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Snow kiting: Hoping for a strong chilly wind

Randy Carlson, coordinator of UMD'S RSOP snow kiting program, does a trick on a snowboard at Island Lake. Submitted photo

Traveling across ice at a relatively high speed is commonplace for Northland snowmobilers.

Traveling behind a kite going 30 mph on skis or a snowboard might not be.

This weekend is your chance to try it out.

The annual Island & Boulder Lake Snow Kiting Expo will be held Feb. 7-8 from noon to 5 p.m. each day.

The event, sponsored by University of Minnesota Duluth's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program, will be held at the Island Lake bridge area off County Road 4 Saturday, while Sunday's will be held at Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center, about 18 miles north of Duluth.

Who would ever come up with the idea to attach a kite to yourself wearing skis or a snowboard?

"Essentially, in the European Alps, people were goofing around with paragliders and they would climb up a mountain and then fly off," said Randy Carlson, coordinator for snow kiting (among other things) for RSOP. "From that came a simplified version of the paraglider that could be used on land. In Hawaii, they evolved into inflatable kites that could be relaunched off of water."

These techniques were being used simultaneously and eventually merged.

For the Minnesota winter version of the sport, a participant uses a kite that's anywhere from 3 to 18 meters in length. There are lines traveling down from the kite to a control bar. A participant then attaches the bar to a harness, all the while wearing skis or a snowboard (even skates, which is more difficult).

The snow kiter then uses his or her skis or snowboard to edge into the snow and travel across the wind.

UMD offers classes to learn this technique (they started around Thanksgiving). There's also a snow kite club.

The expo is designed to showcase the sport to people who are new to it. There will be introduction sessions at the event as well.

"It's a tremendous exercise," Carlson said. "If you're an Alpine skier or snowboarder, you'll appreciate the power that the kite provides. The edging that you have to do is every bit as rigorous as going on an Alpine ski run with the advantage [of] continuous action. ... You just go where you want to go with the kite. Some people like touring and just seeing new parts of the lake."

Having some kind of experience involving kites, skis or snowboards would be a plus to anyone participating. (Snow kiting is typically done with winds of at least 10 mph.)

"If speed is your thing, Alpine skis are going to allow you to go faster," Carlson said. "When people are starting with the kites, Alpine skis; it's easier to stand up on them. ... If you're an avid snowboarder who can get down an Alpine ski run, then you'll be alright starting with a snowboard."

UMD junior Lee Schaefer, who was taking an introductory class Tuesday, said the sport sounds like a lot of fun. He has a background in sailing and wind surfing.

Senior Ryan Dauss was also excited about the class. He said he's been snowboarding most of his life.

Carlson said he likes to start with those who are ages 15 and older. He's had people 60 and older try it.

Safety is a concern.

Participants do wear helmets and pads.

"It's not a pedestrian experience," Carlson said. "Things can happen fast. That is part of the allure of it."