Monday, February 15, 2010

Snowmobiling to Granite Hot Springs: A Jackson Hole winter classic

Granite Hot Springs is the perfect place to stay warm in winter conditions. Even in a swimsuit.
CAPTION: Though diving is strictly forbidden at Granite Hot Springs, they say nothing about tossing someone into the pool. Here, Jeff Wilcox gets Alexis Wilcox airborne before she splashes back into the water.

Excursion: Soaking in Granite Hot Springs
How long: Half day
Cost: $6 per person
Distance: About 10 miles one way on a snowmobile or cross-country skis

Rolling around in the snow in nothing but a swimsuit is somewhat of an acquired taste. No, let’s get real: it’s enough to make a grown man scream like a howler monkey.

Not that I ever would.

But this is one of the long-standing traditions at Granite Hot Springs. You may do it on a dare, as a test of manhood, or on a personal whim, but it is always the effect of getting back in the soothing 112-degree water that motivates you to do it.

As you slide back into the ginormous hot tub, your skin prickles like you’re being massaged by a thousand miniscule iron maidens. Though mildly uncomfortable, the sensation is worth experiencing.

At least once a year.

Luckily, it’s still easy to find snow to roll around in at Granite at this time of year. The massive boulders surrounding the picturesque pool are piled with about four feet of snow throughout the winter, leaving swimmers to wonder when the towers of snow will topple into the pool to cool it a couple of degrees.

Many swimmers try to do just that by firing snowballs at each other in the pool. Thus far, the pool attendant has never accused me of doing anything wrong when I pelt someone with a hefty snowball in the pool.

Just don’t get caught with food in the pool area. That’s what really ticks off the attendant. Granite Hot Springs provides picnic tables for dining convenience just outside the boundaries of the pool. The other thing they won’t stand for (if they see you) is running on the pool deck. With the snow showers that often blanket the boardwalk in snow, it is almost a sure thing it will be slick in spots. I have personally witnessed children, adults and drunkards alike take a tumble on the planks outside the pool. In sue-happy America, Granite Hot Springs can’t afford law suits charging six bucks a head. So please refrain from blaming personal injury on Granite after personal stupidity.

Because of the nature (literally) of the pool, it does have a tendency to be, well, natural. Don’t be afraid if a little bit of nature slimes you on its way to Granite Creek. On our last trip to Granite, my 18-month-old son was scooting across the shallows of the pool pointing out the floaties and proclaiming “Eeeeyyyuuooo” as he sauntered past them.

Translation: “Don’t drink the water.” That said, they do keep it remarkably clean for a natural hot spring, emptying and refilling the pool on a daily basis.

Just down the hill from the pool, Granite Creek tumbles down a wide precipice, forming Granite Creek Falls. This is actually where I proposed to my wife by placing her wedding ring’s box in the heart of snow angels we made by the falls. Don’t worry, I waterproofed the box first.

The 10-mile snowmobile ride into the hot spring can be an outing in itself. The fast-moving creek stays open in most places throughout the winter, creating a stunning interaction between water and ice. Cream Puff Peak and others rise around the trail, lending even more beauty to the creek flowing at your feet.

In many places along the way, playgrounds for snowmobilers open up. There isn’t a hill to be found without a high mark on it. The terrain is varied and entertaining. Fields lead up to hills which lead up to the mountains. Riders can choose to stay in the open or disappear into the forest. In some places, there are hills custom-made to launch a “sledneck” a hundred feet through the crisp air.

If you go off trail, make sure someone knows where you are at all times, and check your speed often, as unforeseen gullies and ridges can easily trap or wreck even the most experienced snowmobiler.

Last but not least: watch for non-motorized users of the road to Granite. Many unbelievably fit Jacksonites opt to cross-country ski in. One company runs tourists into the springs on dogsleds. Though the staff pulling the sleds will hear you coming a mile away, pass them slowly anyway. They’ll thank you for it, which is much better than the glares and even indignant yells you’ll get for flying past them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Excursion Article: Breaking trail to Taggart Lake by snowshoe in Grand Teton National Park

Caption: Finding new vistas is easy when you make your own trail. AmberLynn Wilcox comes up on a unique view of the Tetons on her way to Taggart Lake.

Breaking trail to Taggart breaks the familiarity
By Mark Wilcox

Excursion: Snowshoeing to Taggart Lake
Length: Two to three hours roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Route: Wherever the heck you want to go

Speeding and sliding down the steep hill with my bright orange snowshoes leading the charge, I laughed as I noticed how much snow I was flicking onto and over my back with the hind end of my snowshoes. A chunky shower of snow sprayed on and around me until I made it to flat ground.

