Let’s start with the basics of a really good day: 3,000 vertical feet of deep backcountry powder and perfect stability. For the average backcountry skier, hiking that much vertical means just a few laps. But what if you had a kite that could push you up the hill? That’s how Ken Lucas skis the backcountry. With a kite, you can fly laps around the mountain, ascending in just 20 minutes and skiing thousands of vertical feet—all without a motor.
Lucas is one of the pioneers of snowkiting in the United States. About 15 years ago, Lucas and some of his kitesurfing friends decided to experiment in the mountains with their kites, substituting a pair of skis for a surfboard. Lucas clicked into his skis, strapped on his kite, and brought the sport from the ocean to mountains.
Lukas has skied with his kite all over the world—snowkiting in Iceland, Pakistan, New Zealand, and Europe. Alaska, though, has the most suitable terrain for snowkiting, says Lucas. Far above the treeline, where a kite would get caught, Alaska’s mountains are wide open and, when you hit it right, the wind is a perfect 10-15 mph breeze.
The kite itself is built with ripstop nylon and several 80-foot control lines connect the kite to the skier. The skier controls the steering and power of the kite using a control bar, which is attached to the skier with a climbing-style harness. What’s unique about snowkiting is that you can uses the kite to ski down and up the mountain. Lucas harnesses the wind to ski uphill so he can leave his skins at home. It’s different than speedflying, explains Lucas, which is another discipline in skiing that involves wind. Speedflyers go fast down a slope to launch into the air and they spend most of their time flying. Whereas, snowkiting is more about on-snow travel—up, sideways, across the flats. And when it’s time to go down, the focus is on skiing.