Ride like the wind: Utah growing as international draw for kite sports
Fairview Canyon » As the wind blew snow sideways near the summit of this Sanpete County recreation area recently, Kite Utah owner Brian Schenck seemed to be holding on for dear life as his snowkite propelled him and his snowboard across frozen ground.
Nearby, Czech Republic natives Paul Muzik and Jirka Kopsa inflated the kite they use for surf kiting in the San Francisco area, where they now live, and prepared to ride the wind across a mostly tree-free expanse of open snow covered forest land using skis.
Rural Utah towns such as Fairview and Mt. Pleasant and a far-from-the-city canyon such as the one off State Highway 31 east of Fairview might seem like strange places for an exotic sport and businesses such as Kite Utah to flourish.
But the place is getting an international reputation.
"I'm kiting in the Bay area on water and wanted to try snowkiting," said Muzik. "This is one of the best places in the States. It has high elevation, more good winds, nice rolling hills and no trees. It's well-known in the sport. The Kite Utah Web site [http://www.kiteutah.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.kiteutah.com] tells you where to go. We went yesterday and I'm kind of sore. But it was nice. The wind was blowing 15 miles per hour on the top of the hill."
The annual U.S. Open Snowkite Masters event, scheduled for Feb. 25-28 in Fairview Canyon, draws about 70 competitors and another 100 or so spectators including folks from Norway, France and Germany. First prize is about $300. Participants race over a 3-mile course.
Brian and Heather Schenck are among the sport's pioneers. Brian began using the kites in 1999. Parasails and surfkiting sails morphed into the specialized snowkites used today though some, like the one Muzik used, can be used on the water or on snow.
Participants can either use a snowboard or skis -- whichever they are most comfortable with -- and then utilize a bar not unlike a bicycle bar to guide the kite. It is possible to slide along the snow or do jumps and tricks in the air using the wind.
"Kiting is like sailing," said Brian Schenck. ""All the rules of sailing apply. You are tacking across the wind and sheet the sail out. You have all the same capabilities with kites."
He said numerous safety devices are built into the kite systems (the Schenck's rep for and sell Ozone brand kites). The second snowkiters want to stop, they let go of the bar which manually releases the kite and allows them to stop quickly.
A starter kite sells for $100 while the top-of-the-line models go for $1,000. Good ones can be had for $500 or $600.
The Schencks moved from Las Vegas to Draper in 2001 and began snowkiting on frozen water such as Rush Lake and Pineview Reservoir. They took a trip to France in 2003 to see a European snowkiting competition and decided to host the first U.S. Snowkite competition in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 2004. Then they discovered what they call "The Skyline" in 2005 while driving back from Moab and decided to host the 2005 championships there.
After considering Laramie, Wyo., Jackson, and Bozeman, Mont., as places to start a kiteskiing business, the couple decided to move to Sanpete County. And that's where their business story became a bit strange.
The venerable Triangle Bar, one of the only full-service bars in central Utah and located in a building first used as the original Hinckley's Dodge dealership in the early 1900s, came up for sale in Mt. Pleasant.
The Schencks hadn't considered operating a bar, but the warehouse and retail shop behind it would be ideal for their kiteskiing business. So they bought the bar, turned it into a sort of snowkiters' sports bar, complete with kites, snowboards, jerseys and skis replacing the animal heads that once hung from the walls.
The regulars don't seem to mind and the place is perfect for hosting events, live music and the increasing number of snowkiters who are discovering the Manti-LaSal National Forest as a place to enjoy their sport.
The couple applied for and received a license from the U.S. Forest Service to operate and offer lessons on the forest. They charge $75 for an introduction clinic and $250 for a full day of individual instruction. They also worked with the U.S. Forest Service, Sanpete County and a local snowmobile dealer to produce a user's map of the area east of Sanpete County.
The sport is taking hold in other areas of the state as well.
The Powder Mountain Ski Area, for example, offers a snowkiting pass for an open area and will host the second annual SuperFly Open March 13-15 sponsored by Utah Urban Surf Kiteboarding and Best Kiteboarding.
Areas with relatively open terrain such as Strawberry Reservoir and the Monte Cristo area near Ogden Canyon are popular. Even farm fields near Herriman in Salt Lake County can be utilized.
The freedom of not having to ride a lift line or rely on a motor appeals to many snowkiters. It is possible to log 100 miles easily in a few hours.
"There is a natural addiction to wind and the power it creates," said Brian Schenck. "Whether you are a little kid or 70 years old using a trainer kite, the second you feel that pillow case dragging your arm and pulling you across the snow, it's like discovering sailing for the first time."