Driven by the wind
February 15, 2008
By night, Arla Funk stays grounded, dressed in a black button-down shirt, reciting the details of the daily specials at Wahso. But by day, she takes flight, riding the wind on a snowboard, sometimes 30 or 40 feet above ground, holding onto a giant kite.
Once only occasionally viewed by drivers along U.S. 40, the snowkiter, one part astronaut, one part ski bum, is no longer the rare bird it once was, Funk says. While kiting over the ocean near South Padre Island, Texas, she reports meeting several Parkites sailing beside her. Take any night of the week, and you’ll find at least five Wahso staffers who would consider themselves avid kiters, on water and snow, says Funk.
"Snow kiting is becoming huge absolutely huge because you can take it anywhere," she says. "It’s just a fun, full-throttle sport."
These days, if the wind is good, flocks of kiters on skis and boards sometimes 30 or 40 at a time — can be seen launching their colorful kites over Strawberry Reservoir, near Home Depot, on Richardson Flats, or off the back southwest side of Powder Mountain, a Utah resort that began charging a $20 usage fee just this year and hosted last weekend’s SuperFly Open, an international competition for snowkiters. This weekend, Helena, Mont., will host the Montana Snowkite Rodeo welcoming snowkiters from Norway, Canada and Sweden. March 1 and 2, the fourth annual U.S. Open Snowkite Masters at Skyline, Utah will be held.
Funk says the popularity of the sport has grown, in part, because the equipment has become safer, allowing kiters to de-power in a more gradual manner.
When Funk, 34, first tried kiting six years ago, it was over the water in Hood River, Ore., where she spends her summers. A sponsored wind surfer since the early 1990s, she was seeking a new challenge, but she knew then that the kites were too complicated and unruly to steer. "It was rad — my first experience kiting when I got up, it was like being towed behind a boat, and I grew up behind a boat, but I did get tossed around a little bit because the kite wasn’t really that simple yet."
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Funk returned to kiting a year and a half ago, largely because the sport requires half the wind required to windsurf and is transferrable to the slopes in the winter months.
She says she hasn’t looked back. On a daily basis, Funk monitors at least five Web sites about weather conditions to see if it’s a good day to fly. "I’ve been living and breathing kiting since August 2006," she beams. "Kiting’s kind of taken over my life."
Currently, Funk is sponsored by kiteboarding company Liquid Force, entering exhibitions and competitions like SuperFly, where kiters on skis and boards are judged by their ability to "boost air," ride rails and pull tricks.
The most challenging part on the snow is returning to the ground, she says. She’s a skier, but likes to ride a board when she’s snowkiting.
"Getting 40-foot air is nothing over water I just jump up again and that’s it," she explains. "Here, on snow, I get a boost of air and that is not it. I have to land and it can be tricky."
Keeping Funk company on some kiting trips is Marty Lowe, 52, of Fruit Heights, Utah.
A kiter since 2002, Lowe began cruising over snow and ice in 2003. "There was this international event in Jackson Hole and it just really clocked I should be doing this," he remembers. "I think it’s the dopamine it’s a thrill and it keeps me young, hanging out with all these 20-year-olds."
Like Funk, Lowe recalls being jerked around in the early days when "the safety system wasn’t as good." As a father and an owner of the Salt Lake City-based Battery Specialists, Inc., he says he feels more comfortable participating in snowkiting since the technology has improved. "Some people are into speed, going faster than 40 miles per hour or doing tricks, but I’m not. This is just recreational for me," he says. "I’ve got a business, I’ve got a family there are a lot of people counting on me."
But also like Funk, he’s hooked on kiting. He jokes that he considers himself an "amateaur meterologist," checking the weather periodically throughout the day to see if it’s a good day to get out and go kiting.
Lowe enjoys taking a snowmobile out to remote areas to kite, but he’s careful about getting permission. "Most of the time you’re in the hills on Forest Service land, but I grew up in Idaho, on a ranch. I know what it is to have people just trespass on your land," he says. "You need to ask first."
Kevin Dobson, 40, one of Wahso’s bartenders, shares Funk and Lowe’s passion. A kiteboarder for four years and a Park City winter resident since 1994, he plans to permanently relocate to South Padre Island, the epicenter of kiteboarding, in the spring. Utah resorts are getting crowded, he says, and he’s ready for a warmer climate.
"It’s like you’re your own pilot you can go anywhere," he says, "and there are no lift lines."
Learn to snowkite, kiteboard
Fun Seekers, a Salt Lake City-based company teaches snowkiting lessons. On its Web site, the company boasts seven years of experience and International Kiteboarding Organization-certified instructors. For information, visit funseekers.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . The company can be reached by telephone at (774) 722-0764.
Utah Kite Addiction Snow Kiting School located in Ogden, Utah, advertises a Professional Air Sports Association-certified snowkiting school. Lessons are taught at Powder Mountain and in Pineview Reservoir. For more information, visit utakiteaddiction.com or call (801) 391-7481.
Where to get a kite
The price of a new kite averages $1,000, but it’s possible to find more affordable used kites on eBay.
For a new kite, visit Ozone kites, headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. For information, e-mail email@example.com or call (435) 462-6303.
Also, Arla Funk recommends kites from the California-based company Liquid Force. For more information, visit liquidforcekites.com or call (760) 943-8364.