Ride the Wind: Prairie snow kiters harness the breeze and surf the drifts
Daniel Koenig zips across a snow-covered field strapped into a snowboard and pulled by a giant nine-metre-square kite cum parachute flying high in the sky.
Bundled up from head-to-toe in heavy duty, cold-weather gear to ward off frosty temperatures, Koenig harnesses the power of 25-kilometre-an-hour gusts of wind.
It's about minus 20°C. With the wind chill, the temperature is probably closer to minus 30°C.
But Koenig doesn't feel a thing. He's having too much fun zigzagging across a snow-covered soccer pitch catching air when and making jumps where he can.
For Manitoba's cadre of thrill-seeking snow kiters, the more snow, the better, and the windier, the better. And, like all snow-sports lovers, there can never be enough powder.
Snow kiting and kiteboarding is growing in popularity in Manitoba as more and more winter lovers seek out ways to have fun, get fresh air and make some turns. The rallying cry: We may not have mountains on the Prairies but we sure know how to catch a great ride.
But snow kiting isn't just for locals. A handful of outfitters want to share the fun, offering crash courses in snow kiting to everyone from absolute beginners to the more experienced who are looking to land jumps and aerials.
Even if you've never snowboarded or downhill skied, anybody can snow kite, Koenig says. However, he admits the learning curve will be steeper if you have to learn how to ride the edges of a snowboard or skis at the same time as wrangling a massive kite overhead.
Winnipeg's Aerial Kiteboarding has taught students as young as seven. Their oldest student was 70. And you certainly don't have to be fit to kiteboard, says owner Daniel Grains.
"It's all about the kite," says Grains. Once you get the hang of flying the kite and harnessing the wind, it's easy, he says.
It's also about dressing well and bundling up for the conditions. The speed, the concentration required and the idyllic winter wonderland setting, create a perfect storm of distraction from any chilly temperatures.
Snow kiting is simply too much fun to get cold.
Koenig, who is also an International Kiteboarding Organization-certified instructor at his father's business, Boost Kiteboarding, catches a ride wherever he can.
His snow kiting playgrounds include open fields on public land, soccer pitches, the frozen Red River, the vast Winnipeg floodway and Oak Hammock Marsh, a nature preserve about 20 minutes northeast of Manitoba's capital city. In the summer, he kite surfs the waves and open water on Manitoba's myriad lakes.
At his top speed, Koenig has rocketed up to 110 kilometres an hour riding powerful blasting winds. Newbies needn't be alarmed. Snow kiting can be done in very gentle, 10 kilometre-per-hour breezes.
Catch a Ride
Take your own kiteboarding adventure on Manitoba's snow covered Prairies, icy rivers or frozen lakes.
Winnipeg outfitters like Boost Kiteboarding and Aerial Kiteboarding teach individual and group classes. Both companies outfit riders with a kite and harness. If students don't have boards, skis or boots, both outfitters will do their best to find the additional equipment. Both companies use certified International Kiteboarding Organization instructors.
Get primed for kiteboarding at the IKO's website here.
Suggested Tweet: Who needs mountains? Manitobans harness the wind and surf the snowdrifts. @TravelMBMedia http://media.travelmanitoba.com/2012/12/ride-the-wind-prairie-snow-kiters-harness-the-breeze-and-surf-the-drifts/