Snowkiting Spots: How to find the best snow kite launches

This is an expansion on our Q&A post about snowkiting with Lody Steyn. The question of finding the best snowkiting spots took on a life of its own. We felt that the information was so valuable and vast that it deserved its own post, so here’s the answer in Lody’s own words:

How do you find the best snowkiting spots? 

LS: Finding new snowkiting spots is relatively easy with the help of some key online tools. When doing so, you need to first consider the following elements:

  1. Snow conditions (and/or ice conditions)
  2. Wind conditions
  3. Terrain – is it kiteable? Any physical obstructions, trees, etc?
  4. Terrain – Any obstructions upwind from the spot that will make it too gusty or put the spot in a wind shadow.

I use the following tools when looking for new northeast snowkiting spots, but you can use all but NERFC for any area in the world:

  • Windy.com to check the wind and terrain
  • Google maps to check for kiteable spots and also terrain
  • If you live in the NE, you can use NERFC maps–in particular the snow depth and recent snowfall maps and estimated ice conditions.

Here is a detailed example of how I find a new spot and determine if it has a reasonable chance of  good snow and wind. I’ll look for a northeast spot for this example:

For a day or weekend trip traveling from the NY/NJ area, I would look at the upstate NY and VT areas and not venture out as far as Maine.

NERFC Snow Depth Chart

You can kite in as little as 4 inches of snow on flat terrain, but here we are looking for specific areas with a deeper snowpack. Since you are going to make a road trip, you might as well pick areas that have decent snow cover.  If all you want to do is ice kiting on lakes, you can skip the snow analysis part.

Regardless of whether you will be on snow or ice, you need wind. Although most wind forecast tools won’t be 100% accurate, you want to at least determine if there is going to be some wind. Figure 2 shows a typical NW wind pattern that we often see during the winters in the Northeast.

Check the wind forecast patterns.

It is also a good idea to check the recent snowfall.  In the Northeast, there’s always a risk of a deep snowpack with a solid ice crust on top from a rain + thaw spell, so you don’t want to go by snowpack depth alone.  If there’s no recent fresh snow in the area you’re looking to go, make sure that it has been consistently below freezing with no rain since the last snowfall.

Daily Snowfall Chart in The Northeast Snowkiting spots

Once you have identified areas with fresh snow, you go back to the snow depth map and look for areas that are within driving distance.

Snow Depth Map

For the purpose of this example, I have identified two areas to research in a bit more detail. One area is in southern VT and one region is a bit more north. I first look at area 1 — checking both the satellite map and the terrain map of the same area. If you use Google maps, you can easily flip between one satellite and terrain view. You are looking for areas that are either lakes that could be frozen or open terrain that isn’t tree-covered. Since most of the NE is below the treeline, this usually means farmland. Then we want to focus on areas that do not have large mountains on the upwind side, as this will cause all sorts of turbulence, gustiness and nastiness that you don’t really want to deal with.It is OK to consider valleys that are aligned with the wind direction, but avoid valleys that are perpendicular to the wind direction. You can see that in Figure 5.Satellite Map and Terrain Map

Now that we roughly know what areas to look at, let’s zoom in on one of the areas, the Bennington VT area. We are looking for fairly large open areas that will give us our best chance of finding a kiteable area.

Bennington Terrain Vs Satellite Map

Now you look a little closer at the farmlands area around North Bennington. I recommend not zooming in further than the 2000ft scale as shown, to prevent you from looking at areas that may be too small to kite on. Ideally, you want areas that are 2000 x 2000 ft (600 x 600m) or larger.  Smaller areas would work but if you have a 1000 x 1000 ft (300 x 300 m) area surrounded by tall trees you will likely still have to deal with a lot of wind eddies and gusts.

North Bennington Snowkite Area.

In this picture, we have identified some farmlands that appear kiteable. These are ideal spots because they are also located on gentle hills. Keep in mind that rigging your kite in a location where the wind is blowing slightly uphill is much easier. This is where you want to start so you can kite downwind up the hill and ride downhill to go upwind.

At this point we zoom in further and look if you can see any obvious obstacles / houses / posts etc that may interfere with your kiting.

Check for obstacles, Before Kiting

Google Street view is also helpful here to check for any other potential hazards, powerlines, etc.  It seems as if this area might be worthwhile checking out as a snowkiting location, provided the land owner are okay with you kiting there. And as an added bonus, you get to discover a bit of Bennington, VT!

