You’re alone in the mountain wilderness with nothing but snow and trees around you. There are no humans, no motors and no metal. The backcountry snow is unbrokenly pristine. There’s no sound but the sighing wind.
About a mile away, a Powder Mountain lift carries people up the mountain. Your lift, on the other hand, is in your backpack. You take out your kite, pump it up and strap it on. The kite effortlessly carries you up the steep slope. An eagle coasts a thermal near you, gliding in the air. You glide over the snow. You grin at the eagle: brothers.
Powder Mountain is the only resort in Utah with a snowkite area, and Andy Bolt is the official snowkite instructor. He turns never-nevers into experts, which eliminates the need for a lift. With a kite, you can ski or snowboard anywhere there’s open space.
“Snowkiting is not difficult. Some people have a knack for it, but for most, it takes a few hours with the training kite until they don’t have to look at the kite any more to fly it. It has a lot to do with learning the ‘touch’ for the kite,” Bolt says.
An introductory lesson will cost you $50. If several people are signed up, Bolt will toss a knotted rope off the back of his snowmobile—everyone grabs the rope and gets a smooth ride to the kite skiing area. If you’re the only one signed up, you get to ride the snowmobile bitch seat. The snow mobile ride out to the wilderness may be almost worth the price of a lesson alone.
You are provided with a harness and kite. Beginners start with a small kite that’s easy to fly and control. If it’s a good wind day, you’ll learn the basics quickly. Bolt draws a diagram in the snow to teach those basics. It’s like a rainbow, or half a clock, with nine being the ground on your left and three being the ground on your right. The outside of the rainbow is the neutral zone. Keep the kite there and it will gently pull you along. The area under the inside of the rainbow is the power zone. Put the kite there and you will shred the snow with all the force of the wind, able to jump in the air and ski up near vertical slopes that even a winch cat couldn’t make.
Bolt says, “People are using kites to summit mountain tops. Then they pack up the kite and ski down.”
If you get good enough after that first lesson, you can graduate to an inflatable trainer kite. It catches enough wind to give you a good ride. Controlling the kite is easy. It’s like riding a bicycle; you pull on the kite bar like it’s the handlebars of a bike. Keep the kite to the side to be pulled, and move the kite overhead to be lifted. However, the snow kites aren’t paragliders; you won’t stay up in the air for long.
Once you get good enough to kite alone, you can go out to the park with Bolt. “I have to be there for the liability, but I will show them a good time and make sure they have everything they need,” he says. It’s not often you can buy such a great adventure for $50 an hour.
The snowkiting center at Powder Mountain can be reached at 616-218-6868. You can book a private lesson with Bolt for $200—less than the cost of a private from an ordinary ski instructor, but with far more bragging rights.