Come rain, snow, sun, or wind, just about any day in Tahoe is a good day to get outside and play. The hard part is deciding what’s the best adventure for the mix of weather conditions on a given day. Mid-winter days can be especially tricky as the combination of cold temps, a steady breeze, and mediocre snow conditions often squash any desire to go ski at the resort.
So what’s there to do on a windy, so-so ski day? Go fly a kite! But not just any kite. Grab the skis and learn to ride with the wind at the new Sierra Snowkite Center on Donner Summit.
If you’re not familiar with snowkiting, the sport works exactly as it sounds. Snowkiters click into their skis or snowboard and attach themselves to a kite that pulls them around on the snow. Located in Van Norden Meadow adjacent to Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge, the Sierra Snowkite Center is California’s first dedicated snowkite training grounds. The center features 250 acres of undulating terrain that’s perfect for learning to snowkite or getting rad under a foil-wing like two-time North American Snowkite Tour champion and Sierra Snowkite Center founder Tyler Brown does. The center has been three years in the making, and Brown is ecstatic about opening in such an ideal location.
“I’ve had my eye on Van Norden Meadow for ages,” said Brown. “It’s the perfect spot to snowkite because it has lots of wide open space and really consistent winds. Since we opened in December it’s been windy five out of seven days a week for at least some portion of the day.”
Ringed with Royal Gorge’s Nordic ski trails, Van Norden Meadow is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Northern Sierra. The meadow sits directly atop the Sierra crest, and the two different air pressures on either side of the mountains drive wind through the meadow from either the east or west nearly every day.
Snowkiting shares the same equipment and most of the same techniques with the sport of water kiteboarding, but it’s way easier to learn, Brown said. At the end of a single snowkite lesson, Brown expects to have you up and cruising — provided the wind plays along.
“Learning how to kite on snow is way easier than on water,” said Brown. “You don’t have to manipulate the kite as much on snow, and it’s easier to get moving because there is less drag on snow than water. If you have intermediate-advanced ski or snowboard skills you can pick it up quick. With the right wind conditions most people learn to snowkite in a day.”
If you don’t have any experience flying two or four-line kites, the first step in learning to snowkite is to sign up for the Intro to Kite Flying course. This one-and-a-half hour course covers the fundamentals of kite flying, kite safety, and begins to introduce movement on skis or boards. The next step in the learning progression is the more comprehensive three-hour Learn To Snowkite course.
“The Learn To Snowkite course introduces you to a four-line kite and takes you all the way through to being able to snowkite on your own,” said Brown. “If we have three solid hours of steady wind, I’ll have you kiting, but if the winds die or pick up too much, you can come back for an additional lesson for the same one-time fee.”
The Sierra Snowkite Center also offers Transition To Snow courses for experienced water kiteboarders who want to learn the tricks specific to snowkiting. And if you already have snowkite skills but just want to shred the meadow, you’ll need to complete a $10 one-time safety assessment and have a valid Sugar Bowl or Royal Gorge day ticket or season pass. All lessons include gear rental, and Tahoe/Truckee residents get a 10 percent discount off all lesson packages.
You might think that getting pulled around for hours would tire your arms quickly, but the harness system directs the pull to your torso. Your arms simply maneuver the kite in the air.
“Snowkiting is actually really easy on the arms,” said Brown. “Women and children tend to pick it up easier for that reason as they try to use less arm strength. All-around, snowkiting is easier and lower impact on the body than downhill skiing.“
It’s no wonder Brown refers to snowkiting as an “enhancement” sport. Harnessing the power of the wind to ski across flats and even up hills is like steroids for your ability to move over snow. But there’s nothing synthetic about this all-natural thrill ride. Once you’ve mastered the technique, the kite can be both an engine and an inspiration for incredible ski adventures you never knew existed.
For information about snowkite lessons and wind conditions at the Sierra Snowkite Center, visit sierrasnowkite.com.
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