Use Google Street View To Check For Open Kite Area

Let’s now look at the other area, Area 2. Here we will focus on a frozen lake.

Checking To Make Sure it is a Kiteable Wind Direction

Lake Willoughby seems like a very interesting potential snowkiting spot. As you can see, we have a lake with mountains that are at their highest at the southern end of the lake, almost creating a sort of “Wind funnel”. The lake is also more or less aligned with the NW wind direction, so I would expect it to have decent wind, even if the wind in the surrounding area is perhaps a little light.

When venturing on a lake, we always need to check for ice safety:

How To Inspect The Ice Depth

 

I like to have at least 5 inches of solid ice under me for snowkiting. If you are looking to go out early in the season and getting on the ice after the “first freeze”, there are ways to estimate the ice thickness. Here is a link to on such article: https://www.outdoorcanada.ca/how-fast-does-your-lake-make-ice/

With 5 inches of ice, there will likely be some thinner spots in the ice. Just because ice seems safe in one area does not mean it is safe everywhere.  In a solid ice sheet you can drill down until you get water and pretty much know the ice thickness.

The surface of a lake can also change as the season progresses, especially in the Northeast US where you may have a mix of cold days and warmer days (above freezing) throughout the winter. After your first “freeze” – say 5 or 6 days consistently below freezing, with no snow, you may get a very nice, smooth surface. The first good snowstorm will then provide a great kiteable surface. After a few snowstorms and thaw cycles, the surface can become a lot more variable.  Late season ice might have slushy layers, so you need to add at least an extra inch for safety. Sometimes lakes and terrain can get a wavy, crunchy top surface as a result of several cycles of freeze, thaw, rain and wind. If the crunchy top layer is thin, less than 1/16 inch or so, your snowboard or skis may cut through it. Once the crust gets thicker, such a surface generally becomes unkiteable. 

Ice Screw
Ice Screw-Photo Credit Wikipedia

When I go out on frozen lakes, I usually carry an ice climbing screw with me. You can use it to check ice thickness, and it is also useful for anchoring your gear on glare ice. I clip my kite bag to the screw with a carabiner so I have a reference point of where I started. SAFETY NOTE: Whiteouts do happen in snowkiting, and they are NOT fun. I recommend snowkiting on clearer days so you can keep your points of reference.

This is my procedure for finding NE snowkiting spots, but, again, you can use a similar process to find snowkiting spots all over the world. You will just have to find a local map for snow depth but other than that, the same procedure works. The process of asking for permission to kite on someone’s land is a great way to meet interesting people. Most of the time, they are quite accommodating and receptive to snowkiters. It’s rare that someone will say no, and more often than not, people are curious to learn more about snowkiting.

What are your favorite northeast snowkiting spots?

LS: The Tug Hill area in upstate New York has the most consistent wind and snow in the northeast. There is a nice combination of gentle hills and flats, so the area provides some fun terrain for people of all skill levels. All of the kite spots in this area are on private land, so make sure to ask for permission before you rig.

Snow Kiting Event
Tug Hill Snowkiting-Photo Credit North Country Public Radio

The northeast has a lot of lakes that freeze over during the winter. As long as the ice is safe and the wind sets up, these lakes provide ideal areas for snowkiting. Some of my favorite lakes include:

1. Lake Quannapowitt (north of Boston). This is a small lake surrounded by hills so it is a little gusty. I only recommend this spot for lighter wind days.

2. Lake Champlain (northern NY / VT). Once frozen, this lake presents a huge, amazing area for kiting with steady winds. It benefits from plenty of flat clear area for the wind to stabilize.

3. Lake Sunapee (New Hampshire) is also a decent size lake with steady winds.

Large Snow Kite Launch Area
Snowkite Rally at Sacandaga Lake-Photo credit KiteClubNY

4. The Great Sacandaga lake (upstate NY) has been the site of recent snowkite rallies. It’s a decent-size lake with really good wind.

5. There aren’t a lot of northeast snowkiting spots above the treeline, so apart from the frozen lakes you will likely be looking for areas that are either farmland or large sports fields during the rest of the year. Mt Washington in New Hampshire is above the treeline but only for advanced riders.

If you have any specific questions about snowkiting spots, please feel free to contact Lody at lodewyk@steyen.com.

Kristin Vincenzo

A long time windsurfer, Kristin now spends her time agonizing over whether to kite with a twintip, kite surfboard or foilboard. So many places to kite, so little time!