a groundswell of support that will help with current issues that could end up affecting where you kite!
I usually find fun and interesting things to post about earlier in the winter. However, this year I have been really busy helping the JHK crew put together and stage one of the best snowkite events ever, The Bighorn Snowkite Summit! In a word, it was epic. I could go on and on, but our friend Noah Portiz has penned a summation that cannot be matched. A million thanks to our hosts at the Wyoming High Country Lodge, Howard and Cheryl. The food and hospitality were superb.
Never before in the United States has the announcement of a snowkite event created so much interest in so short a period of time. The idea was to host a week of snowkiting, on-snow instruction, kite demos and evening seminars at a backcountry lodge in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. The brainchild of the event was a few of the Jackson Hole Kiters, a tight group of avid Ozone riders that have been progressing snowkite technique and adventures for many years.
The northern Big Horns have been a snowkite destination for a handful of Wyoming and Montana locals since 2006. Each year we have push the limits of snowkiting in the Big Horn range. Each year we have come away enchanted by the diversity and immense magnitude of these mountains. In the lower 48 states, the Big Horns are one of our finest locations. Once the idea was hatched, it took only two days for the reservations to exceed the lodge’s capacity. With that news, some kiters said, “No problem, we’ll camp out!” Snowkiters are a hearty group, without a doubt.
With the dates set for the first week of December, it was now a matter of dialing in the logistics. Located at 8888 feet, the Wyoming High Country Lodge was to be our base for the week. Lodge managers Howard and Cheryl Jones came through with confirmation that they would do whatever it takes to make the event a success. With many of the local kiters in the northern Rockies having snowmobiles, and Howard with his Snow Cat, on-snow transport from the trail head to the lodge to the kite spots was successfully handled for non-snowmobiling participants. Because the event was to occur on the Big Horn National Forest, permits and insurance were required. Following that, all that was left was for the snow to get deep and the wind to blow.
Snow and blow it did. The first official day of the event we were rewarded with solid 30 mph winds and fresh powder. That first day, Snowkite Summiteers could be found at numerous kite spots shredding fresh powder and boosting sky high. Amazingly, this was our one day of above 0˚F temperatures! That first night, 9” of new snow fell and temperatures plummeted. A river of sub-zero Siberian air flowed into the Rockies. The nighttime lows averaged -25 ̊F night after night. While it was sunny, daytime highs were negative 15 ̊F! Everyone was on high alert not to have any exposed skin to guard against frostbite. The smallest routine chore became slow and time consuming in these arctic temperatures. Sightless kiters with frozen goggles were common. Throughout all of this, Howard and Cheryl kept the fireplace stoked and served up a week of hot, scrumptious meals. Amazingly, even the hearty kiters who camped out in tents were happy.
Every day we would venture out with our sleds and kite different spots. Some kiters tried out the latest kites from Ozone, the Summit and Frenzy. Others learned the basics of speed flying. Others “went long” and explored new areas of the Big Horns. Some visited areas that had never been kited before. Every day was a new adventure at the Snowkite Summit.
Every night was also an experience that will be remembered. Discussions were held on creating a grading scale of difficulty for snowkite terrain. Conversation on kite industry support was covered. A code of best practices for snowkiting was discussed. Consideration was given to revitalizing a nation-wide snowkite association. One night was devoted to viewing some of the best snowkite videos from the past and present. Ozone International Team Rider, Johann Civel, who was there from France, provided the US premier of his and Wareck Arnaud’s latest RIDE UP film: Blowin’ in the Wind. Through all of these nightly seminars and films, a couple gallons of Montana moonshine and 7 kegs of Montana homebrew were consumed! These were nights to revel and remember.
By the end of the week the kiters at the Big Horn Snowkite Summit were showing some wear and tear. The sub-zero temps were slowly draining us. Some of our sleds were reluctant to start. Through all of this, a new dimension of the future of snowkiting was being formed. Where it is going, no one can positively predict. However, snowkiting is refining its identity. Summit participants came to the Big Horns with widely differing experiences and perspectives. Perhaps the greatest outcome of the Summit was the friendships. Old friends and new friends, coming together at a remote lodge high in the mountains of Wyoming. These friendships will keep the future of snowkiting alive and well and provide a basis for the continued progression of the sport.
Thanks for Reading and Windy Regards,
Bam! There it is. Winter is winding down and ending on a high note is always the way to go. Will Taggart’s latest video showcases our backyard snow kite spots as well as the talented local riders who session them.
I am, of course, biased, but I have watched a lot of kiting videos, both kite boarding on the water and snow kiting and this short film stacks up with the best of them. Great video quality, progressive riding and next level editing.
The “adventure kiting” concept is gaining momentum. Instead of a focus on park and ride spots and progression of freestyle or wake style tricks, local and regional snow kiters are getting off the beaten track and heading for the hills. Long snowmobile rides, skinning for hours or winter camping in an effort to reach pristine terrain, untracked snow and back country adventure. In addition to the Jackson guys, Bozeman MT. local Noah Portiz and his crew have been prolific in ferreting out back country gems. Utah natives Marty Lowe and Jake Buzianis have also been exploring the further reaches of their home turf. Riders in Colorado, Washington and even New Hampshire are also following suit.
Progression is the name of the game. New spots, new ideas and new ways to use the wind and kite to interact with the terrain. This film chronicles some of that progression and by doing so is another step forward.
On Sunday March 10, my buddy Will and I set out to see how far we could get towards Yount’s Peak in the Absaroka Range. We began the day at 5am and snowmobiled to the wilderness boundary. The wind was strong NW and we inflated our kites and set out across the Buffalo Plateau. We reached the first gully early in the day and stopped to shred some pow before transitioning to skins to make it up to the next plateau and the steady wind above.
As we began to traverse the open plateau, my mind was blown the the sheer enormity of the terrain and how fast we we covering it on our Ozone Edge Kites! What amazing formations. It was like these snow covered mesas with thousand foot plus cliffs in every direction. A real “highway in the sky”. It reminded me of the video game Super Mario Brothers. We reached Crescent Peak by midday.
Ahead of me, I could see Will had come to the edge of another plateau where it rolled over into the void. Apparently he thought he knew the right way to go and began scouting along the edge of the cliff band, looking for the way through. Then he started descending into the void, on a 40+ degree slope, with his kite in the air! It was unnerving seeing him disappear over the edge of this narrow ramp, with cliffs on either side. After getting to the bottom, we pushed onwards through a narrow traverse, in steep terrain, through rocks and trees Above is a picture of me, following the route Will figured out on the spot, with the crux in the background. I used just about every trick I know to keep my kite in the air and out of the trees! Do or die scenario.
We reached another gully transition where we would have had to stow our kites and skin another 1000ft uphill. It was one o’clock by then and we decided it was too late in the day to continue because we were so far out in the back country and would need time to retrace our steps back to the sleds. So we went back to Crescent Mountain, and after a lunch break shredded some more powder. With kite assist, we could make run after run in great powder snow!
Will had lined up a few pictures in this massive, cornice topped bowl, just below Crescent Peak. I began to work further out the ridge and lined up this run. I have been chasing the wind and snow for ten years now, and they can be fickle sometimes. Other times, it all comes together and you get to do something really cool, that makes it all worthwhile. This was one of those moments.
All in all it was a great adventure, with several close calls including almost not making the last hill climb on our snowmobiles! The potential of this place is limitless for snowkiters. A little piece of Norway in our backyard. I have a feeling we”ll be back.