Ice saiing: for the thrill of it
Ryan Summerlin December 14, 2011
Strap a set of skates onto what looks like a small Sunfish without a keel and you’re set to step out on the ice, catch the wind, and cruise quickly across the frozen Dillon Reservoir.
Ice boating is a popular sport in Wisconsin – which happens to be where the newly retired Greg Kastorff lives when he’s not spending the season in Summit County. He drives a Keystone Lodge shuttle when he’s not waiting for snow and was a newcomer on Tuesday to Summit County’s ice boater crowd.
Though there’s a lot of ice high in the Rocky Mountains, ice boating isn’t as common. That’s because, generally, the deep freeze is followed by heavy snowfall.
Which is exactly what happened last year.
The informal group of adrenaline junkies didn’t have any sort of ice boating season. Quite literally, not a single day was good for sailing on ice.
This year, though, they’re among the few who are excited about the sunny weather and clear, blue skies. In fact, they’ve been enjoying the clear ice since last Friday, when it got thick enough to safely withstand the weight. Without snow, the ice is friction-free and great for sailing (and ice skating, hockey and broomball). But it doesn’t last long. Just two inches of snow is enough to make the ice boaters put away their crafts for the season, as there’s too much friction.
“When the ice is there, you better be ready to go because it might not be there long,” Kastorff said. He’s waiting for snow, too – after all, that’s why he’s here this season – but the ice boating suffices during the wait.
“With as crummy as the snow is, this is great,” said Dan Burnett of the Summit County Rescue Group.
The ice currently at about 6-8 inches, and so clear it’s possible to see to the lake bottom – some of the best ice returning Team Summit coach Tim Seeling has seen in his six years ice boating.
Seeling came to Giberson Bay on Tuesday with two boats he rebuilt himself. He, Burnett, Mark Svenson and Rich Cotter make up the core group, and welcome newbies to try out the uncommon sport in the High Country. Like Jim Oberriter, who saw the fun and stopped by to see what it was all about.
“It has some giddy up and go,” Oberriter exclaimed as he exited a boat he sailed across the frozen lake himself. “That is some sort of fun, mister.”
All the men on the lake Tuesday had smiles as wide as the lake seemed while standing on its frozen waters. They seemed drugged by the thrill of racing across the ice at 30-plus miles per hour, sometimes reaching 50 with gusts. It’s possible to go four times the wind speed, Seeling said, adding he’s gone faster than 80 mph in his crafts.
“You pull in the sail and it takes off like a rocket,” Kastorff said. “There’s no engine noise. It’s very cosmic.”
For Burnett, it’s addicting.
“I’ve never tried heroin,” he said thoughtfully, “but I imagine it would be like doing heroin.”
He started ice boating when he was 12, living in Denver. He hung out with Colorado boaters, who also boated on ice in the winter.
“I hung around with them and I’m still hanging out with them,” he said, adding that many of them were – and still are – sailing experts.
Cotter, for instance, has won the Hobie World Championships, and Svenson has won many classes of boating on Dillon Reservoir.