With a grin, I turned around and watched my wife’s progress down the slippery slope. Instead of the hazardous full-speed sprint I had opted for, she took a slightly more cautious route: sliding down on her backside to act as a snowplow for a small portion of the hill.

Though it is one of the last legs on the trip to Taggart Lake, hauling down the last hillside before reaching the parking lot flats is always my favorite part. Its kind of a hybrid between skiing, the 100 meter dash and, of course, snowshoeing. You almost float down on each step on a fluffy cushion of snow. Leaning back on your heels gives the ski-like experience of bouncing through the powder, never finding the real base.

Which is why I opt to run that portion.

However, running the whole trip in your snowshoes would step up the excursion’s difficulty from “Easy” to “Are you insane?” The hills around Taggart, especially the one closest to the parking lot, are not ones any sane person would decide to run up, at least not in enormous snowshoes and four feet of snow. That’s not to say it can’t be done.

The beauty of snowshoeing is that trails don’t matter. I repeat: trails do not matter. Yep, you can chart a trail literally anywhere you dang well please. This makes a simple trip to Taggart Lake a lot more interesting. Even having done this trip numerous times, I always come out on a portion of the lake I’m not quite expecting. And picking your way up hills, through trees and over logs is infinitely more interesting than the tired trail to Taggart. It’s amazing how different everything feels just a hundred yards from the main trail.

And the snow blanketing everything gives newness to the place as well. There’s nothing quite like traipsing through an undisturbed forest boasting a fresh layer of icing. The peace, quiet and sheer solitude of it makes the steady scrunching of snowshoes compressing powder that much more noticeable. And anyone that has gone snowshoeing can attest: that’s not a bad thing.
The young forest around Taggart is particularly fun to navigate. The juvenile trees sprang from the fertile ashes of the 1984 Cottonwood Creek Blaze. The thick new forest reclaimed the terrain more thickly than the original forest, creating a dense maze of saplings to wander through. Small corridors open up through the trees, which can then be followed until the next corridor branches off. Occasionally, you might even find yourself doubling back to find a route that doesn’t require you to knock so much snow off overhead branches to move through the pine boughs. Snow falling down your neck is never pleasant.

Going straight over the hills toward Taggart is liberating and beautiful, affording views and sights unseen by most. From time to time you cross the tracks of other snowshoers, whether they are human or hare. But it’s always more fun to make your own path.

The lake itself is beautiful all layered in snow and ice. A vast field of white capped with my mountains: the Tetons. The bridge across the outlet is always a destination while visiting the lake in winter. The shallow water underneath the snow-stacked bridge opens up almost year-round to the warm, yet freezing colors of algae on the rocks and logs beneath the surface. The intricate shapes created by the interaction between, ice, rock and water almost make you forget the Tetons are right over there.

In short, the easiest way to get a unique hike to Taggart is to make your own trail. However, if you’ve never been to Taggart Lake or have a nasty sense of direction, you’d better stick to the well-worn trail to avoid calling out Search and Rescue.

Excursion article: Sleeping on Snow King in Jackson Hole

Caption: Nate Dunn chucks himself off of a cliff on top of Snow King mountain during a Boy Scout campout.

By Mark Wilcox
Excursion: Chilling out on Snow King
Where: Snow King, duh
How long: Overnight or less
Why: Because you can
Difficulty: Depends on if you ride the lift up or not

Secret of a happy life number 14: “If you’re outside, there’s fun to be found.”

It’s not the first or the last secret in the book I haven’t written yet, but it’s certainly an important one in this valley. It seems no matter what you choose to do, as long as you make the effort to leave the house, happiness follows.

It could be something as simple as a snowball fight in the yard or something as complex as scaling the Grand with your eyes closed in the dead of winter (not recommended). It doesn’t much matter. Sun, snow, fresh air, trees, everything outdoors induces a good mood.

This brings me to secret number 138 for a happy life: “Falling is greater than or equal to fun, unless done unintentionally.”

Maybe it’s the rush of fresh mountain air into your lungs. Maybe it’s because you’re daring fate to do something nasty to you. Maybe it’s just because you’re showing off for friends. Whatever it is, it’s enjoyable.

