The purpose of this section of the web site is to provide a WIDE range of information related to winter riding on skis, snowboards or any other means while being pulled by a kite.
If you are a rank beginner and have no experience flying kites, please check out the winter riding section under Lessons here.
To see local riders in action, check out Snowed In, a short snowkiting film produced by Kiteriders own Karl Bzdusek: Snowed In
Where can you ride safely and still have tons of fun? See below and be smart about this.
1) Frozen Lakes: This is probably the most popular place to ride in the frozen Midwest and other areas where mountains are few and far between. Frozen lakes work really well due to the slippery nature of the surface. You generally do not have to worry about damaging edges on snowboards and skis. Once we get snow on top of the ice, the conditions can be epic.
Note: Please be extremely cautious when riding on frozen lakes. I’m usually never the first person on newly frozen lakes and not the last one off. Make sure the thickness of the lake can easily support you and make sure you have the appropriate safety gear if needed. We usually check with ice fishermen to see what the thickness is before riding. See below under Safety for additional info.
- Smaller lakes and ponds tend to freeze sooner than larger deeper lakes. Keep in mind though that they will also thaw sooner if we get warm spells during the winter months.
- If you’re unsure of the conditions, it might be a good idea to not ride, or ride if you know you can be in shallow areas at all times. Olbrich Park in Madison, Wi has a big shallow area that makes it a little safer in case of thin ice.
- Watch out for soft spots or spring fed lakes. Lake Wingra in Madison is a spring fed lake and may have soft spots or even open areas year round.
- No cars on Madison area lakes. It’s the Law. Other lakes in the state allow cars and trucks. My advice is to NOT be the first person to test the ice. Check with local ice fishing places first for depth.
- Ice will form at a rate of 5/8″ per night, more or less depending on temps. 5 nights will get you 3″, which is getting towards safer conditions. Usually a minimum of 5 inches is safe to ride. Anything more than that is insurance for safer riding. Black ice is the safest and freezes the most uniformly. Partially snowcovered ice can have ice with large variations in thickness. Always carry Ice Claws. “Dick’s” usually carries a nice set where the two halves fit together into one piece. Good luck, be safe!!.
- Local lake conditions according to the 4 Lakes Ice Yacht Club, Area Conditions – right margin
2) Fields: If you can find a wide open field with no obstructions, then can be great for consistent winds and good snow. Fields will usually require more snow compared to Lakes to ride. If the snow is thin and the surface isn’t smooth grass, you might be in for some damage to your edges. The more snow we get the better. Snow that has been around for over a week or longer can provide a really good base for riding.
3) Farmers Fields: Same as above, but please ask permission first. Consideration of others is extremely important in this sport. Plus… bullet holes tend to do a lot of damage to kites let alone riders… just kidding, but not really.
Make sure the surface is smooth for riding. It might be best to stake out places to ride even before the snow flies. Natural terrain features can be a lot of fun.
4) Soccer Fields and Parks: Also good places to ride, but they can have a lot more obstructions that you might have to ride around or near. Goals… fences, etc., can be a big pain.
What looks like wide open spaces can become really small quickly when you start moving even at 20mph. The more open the space, the better the wind and the more room everyone will have.
5) Mountains: Yea boy… if you get the chance, go to places like Skyline in Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado to ride. They offer much different terrain obviously, but Skyline has the highest vertical with the most varied terrain that I’m aware of at this time in the US.
6) Golf Courses: Only ride if permission is granted first. Prepare to get a NO answer. It would be wise to ask well before a snow storm to be able to present a non harmful way of riding on the course. What a great place to ride though if there are few trees. The terrain would provide a lot of interesting riding.
NOTE: Keep off of the greens. This will get you kicked off immediately. I do not condone riding on Golf Courses at all since I’ve never done it yet, but it’s a possibility that is intriguing if the right snow conditions exist and prior approval is granted.
Be smart… ask a lot of questions of existing ride and locals… and know your limits.
1) Helmets – Do you need one? YES. Goggles and sunglasses are also very helpful. Keeping the eyes and head safe are top priorities. Where can I get one? Any decent ski or snowboard shop or sporting goods store should carry good helmets and goggles. Make sure you get one with vents and goggle that fit the helmet well. Go for light enhancing lenses to help pick up the snow features better when riding.
2) Protective Gear / Padding: It’s wise to protect the elbows, knees and buttocks at a bare minimum. Skateboard, rollerblade pads work great. Go to most any sporting goods store or Play It Again Sports store for pads. Dick’s Sports Or, you can purchase full padded winter moto-cross jackets and pants that work really well for riding on frozen lakes, etc. Take a look at: joerocket.com Most quality motorcycle shops can special order or may have this in stock.
3) Ice Picks: Most stores that carry ice fishing gear may also have ice picks that go around the neck for ease of use. Ice picks are used in case you fall through the ice and need to get out. www.dickssportinggoods.com or visit a local store.
