On January 2nd 2015 we here at the ATBShop thought we would get a piece of the pre- Kite Masters warm up session, this was a good opportunity for myself (Harry Calvert) to get in a bit of hands on, first timer Snowboarding at what was the Super Kite Day (SKD) week one taking place in the beautiful Lautaret Pass in the French Alps. So fully equipped with what seemed like more than enough equipment to last me through the single week, I was sent over the pond to see whats going down in amongst the snowy mountain scape.
Super Kite Day or SKD is a community of riders to which anyone with the right mind set of getting out and enjoying those windy, sunny days with other riders and friends whether down the beach, park or in this case on the mountain, can share these experiences with each other, meeting new people and most importantly having a Super Kite Day! Originally put together by one of our sponsored riders; Abe Alzouman with his online Kite Land Boarding videos before gaining massive interest and becoming it’s own community, SKD begun branching out taking these experiences to the next level by looking for awesome, windy locations across the globe to which the community can come together and shred some sweet sessions! Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you SKD Snow Kite Camp 2013:
So our 15 hour journey from Southampton in the UK began by stuffing every nook and cranny of Abe’s tiny Cleo with the total equivalent of six weeks worth of equipment, supplies and of course clothing. This even included compacting the spare wheel bay with the smaller necessities such as gloves, spare binding straps and even the shoulder strap for my board bag. Every part of the car was packed efficiently resulting in consistent packing and unpacking to get it right, by the time it was ready to go, glancing at tiny spaces to which we where to occupy during this road trip, the only thought that was to cross my mind was that it was going to be a long, long drive.
The three of us finally embarked on what was going to be a week of crashing through powdery goodness to which two of us had never experienced before, making this a first for myself and Sarah in the shredding snow department. Due to the rapid clashes of heat in the Alps in both the dark and light sides of the mountains, ranging in various high and low pressure zones at such high altitudes, there is always a presence of that invisible force that drives us kiters somewhere in the vast landscape, and with the huge amount of spots to chose from we couldn’t go wrong. HOWEVER snow on the other hand was of course down to mother nature herself to supply and we where expecting a fair amount after hearing it had dumped it down a week or so before.
On arrival to the huge chalet located in a tiny remote village, with a near collision with the local wondering pig, we had our team introductions and unfortunately by the end of which, any excitement built up from the drive in, spotting lines on the mountain sides not to mention driving past the Pyramid spot with multiple kiters on it, went down with the sun leaving heavy anticipation for the next day. So an early night followed by an early rise and an in house baguette breakfast courtesy of the SKD crew, we where fresh and ready to be pulled through some snow, so it was the Pyramid spot to which we embarked.
My expectations in comparison to reality after reaching the spot, lugging my kit through three feet of snow and setting up the kite, I came to the conclusion of a single world; exhaustion. Setting up the all new 2015 Ozone Frenzy, 11m seemed to have taken almost four times the amount of time, not to mention twenty times the energy used to do so on dry land. The wind was light, yet the kites where still wizzing around overhead and people where still being pulled to the top of the sixty odd foot Pyramid and gliding off with persistence. I launched the kite and felt curious as to how they where riding so little wind, the kite was barely staying in the sky. Regardless of which I then went on to discover the difficulty that is putting your feet in your bindings while keeping movement in the kite to prevent it from dropping out the sky. And then the typical eleven to two dive of the kite and I was back in my element, almost as though kitesurfing on a textured, icy, white and mountainous ocean!
Realising the dramatic difference in power requirements between snow kiting and kitesurfing, and how you can get going in almost zero wind (providing the kite is staying in the air), looping the kite through the power zone seemed less… dangerous per say, yet this proved remarkably effective and interesting being pulled up to the top of the icy Pyramid. For any moment I had lost power, it was falling back onto my ass to prevent you sliding back down the 30 degree slope. After nearing the top I hit one of the many wind shadows you had to depict in the mountainous terrain leaving my kite to drop out the sky and wrapped up in a nice ball 20 or so meters up the icy slope. This left me with two options; One- attempt to stand up and ride down the rather steep slope (with zero experience on a Snowboard) and try to relaunch the kite and pray the kite launches or I don’t catch an edge. Two- pack up the kite and go for a hands on, first lesson in Snowboarding which I of course DID. So kite wrapped up under one arm I pushed off to what was going to be a good 45 foot slide on my face into a small trench. It was remarkably icy and of course… that was my excuse. The wind died off leaving a day of minor off-peak hiking and snowboarding to prevail with a new mountaineering buddy Jan, a German guy with many years of Snowboarding under his belt in comparison to the thirty seconds I had gained.The second time round I found remarkably more enjoyable, however going down the mountain showed to be more exhausting than climbing up with all the holding my breath before crashing and pushing myself back up malarkey.
The next day resulted in a similar layout, however we gave a spot further down the road to the Pyramid. The terrain consisted of an old shack like building to the side of the road, resting on a bank leading to a open area with a slight gradient. To the far side, say sixty or so meters up, the gradient begins to merge into the slope leading to the base of the mountain to which people where using the kite to pull them up the slope and booting it down and hitting a bank to the right of the gradient, using it as a kicker. Unfortunately the wind was light yet again and the snow was looking bleak along with the forecast for the rest of the week, so we had to make do with what eight day old concoction of snow and ice we had. I saw no better opportunity than to take advantage of the fresh Flysurfer Peak 2, 6m we had recently come into the shop. Due to the lack of weight in the beautifully crafted, single skin kite, it would fly in almost nothing and proved ideal for the conditions with on the spot pivot steering and remarkable power generation for a six meter.