The trick is finding places where you can fall safely. I recently took my Boy Scouts to the top of Snow King for a campout. Our troop had obtained permission to sleep in the panorama house. I’m not sure how free they are in lending it out to other parties, but they were plenty generous with us. If you’d rather not call Snow King to ask, you can always hike up the mountain with gear to build a snow cave (see my February 4 article) on the forest service land just over the ridge.

We got our gear up on one of the last lifts up to the top and set it up in the panorama house. With plenty of daylight left, we went outside. Mission number one: sledding, also known as assisted freefall when you’re sledding on steep terrain.

We took my sled over to Bearcat and made a few runs down before we decided the sled offered less control than freefall. So Aidan, Jason, Joe, Nathan and I sought out somewhere to freefall instead.

We found it right where we knew it would be: just before taking off on the main Cat track down the mountain. The rocks throughout this area are what one of my exaggeration-prone snowboarding buddies once called, “60-foot cliffs, dude.” With feet planted on the ground, reality is easily grasped. We walked up to the “60-foot cliffs” fearlessly. The tallest one measures maybe 15 feet onto flat ground. This is the only one Snow King labels with “CLIFF” markers. The rest are 6-foot rocks with a steeply sloping hill beneath them. If you jump out enough, you can actually drop farther than 15 feet more safely than the actual cliff because of the slope of the hill.

After checking snowpack and how steep the hill was for safety, each of us took turns leaping out from the rocks in various directions. On landing, we would sink into the snow in a rush, never hitting the ground on the steep hillside. I figured my biggest jump landed me about 18 feet down from the top of the boulder in a shoulder-deep trough I created on impact. Extricating myself from the hole was often the hardest part.

As the sun set, we were treated to a gorgeous aerial view of Jackson by night. Surprisingly, we saw almost a dozen people in ones or twos who had hiked or skied up after dark for a single run down by the light of town. Amazing where you’ll find the nightlife in Jackson sometimes. That is what Jackson Hole is all about. People here seem to have an unfailing dedication to the outdoors.

Waking up to the incredible vista from the panorama house only served to remind me what a wonderful place I live in. Plus I could see my house from there.

Which brings me to secret number 85 of a happy life: “The more land you can see, the more content you are to own none of it.” Just knowing it’s there seems to be enough.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Excursion Article Series 02.18.09: Cross-country Skiing on Jackson Lake, or How to Fall on a Completely Flat Surface

Caption: AmberLynn follows a snowmobile trail, stab, squeak, sliiiiiiding across the Jackson Lake.

Excursion: Cross-country skiing
Where: Jackson Lake
When: When the lake is frozen, otherwise it’s called water skiing
Difficulty: Easy
Length: As far as you want to go

With sweat drops freezing to my forehead, I listened to the hypnotic sounds of my skis and poles: stab, squeak, sliiiiiide. Stab, squeak, sliiiiide. It was the only sound I could hear on the tranquil surface of Jackson Lake.

Caption: Gotta love winter.

Sadly it wasn’t the only sound I heard all day. Before we got started, my 16-month old Kael decided to pitch a fit about getting out of the car. Long and loud sounds those were. I think the ruckus was because we awoke him out of his warm car seat and immediately placed him in a smaller, colder version in a ski trailer we had borrowed from some friends for the occasion. He squirmed so much his gloves kept falling off. We almost called it quits before we even left the parking lot.

Caption: Bram had to pretend she was downhilling on the flat lake.

The only other sounds we heard were snowmobiles motoring past to find the next great ice-fishing hole. The noise wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t mind too much because of the pleasant side effect. Each snowmobile left behind it an imperfect, albeit serviceable track for my wife and I to follow across the flat expanses of the frozen lake. Where the options were to break trail on skinny skis through a foot of slightly crusty snow or follow a trail heaped up in the center forcing our skis a foot apart, we welcomed the snowmobile tracks.

Caption: That's my girls. Outdoors just the way I like them.

The noise from the toddler finally died into a resigned snore as we started onto the lake, leaving only stab, squeak, sliiiiiide to fill the silence. We started from Colter Bay, heading down what in the summer are rounded rock “beaches.” I’m convinced if all sand were as large as those rocks, coastlines wouldn’t attract nearly as much tourism.

The expansive field of the icy lake appealed to us greatly as a destination for several reasons: 1) Neither of us had cross-country skied for years, and flat sounded beautiful. 2) The views on Jackson Lake are world class. 3) We could make our own trail in any direction from the parking lot. 4) We could go as far as we wanted to go and never feel like we hadn’t made it to a destination.

Caption: Gorgeous. And the mountains aren't half bad either.

