Snowkiting and speed riding appear to be similar but in reality they are a world apart. Snowkiting is a glorious form of kitesurfing whilst speed riding, or speed flying, is more akin to wingsuit flying – but with its own specially designed ‘parachute’.
Without doubt snowkiting is easier to learn than kiting on water because you can start out with a smaller kite and you can walk to it at any time rather than having to swim. Also, you will find that it is easier to tack upwind on the snow because your board doesn’t slip downwind as it does on water, although some edging skills are still necessary. It is considered an extreme sport and differs from skiing in the sense that you are able to travel uphill as well as downhill – a great advantage! You can snow kite with either skis or a snowboard.
Snowkiting on lake Kallavesi, Kuopio, Finland. Wikipedia
Snowkiting is also extremely versatile. You can drop off the edge of cliffs, speed across open plains and frozen lakes, and ski or snowboard up and down mountains. You can use your kite to sail over drifts or obstacles in your way. The possibilities are endless and there are also endless tricks you can learn once you have begun to master the art of snow kiting. And the beauty of it is that you can do all of this without using any mechanical devices.
If you already know how to kite on water and how to snowboard or ski, then you will be up and riding in minutes. If you don’t know anything about skiing or snowboarding but are a competent kiter on water, then you could most likely get up and going within a couple of hours. However, it would probably be worth doing some snowboard/ski lessons beforehand – it will only help make the sport more satisfying. You don’t need to be as powered to get moving on snow as you do on water, so the ability to handle a really powered kite isn’t necessary.
The one new snow-specific skill you will have to learn is how to reverse-launch a kite without getting yanked.
The newer four-line sheetable foil kites work well for snow. These kites allow you to depower the kite on the fly, completely kill the power instantly and reverse-launch by pulling on the back lines. They are also not damaged as easily as inflatable kites. Snow is very fast, especially the more packed down it is. A fresh fall of more than a few inches can make it slower, but it still takes less wind to get moving. It is also important to make sure your board/skis are waxed correctly for the snow temperature otherwise they will not slide efficiently.
Surprisingly (I think) it is easier to snowkite with skis than with a snowboard because skis have two edges to leverage against the pull of the kite. They also give you more stability for riding over tracked out or icy terrain and they allow you to land jumps more easily because you can step quickly to adjust for imperfect body position. Skis also allow you to take a smaller kite.
Having said that, although a snowboard makes it difficult to get an edge in crud, they are relatively simple because most of the moves on water translate directly to the snow.
So, the choice is yours…
Speed-Flying on the other hand is an extreme sport that involves a combination of paragliding and skiing skills. In fact it is a sport created by paraglider pilots and skydivers looking for a new sensation and to create a link between gliding with skis on snow and gliding through the air. It is a relatively new sport that is growing rapidly and gaining lots of attention. In the beginning skydiving parachutes or modified kites were used, but now specially designed SpeedFlying wings and gliders are available.
It is most certainly a sport for experts only! 2009, for example, had at least 9 reported deaths in the sport and many non-fatal accidents.
photo from http://www.speed-flying.com
But it is a growing sport. Initially invented in France, it quickly spread to Switzerland and Austria with Italy, Germany and the USA not far behind. Its potential for danger is in the same league as Skydiving, BASE jumping and wingsuit flying with a high risk of injury or even death. Speeds of more than 100km/h can be reached in the hands of the top Speed Flyers but normally speed kiting is done between 35 & 70 km/h. Unlike Paragliding there is no reserve/safety parachute if anything goes wrong.
So yes – potentially very dangerous.
And to complicate matters further there are two definitions for this sport – speed-riding and speed-flying:
- Speed-Riding is flying down snow covered slopes with ski’s with frequent ground contact.
- Speed-Flying is flying down snow free slopes after foot launching with no ground contact until landing.
However, when referring to this sport the term speed flying is most commonly used.
It is also absolutely essential that you take lessons!