Air Time on the Ice
Fresh white powder tops the desolate North Country hills as winter kiteboarder Mike White gets ready to catch the gusts of wind that will power his joyride across the sky. For years, White has been reaching new heights on and above the region’s frozen lakes and snowy fields.
Winter kiteboarding combines surfing and kiteboarding, substituting solid, snowy terrain for turbulent waves. Equipped with a kite, harness and riding apparatus, kiteboarders can explore landscapes across the Adirondack Coast.
White has always been athletic and having been born in Panama, he grew up surfing. He met his wife Karen while attending SUNY Plattsburgh, and the two fell in love with the area.
“I don’t know why the heck I decided to live up here, so this is the way I can maintain the lifestyle that I grew up with,” White says.
Being experienced in skiing and snowboarding made winter kiteboarding a natural sport for him. He taught himself the basics on YouTube and quickly found that kiteboarding allowed him to explore the backcountry on his own. He picked up the sport in his 40s and took to it immediately, but stresses it is important to invest in lessons.
“They are expensive but worth it,” he says, “Last year, I saw a horrible accident. This guy broke both of his legs crashing into the wall over here in the bay campsite.”
Surfboards, twin-tip boards and foil kiteboards are used in the warmer weather, but as temperatures drop and the lake freezes, they’re replaced with skis, snowboards and skates.
“If the conditions aren’t that great then [I prefer] the skis,” White says. “But if it’s a beautiful, soft, snow-powdered day then it’d be the snowboard.”
White says that the best time to pick up kiteboarding is in the winter because the solid ice and static snow makes for an easier surface to learn on than unpredictable waves that can be difficult to navigate. He says skis are a better option for beginners because there is a steeper learning curve with snowboarding.
“There’s just a natural stance with skiing, you know. Your balance is a lot better…. In the wintertime there’s no friction, so it’s easier to get going. It doesn’t take too much energy.”
Once a basic equipment is decided upon, the next step is getting a kite, a harness, a directional bar and lines. White estimates new supplies can start at under $1,000 and get higher depending on the quality and brand, while used supplies can be bought for under $500. He says there is a certain benefit to trying out gear in the store before purchasing it, though he personally prefers ordering his kites online.
Equipped with the proper supplies, it’s time to pick a stretch of sky. One of the most popular locations, once Lake Champlain freezes, is the Plattsburgh City Beach. The lake is free of obstructions (like trees), that can cause dangerous encounters once the kite is airborne. Also, flat terrain is good for learning.
“There are a lot of beautiful sunny days in the winter around here,” White says. “The winters are long too, so if you don’t get out there and do something, you’ll go crazy.”
Whether someone is seeking a rush of adrenaline or just looking to take in the view from new heights, White says there is no limit to what can be accomplished with these kites.
Kite N Paddle, Vermont’s first and only Professional Air Sports Association-certified kiteboarding and stand-up paddle center, offers lessons, tours and rentals in St. Albans Bay.
Or travel north to Montreal to White’s preferred kiteboarding retailer and education center, 30 Noeuds. Offering numerous classes starting from $50, students can learn anything from basic knowledge to advanced skills.
The Adirondack Coast’s official kiteboarding/surfing list features popular destinations in Clinton County: Head for the sky at Cumberland Bay State Park at 152 Cumberland Head Road; Point Au Roche State Park at 19 Camp Red Cloud Road; the Wilcox Dock at 90 Cumberland Ave. in Plattsburgh; or Ausable Point State Park at 3346 Lakeshore Drive in Peru. White says that he also likes to go to secluded fields and hills.
- Safety system
- Directional Bar and Lines
- Coat, snow pants, boots and gloves
Local outdoor sport retailer Maui North, located at 31 Durkee St., carries winter sporting equipment — skis, snowboards, coats, ski pants, gloves, helmets, etc. — and other items for the outdoor enthusiast. Play it Again Sports at 30 Plattsburgh Plaza offers used and new equipment. On Route 3 in Plattsburgh, Viking Ski N’ Cycle specializes in winter sports equipment while also offering a repair shop. Other options include Dick’s Sporting Goods and Gander Outdoors of Plattsburgh in the Champlain Centre Mall.