Though it was nice to have the trailer to pull Kael, I found it offered more problems than solutions for the circumstances. First, the belt tethering me to the trailer had give in it, but the poles between the belt and the trailer were rigid. So whenever I found good forward thrust on the skis, the cart would pull back a little bit on the somewhat elastic belt, it acting as a rubber band for the entire cart. The trailer would quickly overtake my pace and push me forward, making me lose my balance several times and clatter to the surface of the lake in a graceless heap. Also, the trailer all balanced on one axle, essentially using my body for the second. So when I went down, so did the boy. Amazingly, he never woke up.

Caption: Taking a break from getting beat up by the trailer to check out my mountains.

When I did stay upright, after the trailer caught up to me it would rebound back and forth off my back and stomach, stealing my momentum two or three times on each forward motion. Also, because the stance of the cart, it was almost always breaking two trails to keep moving forward. My wife was easily able to outdistance me most of the time.

Cross-country skiing is one of those sports that is cardiovascular training at its finest. I don’t think there are too many better workouts if you keep a steady pace. Because of that, it is wise to wear layers when skiing, even if it is a flat and open expanse you are skiing across. By the time we really got moving, I was really sweating in the 14-degree weather even though I had shed my hat and gloves and was down to just a light jacket mostly unzipped.

The snow on the mountains is incredible, and highlights portions of the range you might not normally notice. Wide open views of the Teton Range combined with boat-like freedom on foot make cross-country skiing on Jackson Lake a perfect winter activity. So get off those groomed roads for a change and give it a chance.

Caption: I love the shadows on this one and how it almost, but not quite entirely black and white.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Excursion Article Series 02.04.09: Make like a bear and hibernate in a snow cave this winter

I can't say that it was uber comfortable with the snow hardening to ice underneath my back, but it kept me warmish in the freezing temperatures. There's no place like snow cave.

Excursion: Sleeping (I mean shifting restlessly) in a snow cave
Where: Anywhere there is more than four feet of snow with a base
Equipment needed: Tarp, sleeping bag (or two), warm waterproof clothing, a sleeping pad, short- and long-handled shovels, tent for backup sleeping arrangements, and headlamp
Difficulty: Moderate

Like bears, all of us humans have to go to sleep during the winter. Unlike bears, we wake up a little more than a handful of times. Also contrasting bears, we generally don’t sleep outside during the winter.

This makes it much more interesting when we do. And I don’t know that I’d call it “sleeping.” Despite the nearly faultless snow cave I built, I found myself in a cold-to-wet-to-hot-to-uncomfortable cycle throughout the night. Any sleep I did get was under my radar, as it never felt like I had been asleep whenever I awoke during the night. The snow I left for insulation underneath the tarp became stiff ice due to my radiating body heat sometime during the night, making my snow cave a little less friendly.

Anyway, my Boy Scout troop set up camp near Coal Creek on the west side of Teton Pass to try our hand at building serviceable snow caves. Just a couple hundred yards up we found a suitable creek crossing. A wide trunk piled with a three-foot layer of snow made a perfect bridge to an ideal camping spot. The shallow, half-frozen Coal Creek wound its way down the hill past our site. Large flat expanses next to the East-facing hills of Taylor Mountain in our chosen site were perfect for tent camping just in case we had to use them due to poor snow conditions. Conversely, the site boasted hills sheltered from the sun where the snow could accumulate in peace.

So while boys set up tents, us leaders went and started checking the hillside conditions. We quickly came to the conclusion that the base was solid enough and deep enough to build our modest sleeping quarters. For safety’s sake, it is good to build a mound of snow about four feet across hours before you carve it out. This makes your base stronger, gives you more snow to work with and makes your roof more domelike, helping to keep moisture off your sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Because of limited time, I dug straight down until I hit the frozen ground about four feet down. While doing so, I carved an entrance out behind me which also facilitated digging later on. I took a gamble by piling the majority of the snow I was extracting on top of where my cave would be. Though I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to let it settle, I felt conditions would be forgiving of the extra weight, making a better snow cave with a deeper base in the end.

Once we approved the conditions, a line of scouts fanned out across the hillside and set to digging, some of them begging for help when they saw our caves were coming along faster. The basic idea is to dig from as high as you dare down to the appropriate depth. This technique makes it so the snow bridge above you doesn’t have to support as much weight. If you go too high, collapse is imminent. Same if you are digging too low. In fact, three of our caves did collapse before we could use them, making all but me opt for tents.

