Tips for Finding New Snowkite Spots
With your winter world blanketed in white, finding great places to snowkite should be no problem, right? You park the car, get on your snow gear, cinch up your harness, unroll the kite and off you go for a fantastic, fun-filled snowkite session! In a perfect winter world, snowkiting should be so easy. Sometimes, however, there are little things that get in the way of making it easy: power lines, fences, houses, trees, mountains, rocky ground, livestock, and no trespassing signs. These are just a few of the many small but important obstacles that can make or break finding a great new spot to snowkite. Success in finding and getting access to places to snowkite often means taking the time to do a little homework beforehand.
First, the place one chooses to kite must have the all important ingredients of snow cover and wind. Finding these places requires a little local knowledge, asking questions, doing research and paying attention to the landscape. Some places are so windy that no matter how much we may wish, the snow just does not stick around: it blows away. Other places the snow accumulates to great depths but the spot is in a wind-shadow (natural or man-made) and the wind just does not blow cleanly in these spots.
To find locations that have good snow cover and wind, scout these spots in the winter and even during the summer. Ask locals about a particular spot. Use the world-wide web to study historical snowfall. Locate and study automated wind meters. Study topographic maps and Google Earth to provide clues as to the best places that may have potential. Talk with landowners and get permission, preferably in advance, to kite on their private land.
Assuming the place you’re considering has snow, one of the most important questions to ask: “Is the wind clean?” In other words, upwind of the kite location, does the prevailing wind have a clean fetch, free of obstacles that may cause turbulence? Clean wind makes an enormous difference in the enjoyment of kiting. If there are obstacles, the wind will rotor, gust, lull, shift and your session will usually be a lot less fun and may even be unsafe. Study topographic maps and Google Earth. Take the time to analyze the kite location and consider the prevailing wind direction to find spots with a clean fetch upwind of the kite spot.
Here’s an example of a topographic map of a backcountry area that Montana kiters hit every year: Windy Pass.
From the same perspective, here is a Google Earth screen shot of the same kite spot:
Finally, here is a Google Earth screen shot of Windy Pass looking southwest towards the prevailing wind direction:
As you can see, while this location is mountainous, the prevailing south-west wind direction has no significant obstacles and offers a generally clean fetch. Clearly this is an advanced kite spot, requiring a two and a half mile backcountry hike. In addition to the area being prime Grizzly Bear habitat, significant cliffs downwind add to the hazards of kiting there. However, because of its high elevation and SW facing exposure, Windy Pass is a reliable Montana kite spot from October – June.
In addition to public land, many areas offering perfect snowkite terrain are private property. Property ownership records can usually be found at the county courthouse and increasingly are online through digital databases. Some topographic mapping software even can overlay the ownership directly on to the topo map. In rural areas, stopping in at local bars also can fill in the blanks as to who owns a specific piece of property.
When scouting new locations on private property, don’t hesitate to knock on doors and politely ask permission. Some kiters are very comfortable doing this, others are shy. First, assume that the “No Trespassing” sign is not intended for you and don’t be shy – it never hurts to ask! Second, when approaching a landowner remember: Be polite, provide eye contact, and be respectful. At the same time don’t be so forthcoming in your request that you blow your chance to kite at a great spot. Usually asking “Can I please fly my kite on your property?” is enough to get the landowner to give permission. Sometimes they want more information. Sometimes they just want to know that you’ll be safe. Sometimes (rarely) they want a liability release form signed by you before you kite on their property (plan ahead and have a generic form ready). Usually, once permission is granted, the owner will watch in awe and amazement as you track up their property. People love to watch kiting! They may think snowkiters are crazy, but they’ll watch for hours. Don’t be surprised if their kids want lessons.
If you find a great kite spot on private property, one that you go back to again and again, do not hesitate to thank the owner. This thank you can be accompanied by a small token of your appreciation. Giving flowers to the wife, a gas card to the husband, or some other small gesture of appreciation goes a long way to ensuring continued access to special places to kite.
In the western United States there are many areas that are perfectly suited for snowkiting. There are also areas that rarely get snow cover. Pay attention to those once-in-a-decade snowstorms. Areas, both public and private, that get covered by the freak storm can make life–long snowkite memories. Also, as you progress and your kiting skills improve, spots that formally were off your radar will become part of your mental inventory for kiting. All it takes is an awareness of where the snow and wind is on a particular day and you’ll be boasting to your friends about the epic sessions you had last winter!
See ya out there, Noah Poritz