The evolution of snowkiting
Adults love inventing new toys for themselves. They learnt to fly with paragliding. Then kites from their childhood were transformed into giant and more powerful ones. Surfers and windsurfers beheld these huge wings with envy before attaching them to their boards. Exit windsurfing, enter kitesurfing.
A kiter is connected to his kite through a system of strings and directs the kite with a bar quite similar to a windsurfing bar. A new terrain has now opened up, flying high, doing jumps and tricks were now possible. Snowboarders and skiers very soon cottoned on. With the help of a kite, they could go uphill without using ski lifts, gaining access to fields of virgin snow. Snowkiting easily downgraded skiing and snowboarding to mainstream sports. Snowkiting goes back to the 1980s, but not one single person can be given credit for its creation, as those who claim the stakes are numerous. Several people probably tried the same thing at similar times in different places. Logically, the invention can only be awarded to a group of dedicated pioneers.
The skills needed for snowkiting
If you fancy trying it out, you had better stand steadily on your skis or board already. "You don't have to be an amazing skier to snowkite," explains Fabrice Tripier, who is one of those pioneers, "but it helps, of course. There are less new things to handle if you can ski already …" And of the new things to handle, there are more than one. You start with flying the kite to learn important 'security measures'. Like how to stop … "You end the traction by 'ruining' the kite, either by putting it at zenith or by pulling it far to the side. Or, by unclipping it …", he explains.
You also have to learn to use a new position as the traction alters your balance and pressure points. On top of that, you need to be able to interpret the wilful wind: understand at what angles it will lift you, know how to go against it, to turn around. In short, you need to be a good mix of an acrobat, a sailor and an aviator. Who would have thought, watching the kiters come flying past that it is so complicated.
The Col du Lautaret
If snowkiting has become particularly popular in Serre Chevalier, it is thanks to a legendary site only a stone's throw away from the main resort. The Col du Lautaret has near perfect terrain and wind conditions for snowkiting. Its slopes saw the beginnings of the sport, and today most competitors and kite surfing fanatics make a stop here. The best kiters in the world come here to play, and on any windy day (there are many) the sky is speckled with colorful kites. When the Northeast or Southeast wind blows, get up there to watch this amazing show.
The site is even more famous since one of the best kiters in the world is a local – the unassailable Guillaume Chastagnol. Triple world champion in snowkiting on a board, he is the unchallenged top man of this sport, he has pushed every limit and has encouraged others to do the same. Each year, Guillaume and his partners Regis Labaune, Wareck Arnaud and Fred Jagu, organize a snowkite festival at the end of December. This event is not a competition, but a friendly gathering where each rider gives his or her best. With no pressure and boosted by the ambience of the festival, it is always an amazing spectacle.
The future of snowkiting
The snowkite universe can be divided by weightlessness and multiplied by speed, lightness, agility and guts. This three-dimensional sport gives endless possibilities.
It is a young sport and is slowly getting organized. Manufacturers and sponsors are starting to take an interest. The pioneers that practice are still carried by the initial excitement. The gear has great development possibilities. No federation, no great financial stakes, world championships where the sportsmen set up the rules …
Snowkiting is still a developing sport, let's hope it stays as non commercial as it is now.