Snowkite in Alaska
I’ve never really wanted to kiteboard. In fact until now, I’ve actively avoided it. You see, it’s the idea of being dragged out to sea by a kite, left helpless and bobbing in Australia’s shark infested waters that always put me off. That and I don’t like the wind. The wind tends to ruin all my regular activities.
But what if I had a sport to go to when it was windy? To make the most of the conditions and still have fun? What if that new skill could get me up a mountain to snowboard down quicker? This was my motivation to try to learn to snowkite.
I had met Jennie Milton last year on Thompson Pass, Alaska. On her 15th winter in the pass, she knows all the intricacies that make Valdez one of the premier winter destinations in the world – for skiing and also for kiting. She invited me on her 10 day RV adventure “Snowkite Base Camp” to learn to snowkite. I said yes and met herself and another adventurous kiter Kirsten, in Anchorage.
First Stop Big Lake Alaska
When in Alaska, do as Alaskans do. So we drove two stupidly heavy vehicles onto a frozen lake! Camping out for two days we had ‘absolutely nothing to worry about’, so said the locals. The ice was 6 feet thick. So there we were, in the middle of a 144.8 square mile lake in two RVs. 2 Australian girls and a Brit, waiting for the wind.
With a light wind the next day, Jennie taught me to get the kite in the air and drive it through the central power zone, making figures of 8 in the air. Just shy of reaching her 12-crash policy, I got the hang of it and flew the kite back and forth. Meanwhile Kirsten waved at us from 800ft above. She jumped in the spare seat of Jennie’s friend’s 2-person plane and flew high above us on a mission to put a wind sock on one of the peaks (as you do!). In Alaska, friends just drop by the lake to say hi and Kirsten got to enjoy Alaska from above as they flew all the way to Hatcher’s Pass.
Next stop Thompson Pass, Valdez
One of my favourite places on the planet, Thompson pass and the Valdez area offer some of the finest backcountry skiing in the world. A mecca for big mountain snowboarders like myself, the steep line options along the highway are almost endless. This year following several significant wind events, most of the mountains surrounding Thompson Pass were stripped of their snow. Glaciers revealed crevasses never seen before and deadly icefalls hung ready to drop. It was not the year for snowboarding in the high alpine. But it was however, pretty perfect for kiting. With clear nights and low temps, we were also treated to the dancing Northern Lights most nights. Thompson Pass is a very special place. No wonder Jennie has made it her home for 15 winters!
Alaska RV life
One of those first mornings I woke up with my sub-zero sleeping bag stuck to my face! My thermometer read -24 celsius! But that is just part of the adventure. Not wanting to leave the warmth of your sleeping bag but the pull of the day ahead and the beautiful sunrise peaking across pink mountains, is too strong to stay in bed. RV life in winter is about keeping it simple. You can sleep anywhere you want and wake up to get amoungst it straight away. It’s definitely the most comfortable way to spend a few nights on Thompson Pass. Jennie, a seasoned RV pro shared many of her finely-tuned systems: healthy meals that require zero washing up, how to keep heat from escaping, the most economical way of doing things. We #RVLife’d like pros on this trip thanks to Jennie! The whole RV experience really made the trip special.
Learning to snowkite on Odyssey Lake
The Odyssey Lake arena is where the kiteboarders on T-Pass congregate. It was here that Girdwood local, Cheryl joined us. A frozen lake with consistent winds, it’s a great area for beginners and experts alike. While I practiced my kite skills, Jennie soared her kite in all directions skiing up the mountain and then getting a few powder faces shots on the way down. Watching her scale that mountain so quickly was my motivation to keep going. I put my snowboard on my feet and figured out how to get going.
While I traveled in one direction downwind on my heelside, Kirsten meandered on her skis across the lake flying her kite with ease. She had come on this camp to honed her kite skills and push her flying. It was amazing to watch her get more confident each day and with Jennie’s consistent feedback and encouragement she was in the best place to become an even stronger kiter. Cheryl was carving, whooping and hollering with speed in all directions. Overjoyed with the wind, it was amazing to watch what all the ladies could do on that frozen lake.
Learning from the best
Jennie enthusiasm and love of kiting is evident in everything she does. She is incredibly committed to your progression and thrives off seeing you improve. Taking the time before setting foot on snow, in the warmth of our RV we discussed wind theory and kite control. Those lessons made the learning curve that much faster as I was able to visualize everything she spoke of when out in the field.
We had 35-40mph winds to work with whilst up on Thompson Pass. I was a little daunted with the thought of being dragged across the lake face-first on my snowboard. But surprisingly I dealt with it and on day two I was being pulled across the frozen lake on my snowboard. Jennie had got me kiteboarding!
I used muscles I didn’t know I had. Surprisingly my stomach muscles hurt, most likely from using the kite to pull myself back to my feet. A good skill you hone almost immediately on snow, that you can take to water. You definitely use all your muscles with just a short session on the kite.
Whilst I gave snow kiting on my snowboard a red-hot go, it didn’t quite grab me in the way I had hoped. Watching Jennie and the other girls race up the mountain was incredibly inspiring and I can imagine all the ways that having a kite with solid wind skills would be a great advantage on long approaches in the backcountry. Given another powder day or less wind effected snow, I’d definitely give it another go in the hopes of one day being able to surf the mountains on the uphill as well as the down.
A massive thank you to Jennie Milton and the girls for having me on this trip. The journey was amazing and it was so cool to share the whole experience and my love of Thompson Pass and Alaska with everyone.
Jennie Milton will be running another Alaska Snowkite Base Camp next spring. If you are in Australia wanting to learn to snowkite she will be around Thredbo teaching all through the southern hemisphere winter. Give it a try! Contact her on email@example.com or on the Snowkite Base Camp Facebook page.
Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. All us girls were insured with them for this trip. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including snow kiting, heli skiing and backcountry touring) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.
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