Brenner had to jump about five times on my roof to bust one foot through the roof of my excellently crafted shelter. I thought this was kind of funny with just one of his feet sticking down through it.

Here Jason and Brenner play in the remains of my sleeping quarters. I let them have the fun of trashing my makeshift room for the night.

If you have trouble knowing how close to the top of the snow you are, have someone on top shine a light down to help determine thickness. If you can see the light easily, the top is probably a little too close. When the snow has settled and you’re confident in your snow cave, make a ventilation shaft or two so you don’t suffocate.

Even though I was the only one that used my cave, digging by headlamp was one of the highlights of the campout. Another highlight was the fire pit. When we dug it, it was maybe a foot deep. As we stood around the fire telling scary stories, we realized it was getting farther away from us even though we weren’t moving. Time we were done with the fire it had dug itself a four-foot well and still hadn’t reached the ground.

Yep, that's Jason in there and the firepit is up to his shoulder.

Though it was a fun and memorable experience, I think I’ll leave hibernation to the bears. It’s just a little tiring for my tastes.

Nate flies off a stump the morning after snow caves. We managed to get a few runs in on some beautifully powdery slopes. It was worth all the discomforts of snow caves and then some.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Excursion Article Series 01.17.09: Cache Creek backcountry skiing: How to photograph oneself skiing on a 10-second timer

Caption: Ever tried to take a picture of yourself skiing without a remote for your camera? Not easy. But I still managed to get this great pic.

Excursion: Backcountry skiing
Where: Cache Creek off Hagen Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to expert

All Jacksonites know that Snow King is not in fact the King of Snow. In fact, it often seems like the resort’s efforts to clone snow early in the year anger the snow clouds who go and haughtily dump their snow elsewhere. That’s why apart from a few runs of night skiing, locals mostly get their skiing elsewhere.

Fortunately, just about anywhere else in the valley will do. Just up Cache Creek on the same hill that hosts Snow King, people willing to hike for a few turns can and will find them. I don’t know whether it’s the proximity to traffic, town or what, but Snow King really does seem to be in a perpetual drought compared to the hills just outside of the town boundaries.

On Friday, even though it’s been pretty sunny for well over a week, I found eight inches of powder underneath just a mild layer of crust just off the Hagen Trail. Because of the crust, I was slightly less inclined to really explore the backcountry than I would have been otherwise.

About a mile up Cache Creek Road from the main parking lot, I took off on the satellite Hagen Trail which heads gradually up the north-facing hills. It’s a neat little trail that’s not as frequently used (especially by dogs) as the main trail. It’s nice to find respite from the incessant signs warning to “do your duty and pick up your dog doo-ty,” not to mention the sign left behind in little plastic baggies by inconsiderate hoards of dog owners. I’m sure they promise themselves to pick it up on their way back, but “Oops,” forget about it on the way down.

Anyway, when I had gone up the trail half a mile or so, I found my little Shangri-La. Just as I rounded a steep bend in the trail, the sun flared through gaps in the trees, illuminating swathes of untouched golden snow on a relatively treeless hillside.

Caption: Here's the hill I skied on prior to tracking it up. Yummy snow...

Mmmmmmmm, I thought.

The only good thing about the crust was that it made it really easy to kick steps off trail. Being a good Boy Scout, I came prepared. Snowshoes strapped to my back in case I really found deep snow, skis and ski boots, a tripod, one perfectly-sized mitten, one undersized glove, an extra coat, water and dangit! Forgot my beanie. Luckily the 20-degree weather felt equatorial after hauling myself and 50 pounds of gear all over the hills.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone to help me enforce the buddy system that day, which is partly why I had chosen Cache Creek for my outing. There’s little to no avalanche danger, decent cell reception and it’s close to home and/or St. John’s in case anything does go wrong. Because of my lack of a buddy, I had to figure out a way to take pictures of myself skiing on a ten-second timer.

This is no easy feat. Scout’s honor.

What I wound up doing was setting up the tripod, hitting the shutter release and sidestepping uphill as fast as I could before the timer released. Scampering 20 feet up a hill through crusty powder on 207 skis in 8 seconds then flying down the hill to hit your 10-second mark at the perfect compositional point sounds about as easy as it is. Too many times the shutter would click just soon enough that I missed the shot but couldn’t stop myself before I reached the camera. So I had to halt, wearily ascend the hill to the camera and repeat. After a half dozen tries, I got frustrated and planted my skis in the snow and took a still shot. I knew that would work.