After a long session we had a taken the short straw with the wind once again and insaner minds prevailed… once again. So it was up the mountain again, this time around an hour and a half climb for more hands on, learn-as-you-go snowboard lessons down a narrow, icy over pass that zig-zagged back down to the hotel near to where we had parked, this is where I learned how extremely vital wrist guards are for the average snowboarder. Check it out:
The next day arose with multiple bruises, dead legs and what felt like splintered wrists, but there is no rest for the truly living. The wind was looking light again and still no sign of fresh snow, so that left the option to go and find some. Two and a half hours later to which, from base to top in some crazy ass climb, myself and another Harry (yes awesomeness runs in the name) found ourselves……………………………………………………………………. Here:
A 30 or so foot drop into a fresh snow gradient, or what looked like fresh snow anyway to which we had way, way underestimated the height on the way up when considering riding off it, regardless of which the snow up there was the best I had seen (and ever was to see during that week) so far. With a stop for lunch and prepping all the camera gear I had lugged up with me, we decided it was the smarter option to take a different route as to the one we climbed and that due to my inexperience, that I go first incase something goes wrong. Not quite a boost of confidence…
Needless to say I was shaking before and after the event that seemed like one of most incredible experience of my life. No injuries, some serious speed for a first timer across half decent snow and got it all on film using the WizMount. A damn good start to the day. Returning back to the car it seems the wind had decided to make an appearance at the Shack spot with multiple kiters and the odd sight of Lolo, one of the SKD reps flying through the air. With a varying ten knots , I felt lucky to have grabbed the Peak 2, 9m from the huge pile of Flysurfer kites that where on demo courtesy of SKD.
Finally a powered up session to which the Peak 2 performed beautifully and gave me a good run across the icy terrain. The advantages of Snowkiting that I had came to realise when riding mountainous terrain is similar to that of a skatepark; hills, bumps, dips and trenches are of course the obstacles, the rest is down to you to interpret what you can do on them. Usually the more experienced riders are the more creative and for my first time being powered up on such terrain, I’d like to have thought I could bring something new to the table, yet this was not the case. Only managing a few spins and jumps flying out from the bank, it wasn’t long before I found it absolutely necessary to pull out the camera and record some of the sweet riding the SKD reps where dishing out lower down on the bank.
How these guys where edging their jumps on ice I have no idea, either way the mixture of new school and old school riding was an awesome sight to behold. From slim chances to some crazy-ass hang time glides, I felt I’d discovered something entirely new and only thought of what it would be like on fresh snow. Having something to crash into and glide across beautifully without every texture echoing up from your board into your knees was a motivation and dream for a future day it seemed, as the snow forecast was still looking grim for the rest of the week, and my remaining days amongst the mountains where beginning to close in.
Realising this, we had the idea to host a midnight photo shoot with both the crew and the guests of week one using long exposures and a flash gun against the backdrop of the mountain outside the chalet, again unfortunately we was missing the one prime feature to complete the ultimate composition; snow, yet we decided to go ahead anyway and see what we could come up with. Take a look at the results:
As the week begun to finish up I thought it wouldn’t be right to visit the French Alps and not pay a small visit to the ever popular Les 2 Alps and learn to Snowboard properly. As I had skipped my lessons in England due to a Skateboarding injury that I was still in recovery for, a combination of excitement, brain usage or finding out they had a park section made me consider padding something good up for this trip. With another early morning start, myself and Jan headed for the resort. Unsure quite what to expect, we hit the peak where I could look down on what was to come and without hesitation, shoved the board forward into the relatively unknown.
It felt almost as though I had travelled the 1300 meters in almost five minutes flat. With only a few minor hiccups on the way down to which the next day I realised wasn’t so minor and was incredibly grateful to be wearing a helmet, the speed felt insane. As carving and toe side became more familiar and I felt as though I could steer in the relative direction I wanted to go in, we hit the park and boarder cross sections. Awesomeness, quite simply, awesomess, Les 2 Alps did not disappoint providing there had been no snow for almost two weeks now, lets say they kept it fresh! Although never landing anything down to the simple 180 spin or even simply sliding over the box, it was a sweet run with some crazy burms and big ass jumps to which someone was already carefully awaiting the rescue chopper with his pals, the paramedics.
As a note on the side, I thought I’d give the Black Run ago, just to say I did it. I was recommended that I left the camera in the bag for this as I “will need both hands for this one” which was well pointed out by Jan. Well what seemed like a slow push over the edge of icy doom; I did. Not necessarily under the “Snowboarded down” criteria however, I believe “Penguin Sliding” is a more accurate description of what went down. With the inability to slowdown on the super icy slope, I felt extremely lucky (with a short prayer to say thank you) to have reached the bottom without slamming into someone or something. Something that for once, I had admitted to being a little too much for my third hour of Snowboarding.
So along with the day, the trip begun to finish up. On returning to the chalet the SKD crew had organised a prize give away with donations from sponsors of the event including hats, shirts, jumpers, stickers, mood rings, bags made from recycled kites and snowboard wax curtesy of YourMood, SKD, Mojacx, DIIRT Bags and of course ATBShop! There was also an “SKD Rider of the Week” award that went to Karl Zaepffel for his crazy ass gliding!
It was an unmistakable last day, luggage and equipment filled the living area of the chalet and new guests for week two where arriving, yet know one was eager to make a move. The Super Kite Day experience had been just that over the space of seven awesome, Super Kite Days. A week we will all remember and surely will look forward to next year.