Yesterday I took a snowkiting lesson from the Best Snowkite Center in Utah. Our lesson took place in an open field just outside Park City. They offer several different lesson packages which range from 2-4 hours. I got a good deal on the Snowkite Into Clinic from Groupon when they had a one-day sale for $50. Normal price is $175 or $99 midweek.
The lesson is supposed to be for 2 hours, but we actually went from 9am to almost noon thanks to our instructor, Jacob, who gave us some extra time with the kites at the end until the next group showed up for their lesson. Jacob, who has been snowkiting and kiteboarding since the early 90s, was an awesome instructor and really made the lesson a lot of fun.
I had been wanting to take a snowkite lesson for years ever since I saw people kiting in the open fields around Park City, no lift ticket required :-). A few weekends ago I went up to the Skyline Summit area (out of Fairview, Utah) to watch the U.S. Open Snowkite Masters. There were all kinds of competitions going on, but there were also lots of snowkiters just having fun on the open mountain, all ages and abilities. So when the Groupon Coupon opportunity was delivered to my inbox for a discount snowkite lesson, I just had to take advantage.
The two hour introductory class covers the basics of kite flying. We didn’t get to the point of actually riding with skis or snowboards which was fine because learning to fly the kite was challenging enough in those few hours. Jacob had us start on a trainer kite (2m) which is much smaller than the normal kite you would use when snowkiting. The kite is attached with a wrist leash; no need for the harness yet. We learned how to guide the kite back and forth as well as up and down through what is called the “power zone” of the wind window. As the name suggests, this is where the wind is the most powerful against your kite. Even though this is a small trainer kite, when it got into the power zone you had to work hard at leaning back so the kite wouldn’t knock you off your feet. There were four of us in this lesson and we were split into pairs, each sharing a kite.
When we were done with the trainer kites, Jacob told us to get our helmets. Now we are getting serious. The trainer kite is a foil kite with open cells on the leading edge which fills up with air when you get it up flying. The next kites we used were tube kites. Instead of open cells, the leading edge has chambers which are pumped up super tight with air. Jacob took some more time with us going over saftey rules because the power of this larger tube kite (6m) is no joke compared to the trainer kite. He especially emphasized how to depower the kite and release it if we get into trouble, i.e. being dragged across the snow at speeds you wouldn’t want to be dragged.
We got into pairs again and each took a turn flying the tube kite. Jacob had us fly the kites in a sitting position and we quickly learned the meaning of “sheet out” with an exclamation behind it. When you launch the kite and as it goes through the power zone, if you don’t sheet out or depower you basically get launched into the air with the kite. In a matter of seconds, the first person in our group went flying across the snow about 20 feet while Jacob shouted, “Sheet Out!”
We spent the rest of the lesson taking turns flying the kite. It was perfectly okay to have to share because being yanked around and digging in while learning how not to would wear you down a little and the break was good for recovery time. Again it was okay that we were not using our skis or snowboards yet because it would certainly take more time to master the kite. If you do want to get to that point, then I recommend taking their “Kite on Snow” four hour lesson which teaches you more about handling the kite and moving you around on skis or a snowboard.
So if you either live or Park City or are visiting, I highly recommend taking a snowkiting lesson from the Best Snowkiting Center. (Edit: The Best Snowkite Center is no longer giving lessons, but the Utah Snowkite Center is. Here is their lessons page.) They actually will be giving lessons for another month or two up in the high country like Strawberry Reservoir (about 45 minutes east of Heber off Hwy 40), Skyline (Wasatch Plateau Summit out of Fairview) and Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
How to Snowkite DVD
I purchased this How To Snowkite DVD before taking my lesson just to see how difficult it is to learn and whether or not it would be something I would enjoy. The DVD is very thorough and covers everything from choosing a kite to expedition and backcountry snowkiting and maintenance.