After that I was able to climb the rest of the hill to get to do one real run before I had to go home. If it weren’t for the chill sounds of “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus playing on my MP3 player, I don’t know how far up the hill I would have made it. I passed several moose and deer beds on my way up the hill, so take care to watch for wildlife, and please give it space if you do have any encounters. They were there first; plus they’re bigger than you. It’s also always good to check avalanche conditions ( before you go, travel with a buddy, make sure people know where you’ve gone and if possible, have functional avalanche transceivers on hand.

Remember that 90 minutes of hiking for a glorious 90-second run is worth your while. Just don’t forget your beanie.

Caption: This is the picture I took when I wasn't sure any of the action shots were working like I wanted them to. Not bad, just not great.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Excursion Article Series 01.03.09: Snow kiting let's the kite fly you for a change

Caption: The wind was pretty squirrely, making for an interesting day kite skiing.

Excursion: Snow kiting
Where: Slide Lake
When: When the lake is well frozen
Difficulty: Varies with wind speed

Go fly a kite isn’t much of an insult anymore. Maybe that’s because nowadays you can let the kite fly you.

As one of the newest entries into the extreme sports arena, snow kiting, also known as kite skiing or kiteboarding, can be looked at as a cross between sailing and paragliding. Like sailing, you have full and surprisingly responsive control. Yet the kite steers with the simplicity of a paraglider: pull left to go left and right to go right. No two-man crew is necessary or even plausible for the one-man kites.

My family got a kite before most people even knew the sport existed. However, finding time to use it has been hard since we got it a couple years ago. When I took it out most recently, it was only the second time I was ever able to go. I remember the first time I used the kite thinking how easy it was. Conditions were perfect for learning. The wind was blowing at a steady pace, the lake had only a fine skein of snow drifting over the frozen surface and I had just been tutored about how to use the kite.

I left Slide Lake with no such feeling after my most recent outing. The wind was squirrely and gusty, 18 inches of heavy powder blanketed the lake and I have apparently forgotten how to find the magic “power zone” that generates the force necessary to haul a body back and forth across a frozen lake.

What I did find pretty consistently was the “pull-me-down-and-drag-me-through-the-powder-on-my-belly zone.” If you don’t believe in the power of unseen wind, all you have to do is strap yourself into the safety leash of one of these kites on a windy day and see for yourself how hard it can be to stay upright.

My oldest brother Jeff, an experienced paraglider pilot, knows wind well, so we let him give the kite the first run when we saw how iffy conditions were. Even with his experience with wind, mishaps can happen. During our first outing ever, he and our brother-in-law Shawn set up the kite. While Jeff was still unwinding the lines from the handlebar, Shawn released the kite to the mercy of the wind, unaware of how easily it would fly. Knowing it had temporary freedom, the kite took off at full speed. Before Jeff even realized the kite had been loosed, the handlebar had nailed him in the chin several times while unwinding the remainder of the line.

Caption: Letting the kite do the flying, it's relatively easy to zip across a frozen lake.

Reminding me of that painful experience, Jeff chided me to hold on tight until it was time. When his setup was mostly complete, he shouted down to me a final warning, something like, “Wait until I’m ready to let the kite go.” The wind drowned out the negative in the sentence and 50 yards away I heard something like, “I’m ready; let the kite go.” When I did, Jeff instantly began playing snowplow with his face and the wires of the out-of-control kite clipped my legs out from under me after performing a couple jerky swoops through the sky.

Realizing my mistake, all I could do was watch from my back as Jeff slid past me through the deep snow. Despite his frantic attempts to right my wrong, he found time to yell at me as the wind yanked him past me: “What were you thinking!?”

I didn’t find time to answer his question until after I secured the kite hundreds of feet away after Jeff finally had the control handle, safety leash and all jerked from his hands. After we sorted out the misunderstanding, Jeff was able to get a nice workout zig-zagging across the lake on his skis and flying the kite upwind to make it back to our starting area.

When riders get really good, they can get enough power behind their kites to actually get airborne, allowing the kite to actually fly them. When I took the controls, the only flying I did was from my feet straight to my stomach – not ideal. Luckily the powder cushioned my falls – I mean flights.

If it’s a sport you’re interested in, you can typically purchase a beginner kite and harness (the harness is basically just a way to enable power steering, thereby keeping things safer) for well under a $1,000. Just remember not to release the kite until you’re ready.

Caption: Don't let the pictures fool you, snow kiting is a taxing sport. Think water skiing where you control the (sail)boat at the same time as getting dragged behind it.