Harnessing the Wind

Graham Van Tighem loves kite skiing. He talks about kite skiing the way a starving man talks about food, or the way a priest talks about God.

“In my life of discovering new and exciting and amazing things, I’ve had more fun kite skiing than I have in any new thing that I’ve picked up,” he says. “When you have a day when you’re stone-cold sober, you’re giggling like a 6-year old and you feel like the luckiest person in the world, you know you’ve had a good day. I’ve only had those days kite-skiing, it’s just incredible.”

Kite skiing is more or less exactly what it sounds like — skiing while harnessed to a kite. Its roots are in windsurfing, adapted for skis and snow. Because of its relatively recent genesis, kite skiing technology has improved rapidly as the equipment becomes more and more specialized for the task.

Wind power enables a kite skier to do things that would be impossible for a back-country skier, which is one of the things that Van Tighem fell in love with.

“When everyone else is worried about avalanches, and justifiably so during certain conditions, we can enjoy ourselves on the lakes and on the valley bottoms. One of the amazing things about kite skiing is the ability to use the kite to tow you up a mountain, then you fold your kite up and ski down. It’s like a portable T-bar of your own that you can carry with you wherever you want.”

One of Van Tighem’s frequent skiing partners is Jim Welsh. Welsh runs Kite Yukon, a fairly new company that sells kite skiing gear and is also trying to create a network for kite skiers in the territory. In a sport so new that it has no governing body, informal networking is a good way to grow. Welsh himself remembers the first time he tried harnessing a kite to a skier.

“One of my good ski partners had spent a winter in Costa Rica around 2001 and bought a used water kite from a local kite surfer,” Welsh says. “When he returned to British Columbia we were planning a long ski traverse and he decided to bring it along. We managed to do a full day’s ski traverse several times in the course of a couple hours and we were hooked.”

Despite their enthusiasm for growing the sport, both Van Tighem and Welsh stress the importance of proper equipment and training for anyone looking to get involved. A four year old kite will be less safe and less easy to use than a more recent model.

“I don’t think people can go to the store, buy a snow kite, put their skis on, roll it out on the ground and just kite,” says Van Tighem. “If you’re going to do it, you need to start out with at least one lesson, because there’s some basic stuff that you need to keep in mind.”

Van Tighem’s enthusiasm for the sport notwithstanding, he doesn’t see competition as its natural endgame.

“The culture of it is not really a competitive culture, it’s more of an inclusive culture,” he says. “It’s something that you do for enjoyment. It’s a way to get out into the alpine.”

Anyone interested in learning to kite ski can check out www.kiteyukon.com for information and contacts.

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