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A kiteboarding evolution

Snow kiting catching on in the Gorge and worldwide

Most new sports must undergo an evolutionary process before they can create widespread excitement.

But if the worldwide interest is there and the sport has already evolved, there’s no sense waiting around for people in the United States to catch on. They’ll figure it out eventually.

At least that’s the hope of local kiteboarder Aaron Sales, who, at age 29, is regarded as one of the best snow kiters in the world.

Sales and his friends Alex Peterson and Kat Tragethon — both world-renowned snow kite skiers — have been tuning up for the Semnoz Snow Kite Winter Tour the past two weeks at Timberline Ski Area.

And, based on what they’re saying, Mt. Hood is the best location in the country to hone their skills.

“Right now, it’s the only place in the nation that we can train,” said Sales, who is helping local manufacturer Windwing promote its new line of snow kites for 2004. “And, what’s even better is, it works.”

Sales, Peterson and Tragethon most recently made their way into the backcountry on Tuesday, and they hope to gain an advantage at the world championships by training on mountainous terrain all summer.

“Mt. Hood provides some really unique terrain, and the rolling hills on the mountain help us get more air than on the flats,” Sales said in reference to the more planar terrain used in European competitions.

“We’re hoping to take snow kiting to a more extreme level in the mountains. There’s a new trend starting to develop, and we think that the future of the sport may be headed in that direction,” he said.

An offshoot of its waterbound cousin, snow kiting allows a skier or snowboarder to launch upwards of 40 feet off horizontal terrain, using 98-foot-long reins and a foil-type kite.

Local kiteboarding companies Windwing, Wipika and Slingshot have all been experimenting with new snow kiting technology, and all three manufacturers have specialized snow kites in their 2004 line.

While most avid snow kiters prefer to have a lighter-weight, lower-maintenance foil kite — as opposed to a bulky water kite — they can still use water kites out on the hills.

“We were using water kites just the other day,” said Peterson, a Minnesota native who has won a number of major snow kiting competitions in the past year, including Mammoth Kite Daze and Red Bull Kite Freeze.

“But when you’re trying to get optimum performance, it’s best to use a snow kite. They’re a lot lighter and easier to pack in. Plus, you don’t have to lug around a pump,” he said.

Using only the natural power of the wind, snow kites can take riders deep into the untouched powder that only heli-skiers and ski tourers could get to before.

According to industry experts, a 5.0 kite is ideal for the medium winds of 12-18 mph; a 3.0 will work in super high winds (over 20 mph); and a 7.0-9.0 foil is preferred in lighter 10-15 mph winds.

Snow kiting has caught on in places like Mammoth, Calif., Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley and Colorado, with growing pockets of interest in the Midwest and the East Coast.

“Right now, snow kiting is the buzz in the kiting industry,” said Sales, who also serves as an Event Coordinator for WhirlWind Tours.

“It’s a whole new avenue, and based on the response from the big ski and snowboard companies like Salomon, Semnoz and Da Kine, we think it is going to grow by leaps and bounds in the next year,” he said.

The Semnoz World Tour is already planning a stop on U.S. soil in the winter of 2004, with possible venues such as Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Park City, Utah.

Sales believes that the future of snow kiting is boundless, and likes that he is on the cutting edge of this new, high-adrenaline sport.

“Getting started is relatively cheap, because most people already have the equipment they need,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get into snow kiting because, compared to traditional kiteboarding, it’s a lot more cost effective. You could spend about $800 and be ready to rock and roll,” he said.

For more information about the sport of snow kiting, contact Sales at: airnsales@yahoo.com. Another useful snow kiting reference is http://kitesnowboard.com.

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