Interview of two French snowkiters Pascal BOULGAKOFF & Laurent Hemard
How would you describe snowkite practice? Its spirit? Its beginning?
Snowkite or Kitesnow is a way to approach the mountain from a different angle. It is a combination between a sledging support (ski, snow, squal... whatever we want) and a kite's (a big kite). But be careful, snowkite isn't only the pactice of kitesurf on snow, it's much more! For us, the kite of is like a real personal ski tow! It takes us thanks to the wind's strength and allows us to « ride on big plateau » or on mountain's top when we are more experienced. Depending on the wind’s strength and one’s skills, it can take us across valleys, as well as over mountain tops. The snowkite's strentgh is to be ables you to go up the slopes and also to discover beautiful « freerides » which are usually only accessible for our friends hiking with skins. The only difference with them is the time spent climbing mountains.. If everything is doing fine, you can take about 10 to 15 minutes to go up 1000 meters of altitude. Skiing with a kite offers an extra factor, the joy of flight. We can go very fast on gentle slopes thanks to the wind. That is why we often move on freeride, but without risk of avalanches which is a main asset in this practice.
Basically, snowkite is backcountry skiing. We can go for a little ride that we would call “cruising”, or we can do freestyle. The most experienced snowkiters can reproduce every freestyle ski and snowboard tricks. We can do freestyle and the most experienced kiters can reproduce all tricks freestyle which are done in ski and in snowboard. If I have to talk about its spirit, I could say that it is obligations free, only fun.. We slide, we jump on flat, on gentle or steep slopes, without any break, 8 hours if we are a little sporty. Snowkite started about 20 years ago. The first tries were mostly done on flat grounds, but we quickly understood that we could move on sloping grounds.
What kind of technical equipments are required to perform snowkite? What are the best spots?
The only equipment that is really specific to this practice is the kite, which looks like a small paragliding (about 10m2) and also allows us to be completely autonomous on the snow. Unlike to this practice on water, where we can usually ask for help on the beach, we are frequently alone or separated from our friends with whom we have started the ride. After, we need good skiboots like freeride boots, and fat skis, because we only move on off-piste area. Soul 7 is the perfect product. Snowkiters use the same protections as skiers. That being said, the number of protections to wear is up to the snowkiter's decisions according to his daily practice.It could be useful to have a compass in your bag and to know how it works! There are various Spots where we can practice snowkite. The only exception for snowkiters is the forest. Otherwise, they can go wherever the wind blows and in a stable way.We need space, not too many obstacles and some wind. 15 km of wind is enough to ride, even to up hills. Each spot has a different level of accessibility. In general, beginners will prefer flat areas, as where experts will dream of high mountains... But everything depends on the region where we practice too.
What kind of competition could we find in ski-kite?
Snowkite competitions are now officially admitted by the French Federation of Free Flight. It regroups: Freestyle, Racing, Boardercross. In freestyle, we mainly judge a performance for its beauty, the tricks complexity and the rider's commitment. Another criteria is how they manipulate their kites. We do new school tricks, old school tricks, but it’s unhooked tricks (holding the kite with an extended arm only) that pay the most.In racing, departures are grouped, on circuits that sometimes can be technical. Winners are the first arrived.Long distance and inclined circuits competitions also exist, with rankings and prices at the end of the season.
What is the future of this sport discipline?
Although snowkite is a fabulous backcountry activity, which is accessible to everyone, it stays unclear and ambiguous in people’s mind.Snowkite slowly develops itself, it goes at its own pace, it stays quite marginal. It will surely not become a mass sport. But the number of kiters grew well those last years and this practice becomes more accessible thanks to the equipment. But it stays a sport which requires some learning, some analysis (weather, aerology), availability and patience if there is no enough wind to ride. Taking information from kiters and professionals who are experienced helped us to improve ourselves and having more fun quickly. Despite everything, we experienced unforgettable moments in an amazing environment, away from any danger. The image we try to broadcast has every ingredients of backcountry skiing people dream of. Snowkite is more accessible than kitesurf which is practiced on water, because it needs less traction power for the kite to perform. Therefore, learning kite in winter is a good idea, because it allows you to take on this sport softly.
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