Snow-kiting simply put is skiing or snowboarding with a kite attached to you to pull you along. It’s the winter version of kite surfing, without the complication of waves while attaching your equipment. I travelled to Pontresina in Switzerland to try snow-kiting for the first time on the frozen lakes there.
Nine of us met instructors Simon and Nico for two morning lessons. They gave each of us a harness (picture a rigid, oversized nappy, attractive), plus a backpack with a kite inside. I walked onto the lake with the kit, feeling rather like a sumo wrestler.
Simon explained the kiting basics and safety instructions. We learnt about the kite’s power, and soft zones which make kite control possible, and how we wouldn’t use our skis in the first lesson so we could concentrate on the kite. The wind was too gentle to fly kites, and we joked that snow-kiting is like surfing: the weather dictates your fun.
While we sat on our skis, I asked Simon what it’s like to be an instructor. “It’s exciting when we get older people, like 75-year-olds, or young kids, aged four or five, who want to learn. We don’t take kids out on very windy days, but when there’s light wind, they get out on their small skis with a small kite and they love it,” he said.
When a turbulent wind finally developed, we were on our feet preparing kites and trying to remember safety checks. We paired up, and Team Wendy/Becky had hold of an 11-metre kite which seemed eager to fly. Trying to control it in unstable wind proved difficult, not helped by Nico telling me to ‘pull’ when he meant ‘let go’. I pulled, and the kite lurched forward so quickly that it dragged me a few metres on my stomach. I pulled the safety release and the kite hit the ground with a thunderous crack — testament to its powerful force. Becky offered to hold onto the handle at the back of my harness for my next launch, and having her added weight gave me the confidence to try again.
Working in pairs had two advantages: the helper was able to assist; and being the helper was an opportunity to observe and learn. We both flew the kite for a few minutes when the wind became stable, but our flying time was over too quickly and we had to pack up: kite unpacking and re-packing is part of the lesson. I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d expected.
The next day was easier. Wearing skis allows movement with the kite, which lessens its thrust, and a stable wind made launch more predictable. I was snow-kiting within seconds at a slow but steady pace. Even so, I lost an hour due to a loose safety catch, and most of my group felt moments of frustration, showing that snow-kiting can be a faff to learn. In fact, my final run involved walking 50 metres back to the school with the kite dragging behind: it was too tangled to launch.
The instructors were on hand to help at all stages, but with many students, they weren’t always available right away which slowed progress. “Beginner skiers can learn how to snow-kite,” Simon explained. “Beginners who are motivated and patient often learn faster than advanced skiers.” The beginners in our group proved him right, and many of us will be trying the sport again soon.
• If in doubt, always ask the instructor for help.
• Don’t launch your kite if anyone is standing in the line of fire.
• Be aware of where other people’s kites are to avoid being hit accidentally.
• If the kite keeps collapsing, a safety line might be open: check your equipment!
• Be patient: you need the right conditions to learn.
Wendy stayed at the five-star Grand Hotel Kronenhof www.kronenhof.com in the heart of Pontresina, a village near St Moritz and perfectly situated between the kiting lakes of Lago Bianco and Lake Silvaplana.
She travelled with Swiss www.swiss.com (with flights from Manchester, London and Birmingham) and via the excellent Swiss Travel System www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk, which operates by road, rail and waterway throughout Switzerland.
The three-night Kite Skiing Package at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof is bookable online and costs from CHF 1775 (approx £1220) per person per stay in a double room. The package includes full board, an AktiVital Massage and private kite surfing lessons. Visit the Hotel Kronenhof website for all the details.
Special thanks also goes to Switzerland Tourism www.MySwitzerland.com