Harness the Colorado Wind: Snowkiting on Lake Dillon

Snowkiting is an easy-to-learn way to spend a winter day.
Snowkiting is an easy-to-learn way to spend a winter day. Wareck/Wikimedia Commons
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Like a flurry of butterflies, snowkiters flock to the frozen flats of Colorado’s Dillon Reservoir, weaving a colorful dance on the open expanse of snow-covered ice. It’s a magical feeling, harnessing the power of the wind to ski or snowboard across the lake. To the untrained eye, snowkiting might seem daunting, but hopeful enthusiasts should toss aside any trepidation: It’s easier than it looks. With just a few hours of instruction, you can be flying the kite and riding on your own—a much faster learning curve than kiteboarding on water.

Lake Dillon, in Summit County and about an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver or Boulder, is the perfect training ground—a wide-open area with frequent, steady wind. It’s one of the few places in Colorado suitable for learning (set against a stunning backdrop, to boot). Whether you’re new to the sport, or want to transfer your water experience to snow, here’s what you need to know about snowkiting on Lake Dillon.

How to Get Started

Anyone with kiteboarding experience will be able to nail snowkiting on their first day.
Anyone with kiteboarding experience will be able to nail snowkiting on their first day. Avery Stonich

Colorado Kite Force offers lessons every day the wind is good—five days a week on average. Owner Anton Rainold has been teaching snowkiting on Dillon Reservoir for more than a decade, introducing newcomers to the sport and teaching experienced kiters how to up their game.

If it’s your first time, a two-hour lesson ($199) will teach you how to fly the kite, starting with a small trainer kite and progressing to the real thing. Tack on two more hours and you’ll be up and riding like a champ. Just bring your ski or snowboard gear (including a helmet). Colorado Kite Force will supply the rest.

Skis vs. Snowboard

Anton Rainold of Colorado Kite Force demonstrates the technique for launching an inflatable kite in low wind.
Anton Rainold of Colorado Kite Force demonstrates the technique for launching an inflatable kite in low wind. Avery Stonich

Snowkiting on skis is easier than on a snowboard, even if you have kiteboarding experience. On skis, you start standing up, which requires less maneuvering and finesse to get going. And if (when) you crash the kite, you can walk yourself into prime launch position rather than having to wiggle with your board on your feet. Use an alpine setup since once you get going, you'll be leaning and carving at speed.

If you’re wedded to snowboarding, then that's your best bet. Set up your bindings so you have a centered, multidirectional stance since you’ll need to be able to ride on your heelside in both directions.

Whatever you choose, click into your bindings before launching your kite. This way you don’t have worry about controlling the kite while dealing with your feet. Buckle in first, then launch, and away you go.

Inflatable vs. Foil Kites

An inflatable kite has a leading edge and struts that you pump up with air, so the kite holds its shape on the ground, and floats in water. A foil kite is shapeless until you launch it, and then its cells fill with air.

Some people prefer foil kites for snowkiting—especially for learning—since they’re easier to launch and fly in low wind. But inflatable kites work just fine. If you already have inflatable kites for kiteboarding on water, you can use them on snow, too. (Many people do.)

The size of the kite you use depends on your weight, skill, and wind speed. In higher wind, use a smaller kite. Less wind requires a bigger kite. On Lake Dillon, you’ll want a 10-meter or larger kite most of the time. Kite gear is pricey, so wait until you know if you like the sport before investing in your own equipment.

Capturing the Power of the Wind

Try not to get distracted by the view.
Try not to get distracted by the view. Terry Stonich

Wind junkies will rejoice hearing that snowkiting requires less wind than kiteboarding on water. On Lake Dillon, conditions are ideal when the wind is blowing steadily somewhere between 8 and 15 mph from the north. Lighter wind makes it tough to launch a kite. Stronger winds (cresting 20-25 mph) tend to be gusty, which is unpredictable and challenging for beginners—and can be dangerous, too.

Wind typically kicks up on Lake Dillon around midday. To suss out conditions, look at Wunderground to check windspeed and direction (search Dillon, Silverthorne, and Frisco). If wind is coming from the north, Dillon conditions are the best indicator. With southerly winds, Frisco’s report will give you a better idea. WindAlert can also give you a sense of what’s going on. But it’s tough to know for sure until you get out there.

Transferring Water Experience to Snow

Anyone familiar with kiteboarding’s steep learning curve can breathe a sigh of relief: Snowkiting is much easier. Without the drag of the water, getting going and riding on your own isn’t too tough, and staying upwind is a snap.

Even if you’re experienced on water, trust us: Get tips from someone who knows snowkiting. The technique for launching and riding in lighter wind on snow is different from kiteboarding. Colorado Kite Force offers a 30-minute lesson to help you transfer your skills to snow. And more good news for kiteboarders: You’ll be amazed how much snowkiting will improve your kiting ability when you return to the beach.

When and Where To Go

Look for this guy out shredding on Lake Dillon almost every day of the week.
Look for this guy out shredding on Lake Dillon almost every day of the week. Terry Stonich

The snowkiting season starts when Lake Dillon freezes (between Christmas and New Year's) and extends until the reservoir’s edges melt, usually late March or early April.

Where you go depends on the wind. When winds come from the north, the best conditions are at Kite Park—at the south end of the reservoir, off Swan Mountain Road. These northerly winds tend to be smooth and steady, ideal for learning. When the wind shifts to the west or southwest, head to the reservoir’s northern end, off Lake Dillon Drive near the marina. Be aware that westerly winds can be gusty, so use caution.

Once you’ve mastered snowkiting on Lake Dillon, you might want to test your skills by riding uphill or above treeline. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

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