Winter kiteboarding in Saskatchewan
It’s kind of like falling up instead of down. One minute you’re snowboarding through a wintry wheat field and the next you’re being propelled into the sky by a kite.
“It feels like bungee jumping in reverse’’ says Victor LaBar, a certified instructor and kite seller who’s been kiteboarding in southern Saskatchewan for 15 years. “You get ripped off the snow and into the air, you feel weightless for a bit and then you start coming down.’’
“Boosting big air’’ is an exhilarating part of a sport that can be as extreme as you want it to be, says LaBar. But whether you’re into jumps and tricks or just cruising around a lovely snow-covered landscape, there are few better settings in the world for winter kiteboarding than Saskatchewan.
“It’s just an excellent place. It’s one of the windier places in Canada and we do get a fair bit of snow and lots of sunshine. And there are lots of freshwater lakes for water kiteboarding in summertime, as well.’’
LaBar, a Regina engineering technologist who operates Prairie Kiteboarding as a side business, says kiteboarding is a relatively new sport worldwide. And while it costs between $1,500 to $2,500 for a good kite and harness, he says that initial outlay is just about all the money you need to spend since kiteboarders need not travel long distances, rent accommodations or buy lift tickets to enjoy their sport.
He estimates there are 200 kiteboarding aficionados in Saskatchewan and says some of the early adopters were introduced to the sport during winter vacations in the tropics, where water kiteboarding has become popular. It didn’t take much imagination to adapt the sport to snow, he says, particularly for those already active in winter sports.
“If you’re into skiing, snowboarding, skating, windsurfing, wakeboarding, surfing, skateboarding or longboarding, you can add a kite and get the thrill of those sports, plus kiting.’’
He says anyone wishing to try kiteboarding should first get some training from a certified instructor. Jumps can be thrilling, but they’re potentially dangerous when you’re landing on frozen ground – helmets are a must. That’s why LaBar limits his jumps to about 10 metres in height. And while the breezy days and unobstructed fields of southern Saskatchewan provide superb conditions for kiteboarding, they enable riders to go two or even three times faster than the speed of the wind.
“In a 40-kilometre wind, you can probably get yourself up to 100 or 120 kilometres per hour.’’
LaBar says some people want nothing more than to go fast and far – he says he knows of kiteboarding expeditions to the South Pole and others that traversed Greenland. But LaBar’s idea of a good time is kiteboarding with a group of friends and trying to impress each other with jumps and tricks.
“It just clears your mind of everything else.’’
Jonathan Storey, a Saskatoon kiteboarder and co-owner of Escape Sports, has been kiteboarding for 10 years and sells gear at his shop. He says he has a pretty good take on who tends to do well at the sport.
“The guys who think they’re going to be aces are the wakeboarders, but it turns out the board skill portion is only a small fraction of it,’’ says Storey. “By far, the more difficult and important skill is the kite handling. And the people who have transferrable skills are pilots and people who sail on water.’’ Kiteboarders tack into the wind just like sailors.
Like LaBar, Storey enjoys speed and fancy manoeuvres – he finished first among Saskatchewan competitors in a race event at the international Red Bull Kite Farm competition held in Regina last winter. Boosting air and landing softly never gets old, he says, but eventually riders want to challenge themselves by getting into freestyle or wake-style tricks.
“It’s fairly aggressive stuff, really fast landings and so on,’’ says Storey. “They’re tough on the body – the wipeouts are a yard sale.’’
Sooner or later, he says, you get to the age where you realize recovering from the crashes is not much fun anymore. It’s at that point where riders often begin looking for fields “with lots of terrain.’’ One such field just south of Saskatoon is among Storey’s favourite spots for an afternoon of kiteboarding. There, instead of performing aggressive tricks, he flows with the contours of the land and tries to link one feature to the next.
“It’s like a dance, moving smoothly within the environment.’’