The Big Horn Mountains east of Lovell will be swarming next week with winter sports enthusiasts passionate about a sport that is gaining popularity around the world – snowkiting.
Snowkiting, also known as kite boarding, has been around for 40 or 50 years, but its popularity has exploded in the 21st century as new technologies have allowed for greater control.
“It’s like sailing in that we use a kite like a sail and can tack to go upwind, but we can go uphill and can go wherever we want with the right wind,” said enthusiast Will Taggart of Jackson, one of the organizers of the Bighorn Snowkite Summit to run Dec. 2-8 in the Bighorn National Forest around Bald Mountain.
Taggart expects around 70 snowkiting enthusiasts to participate next week, including several from Wyoming and a few from the Big Horn Basin. Some snowkiters are traveling from as far away as France for the summit.
“I’ve been snowkiting for eight years myself, others even longer,” said Taggart, who’s originally from Logan, Utah. “Other snowkiters helped us discover the Big Horns. You can use skis or a snowboard. Whatever you’re good at, you want to use. The more space you have the better. It’s more fun to go exploring.”
Snowkiters have discovered the Big Horns and love them, especially the high, level area along U.S. 14A near Bald Mountain, a terrain that offers something for everyone, Taggart said.
“You can climb up the steeps of Mount Baldy, or if you’re inexperienced you can go back and forth below,” he said. “A lot of Europeans use snowkites for climbing mountains and then skiing down, but Americans just like to snowkite.”
The perfect place
Bighorn Snowkite Summit organizers are promoting the Big Horns as “arguably the best snowkite terrain in the United States,” a Facebook page devoted to the summit and the Jackson Hole Mountain Kite webpage state.
“In particular, Mt. Baldy (Bald Mountain) possesses a combination of nearly treeless rolling mountain meadows, advanced steeps and a 10,000-foot altitude that holds snow and catches wind,” the page continues. “The usually ample early-season snowpack and diversity of this amazing area makes it the ideal staging grounds for the first ever Bighorn Snowkite Summit.”
Added Taggart in an interview last week, “It’s so big and there’s so much area. It gets snow really early in the season and the predominant wind is really clean – with nothing in the way from the Big Horn Basin. It’s clean, good wind – predictable.
“And it has good access. If you have a snowmobile it’s a cinch.”
Taggart noted that the snowkiting area is only about a mile from the Crystal Creek Rest Stop atop the mountain.
According to the Facebook page, the goal of the summit is to “bring together snowkite enthusiasts of all ability levels early in the winter season for an epic snowkiting adventure on amazing terrain, gather industry professionals and committed snowkiters of any level to participate in a series of roundtable discussions about the current and future state of our sport.
“This discussion series is designed to scrutinize the growing pains of our sport as we face the need for some type of standard in a number of areas. Locally, we will provide an opportunity for first-time snowkiters, local snow enthusiasts and anyone who is interested to improve their skills through a series of demos and clinics.”
The Wyoming High Country Lodge will be the headquarters of the summit, and organizers have also been promoting motels in Lovell. There is a snowcat and some “snowmobile support” from Wyoming High Country as well as the Jackson Hole snowkiters, but private snowmobiles are not supposed to be used to shuttle spectators, according to Forest Service regulations, so it is best if people wanting to watch the snowkiters or even join in some of the run can bring their own machines, Taggart said.
“When conditions permit, we will be on Mt. Baldy snowkiting the entire time except for a couple of discovery missions,” the Facebook page continues. “There is enough room for everyone here. The discussions will be at night after dinner, and the clinics will be during the day.”
Taggart said local people are especially invited to come to the mountain on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7-8, and people can meet at the Crystal Creek parking lot at 10 a.m. each day. But he also said people are invited to come and observe the snowkiting “any time they want,” adding, “There will be kites in the air, though he said sometimes conditions will take the snowkiters to the other side of Bald Mountain.
There will also be some trainer kites and “some of the best kiters in the world” to show people the ropes.
In a message to Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce Office Manager Jackie Heinert, Taggart wrote, “I think if this runs even somewhat smooth it could become the North American snowkite destination. I’ve been snowkiting a few years at the Big Horns now, and I’m so excited to see any other snowkiters out there.
“What I would like to see is a local snowkite culture in the Big Horn Basin…Snowkiting the Big Horns should get local skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers up and kiting all over the place as an alternative to what they already do while increasing their season. It’s not really that hard, and it’s very accessible to anyone whose interest is sparked.
“We’re going to teach some intermediate and advanced clinics through the week. Then on the weekend we’re hoping to have as many instructors together as possible to help teach locals and anyone who shows up about snowkiting and let them try it.”
by David Peck