An intro to Colorado snow kiting on Lake Dillon
Here’s a question for you: How many times have you driven from Frisco to Breckenridge and gazed off to your left (the far edge of Lake Dillon near Farmers Korner) and been captivated by the sight of colorful kites in the sky, pulling their passengers along on a wild ride across the snow? We’ve all probably said it at least once: “Wow, that looks fun. I’d love to try it.”
However, the idea soon passes as you move on down the road. Now here’s your chance! Let’s return your brain to its happy place, filled with thoughts of colorful kites caressing the breeze as you harness the wind to fly across the snow.
At this point, another question arises: Why would I want to add another sport to my crowded athletic mix? What is so fun about snow kiting that makes me want to try something new?
First of all, once you master the basic skill of handling a kite to power your journey, the skill can be practiced in multiple locations, including snow, water or even a skateboard.
Next, think about the significant boost to winter fun on those days when we all grow weary of crowded ski slopes. It’s a mini vacation only minutes from home, where water, wind and nature converge to give you a rocking good time. Locals on the lake share tales of a “secret” wind stash that picks up almost every afternoon, just waiting for its power to be harnessed.
So let’s take life by the horns — or by the kite — and renew our thirst for adventure by experiencing something completely new.
Water kiting vs. snow kiting
In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I wasn’t a complete newbie when it comes to navigating a kite. Last mud season, while visiting my parents in Florida, I was determined to learn the sport of kite boarding. The weather, winds and shallow waters on Florida’s Gulf Coast are an ideal mix for beginner kite boarders and I jumped at the chance to give it a try.
As with any sport, it’s about learning the basics: how to rig the kite, how to read the wind window and harness it, and how to find the effective zone for utilizing the wind to execute turns.
Taking a lesson at the beginning of your journey is highly recommended, as it helps you learn the proper movements and techniques, along with safety procedures in case the wind tries to take you somewhere you don’t want to go. The goal is to be able to control the kite at all times.
Here in Summit County, Anton Rainold is a top-notch professional kite instructor on Lake Dillon and owner of Colorado Kite Force.
Learning the sport on the snow instead of the water is, in my opinion, the real fast track to kiting success. Snow kiting, unlike kite boarding, eliminates the challenge of having to stand up on the water, which makes it easier to get straight to the fun. There’s no need to learn surfboard skills, and instead snow kiting requires just a snowboard or skis. Lighter winds and smaller kites make learning more manageable on the snow, and you also spend much less time chasing the kite after it falls.
While learning in Florida, one of my major concerns was ensuring there was enough wind to fly, but not too much. When the wind is too strong it becomes dangerous; too weak and the kite falls.
On Lake Dillon, it is possible to catch low wind around 6-9 knots (compared to 15-17 knots in Florida) on a smaller, eight-meter kite. This is another difference between water and snow: Unlike learning on the ocean, where a larger kite is a necessity, snow kiting uses a smaller kite. It’s more manageable and forgiving, which makes it perfect for the beginner.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m really intrigued here, but what about the following questions:
1. Is it too cold: Surprisingly, I actually worked up a sweat and had to start shedding layers. Anton suggests dressing as if you are going for a cross-country ski trip.
2. Is it dangerous: Beginners start with a small kite, which is completely manageable and will generally not have enough power to lift you off the ground.
3. Do I need to snowboard: Snow kiting can be done on either skis or a snowboard.
4. What about open water: As I was looking over at the spot where I would be kiting, I noticed a small spring and a river. Fortunately, the open water sources in this part of the lake are relatively shallow, creating little cause for concern except for the small chance your kite might get wet.
5. Is there enough wind: I was shocked that I could catch enough wind at only 6-9 knots. While many local kiters may think this is too light, I still had a great time. Anton assured me that it is possible to kite an average of five days a week on Lake Dillon. In general, light wind won’t hinder your adventure. It’s high winds and blowing snow you need to watch.
6. Will it be hard to learn: Kiting takes practice but is still pretty easy to learn. Start with a trainer kite, acquire some professional instruction and watch a few beginner videos before heading out.
On the lake
Kiting on Lake Dillon is a magical experience. When I arrived, Anton pointed out a bald eagle soaring overhead. At that moment, when I felt connected to the majestic landscape all around us, it was hard to believe I was so close to Highway 9.
I felt like a rookie for the first hour. A smaller kite meant I had to be ultra aggressive to get into the power zone. At times, I lacked proper form and watched in silent frustration as the kite fell to the snow. Mistakes are all part of the learning curve and Anton was a huge asset, helping me minimize those mistakes.
Finally, it all clicked. After a few mishaps, including detangling the lines and rescuing the kite from the running river, Anton helped me re-launch the kite. I was able to get it above my head at 12 o’clock and felt my pulse quicken when a surge of wind rose against my back. As I took the opportunity to aggressively drop the kite into the power zone, the energy of the wind came together in perfect synergy and, in one swift moment, launched me across the lake. Yeah-haw!
It was the feeling I was searching for: a perfect marriage between the power of the wind and the spirit of the adventurer. The puzzle pieces blended together, like a finely orchestrated production, and at that moment I’d found a new passion.
When I first tried kite surfing in Florida, I could not yet justify the cost of equipment for a sport I would not be practicing often. However, now that I can play in the winter I may have to gear up and make the leap to a new adventure.
Just remember that equipment is not a barrier if you want to give this a try. Colorado Kite Force and other local outfitters have all the gear you need and can get you flying before you know it.
Snow kiting, unlike other adventure sports, does not require a high level of athleticism — only a new way of thinking. The next time you are waiting in a long lift line at your favorite ski resort, think about how you could be rocking along with you own set of rules on Lake Dillon. Let your dreams take flight and go ride a kite!
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