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Joyce Endee

The need for speed in the air

Chris Krug takes snowkiting to new heights

Chris Krug on the Summit of Mount Washington finding wind and speed with his snowkite. (Photo Courtesy Chris Krug) (click for larger version)
March 17, 2011
More often though, you can find Krug, who lives in North Conway, searching for speed, recreating and racing snowkites on local lakes and some far away places. He just returned from Minnesota after racing in the Mille Lacs Kite Crossing. Krug has reached speeds of 73 miles per hour. He hopes to run as high as 80 miles per hour some day soon.

A recent interview with Krug tells about the sport and his passion.

Mountain Ear: How would you describe the sport to someone who knows nothing about it?

Chris Krug: Just think skiing without lift lines. On powder days think of getting first tracks all day because the wind continually fills in your tracks. On a good day I'll ride for a hundred miles. That would be a lot of ski runs on a hill.

ME: What type of equipment and gear do you use?

CK: You need a kite, skis or snowboard, helmet and wind.

ME: Does snowkiting work like the principle of aerodynamics and sailing?

CK: I've never sailed, but yes the principles are very much the same. People think that you throw a kite in the air and it pulls you down wind. But you use it as a sail and tack across the wind.

ME: How do you control the skis or snowboard; do you need special skis?

CK: The edging principles are the same as just regular skiing or snowboarding. You don't need specialized equipment for the most part any ski or board will do. Although old style straight skis work better than a ski with a lot of side-cut.

ME: How much do snowkites cost?

CK: Anywhere from $450 to $3,000, depending on size and manufacturer. I know it seems like a lot but once you've made the initial investment you're set. I like to compare it to a season ski pass. In the long run it's a lot better value. In a good season I'll put 2,500 miles in on the kite. That's a lot of ski runs. And I can do it on any lake I want and I don't have to deal with lift lines.

ME: Do you have to be strong to snowkite?

CK: In general, I would say that strength isn't a major requirement for the, average snowkiter. I've seen eight-year-olds kite and eighty-year-olds kite. Strength is required for some specialized kiting like speed, but otherwise just being generally fit is all you need. It's doesn't require any more strength than regular skiing. You have to keep in mind that the load of the kite goes to a harness. You aren't actually holding onto the kite with your hands only.

ME: Are there many women involved in the sport?

CK: The sport is still in its early evolutionary stages, I think. Kitesurfing has a strong female participation for sure and snowkiting is seeing more women involved. Two of the strongest kiters I know locally are women. Stormboarding kite school in Vermont is owned and operated by a woman. It the oldest kite school in New England. I think you'll see more women involved as it grows.

ME: What are optimum conditions for snowkiting?

CK: Depends on your tastes, just like skiing. Some people like deep powder, some like shallow packed powder. I like speed, so glare ice is my personal favorite.

ME: You mentioned in an earlier phone call that this season wasn't so good in the beginning and then turned the corner- what makes a good season a not so good one?

CK: This season we got ice late. And the ice wasn't very thick when we got snow so we don't have a lot of ice to get us through spring. There's been a lot of slush on the ice this year too and slush is bad for kiting. We've also been lacking the good winds we usually get. Lots of weekends where there wasn't any wind at all.

ME: Where are the best places to snowkite?

CK: We prefer lakes, easy access, lots of space and good winds. We ride all the local lakes depending on surface conditions and wind direction. We are in one of the best places in the world for snowkiting. That is if you can handle the mean winds we get sometimes. Most people only get a month or two we get almost six months of snow/ice riding here.

We ride land when the ice isn't in yet but land based areas are pretty limited here. We used to have more, but some irresponsible kiters have gotten some of the land we used to ride shut down.

ME: When does the ice become unsafe and the season end?

CK: It's hard to quantify when ice becomes unsafe. When spring comes around we tend to assume that all ice is potentially unsafe- especially if it's not clear, hard ice. We wear PFDs [personal floatation devices] in the spring in case we go through the ice. It's not a big deal if we go through the ice because the kite can just pull us out of the water and back onto the ice.

ME: What do you like the most about snowkiting?

CK: I love the freedom. To be able to be out cruising on some beautiful lake, powered by the wind, is really amazing. You really see some mind-blowing stuff sometimes.

ME: Anything you do not like?

CK: If there is anything about the sport that I don't like, it would be the people who have complete disregard for their safety and the safety of others. Some just buy a used kite on eBay and throw it in the air. Not safe. When things go wrong it reflects on all kiters as a user group. We are all ambassadors to the sport.

ME: How long have you been snowkiting. How did you get involved?

CK: I've been kiting for nine years. I got my first kite so I could have something to do when it was too windy to go fast at the ski areas. Once I got it figured out I never rode a lift again. Now I'm sponsored by Peter Lynn Kiteboarding and they're helping me push the limits of how fast I can go on a kite.

ME: How fast do you normally go?

CK: A good cruising speed is about 20 miles per hour in my opinion. Not too slow, but not too fast. Very relaxed cruising. However, if the conditions are fast you can spend a lot of the day between 45 to 55 miles per hour or more.

ME: Have you met your speed goal?

CK: My goal is to beat my personal best speed of 73 miles per hour and eventually get to 80 miles per hour. It takes the right conditions and you need room to run. So far this season, the best I've done is seventy miles per hour. But we're now coming into speed season and I feel good.

To follow Krug and his snowkiting adventures, visit his blog: http://hardwaterkiter.blogspot.com.

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