4) Falling through the Ice: Please watch this video!!! It is an educational video from the Discovery Channel (Canada) that teaches you what to do if you fall through the ice while fishing, skiing, etc. It may save your life if you fall through the ice.
Having the correct gear can make all the difference in the world. There’s a ton of choices and we’ll help with making selections easier.
If you want to ride in the winter only, it might be wise to choose a foil kite over an inflatable kite. If you plan to ride all year round, choose either style of kite, most riders in this area choose to use Bow style or High Depower inflatable kites. They offer some advantages in the winter and are the kite of choice in the summer. Most local riders use inflatable kites year round on both water and snow/ice.
If you plan to ride year round, or only on the water, you might want to consider a High Depower inflatable or Tube kite that has a rigid inflatable frame. One of the main purposes of the rigid inflatable frame is to make water relaunching easier. Some of the better foils on the market also work well on water. Flysurfer and Peter Lynn kites are 2 of the best foils for water and land/snow.
HIGH DEPOWER KITES: Current trends have gone to bow/hybrid style of kites that offer a high amount of depower. With greater depower, you’ll need fewer kites to cover specific wind ranges.
Iâ€™ll try to make this easy for choosing a kite size.
For an average rider of 175 lbs on a snow covered surface that you can edge against well, kite sizes will be very similar to those used on the water. A 12m or 11m is usually a great medium wind kite (15-25mph). In light winds (10-20 mph), a 15m or 16m is a good choice. In strong winds (20-30 mph), a 9m or 8m is preferred. If it’s nuking winds (25mph+), a 7m or smaller will work.
***Note…if the surface is really fast or slick, go down one kite size for the same wind speeds above.
If you decide to ride in the winter only, a good foil may be a great choice. They do have some inherent features that give the impression of easier and faster to set up, longer life and the styles have been around a lot longer.
Please check with Bob@kiteridersllc.com for recommendations for the above kites. There’s a lot to choose from and picking the right kite can make all the difference.
If you’re a better snowboarder… use your snowboard. If you’re a better skier… use skis. If you do not know how to do either, please learn how to ski or snowboard first. It’s a recipe for disaster to learn both flying the kite and skiing or snowboarding at the same time.
If you want a kiting specific snowboard, companies are making them specifically for kiting. Otherwise, most any snowboard will work on snow. If you have ice or very little snow, there’s a product called the Switchblade that helps hold an edge on pure ice. It’s really difficult for snowboards to hold an edge on pure ice or ice with just a little snow. Check out any local shop, Play it again Sports, or the Hoofers Ski and Snowboard swap every December for deals on snowboards and bindings. If you ride with highbacks, you might want to remove them or make them quite upright to take tension off the thighs while riding. Bindings… mount them symmetrical with a duck stance on both sides. 12 degrees seems to be a good starting point.
Twin Tips: I ride for K2 and use the Public Enemy Twin Tip in all conditions except pure ice. You want a twin tip that holds an edge well for greater control.
Shaped / Race skis: On pure ice, I’ll use a shaped ski that has the least amount of taper to get really good edge hold. You need to be a fairly competent skier to ski well on pure ice or ice with minimal snow. Otherwise you’re in for a slide fest.
Long skis: Better for speed, but not as good for spinning tricks. Also good for going through variable conditions such as drifts.
Short Skis: Better for spinning tricks, but not as good at higher speeds.
In the end, try most anything that has a metal edge first if you have it. Otherwise use the guide above for reference.
Boots – Ski or snowboard:
This one is easy. Use what you have or buy what feels the most comfortable. If you’re walking on ice with ski boots, it can be a challenge to say the least. REI and others sell boot “walkers” that you slip on to help give traction on the ice. Trust me…these really make a big difference. Walk EZ
It’s easy to find cheap cheap skis that you think might work. CAUTION: Make sure the bindings are relatively newer models. Outdated bindings can be very dangerous. They might prerelease or not release at all. If in doubt, call a reputable ski shop and ask the ski technician if the bindings are “safe.”
Generally wear what you would use for skiing or snowboarding.
Jackets / pants: Wear what you have, but put padding over or under on the elbows and knees. If you don’t have the above and want kite specific gear with padding, winter moto-cross gear works great. joerocket.com has some really good padded jackets and pants.
Layering: Once you start riding, you’ll use a lot of energy compared to skiing and snowboarding, so be prepared to shed layers or start out with slightly less.
Gloves: Thinner gloves work great for winter kiting and will give you better feel for the bar and adjustments. Don’t use Mittens at all. Slingshot makes kite specific gloves and I have them in stock as we speak.
You’ll expend a lot of energy. Bring water and / or food to keep hydrated and energy levels higher. It’s always best to refuel / eat right after a good workout. Within the first 45 minutes, the body can absorb 2 times the nutrients compared to normal activity levels.
A good Ice screw can be used to anchor your kite during set up and tear down or while taking a break. They generally work better with foils. Black Diamonde Ice Screw
The video section has been moved to the Tips, Tricks, and Safety section.