Kite-skiing in Fairfield – a novel approach to skiing and snowboarding
The wide open spaces west of Fairfield, Idaho, in the west side of the Camas Prairie, are a great playground for snowmobilers, and adventurous skiers and snowboarders have discovered that the same wide open spaces create a perfect playground for kite-skiing.
Eddy Petranek of Boise is one of the more active kite-skiers in the ‘hood, and he says the Fairfield area is the ideal spot in Idaho to try out the sport. “It’s really the best spot in Idaho,” he says. “You’ve got plenty of snow to work with, there’s no trees or obstructions to worry about, and the wind is pretty consistent in the Camas Prairie.”
The “trailhead” is about 4-5 miles east of the Cat Creek Summit on U.S. 20, near a snowmobile access parking lot or 20 miles west of Fairfield, west of the grain silos at Hill City. Kite-skiers can double-dip on their trip by skiing or riding at nearby Soldier Mountain (open Thursdays – Sunday), and spend a day or half day kite-skiing.
Kite-skiers need three things – wind, snow and visibility, Petranek says. “When it’s good, it’s a plum spot. Normally, someone is out there every weekend, and some people are out there on weekdays, too.”
Petranek and other kite-skiing enthusiasts communicate via the SnowkiteIdaho Yahoo Group, and share photos and videos of their kite-skiing experiences. March is coming up fast, and that’s typically the best month for kite-skiing, he says.
Eddy Petranek kite-skis uphill near Fairfield. He flies a big kite to get maximum air time.
With freezing temperatures at night, and clear skies during the day, that can create a firm base for the kite-skiers to cruise across the landscape. Petranek says the wind often picks up about 1 p.m. He has different sized kites to suit just about any wind speed.
“I’ll fly an 18-meter kite if the wind is below 20 mph, and if it’s higher than that, I can shift down to a smaller kite,” he said. “I’ve got a whole quiver of kites.”
Petranek used to bring a quiver of kites to the Fairfield area to teach folks how it’s done. He’d offer lessons for $75 an hour and get more people trained-up in the sport. But then he and his wife started a family, and he’s got less time to teach lessons.
“Now my wife and I go out there and tow our kids around,” he says.
The big thrill is getting big air when you’re sailing across the landscape under the power of the big kite. “There’s really nothing like it,” he says. “It’s like downhill skiing, but you never have to wait in a lift line. You can race up hills, race down. On the flats, I can get 30 feet off the ground, and if you launch off a hill, you can go higher than that.”
When he’s flying 30 feet off the ground, “it feels like you’re in the air for an eternity,” Petranek says. “It’s a really cool feeling. And then you land like a butterfly with soft feet.”
Check out this video of kite-skiing in the Camas Prairie and you’ll get the idea.
“It’s not a difficult sport to learn if you have a skiing or snowboarding background,” Petranek says.
He also does kite-boarding on the water and parasailing. Experts say it’s easier to learn how to kite-board on the snow, and if you learn how to do that, then you might be able to pick up kite-boarding on a lake or the ocean quicker than starting from scratch. Kites run about $399 – $1,500.
Here are a few web sites with more information about the gear – Kittyhawk.com and Kiteboarding.com. And the SnowkiteIdaho Yahoo Group if you’d like to meet the locals and learn more about kite skiing in Idaho.
For lodging and meals in the Fairfield area, see the Camas County Chamber of Commerce for information.
The Camas Chamber of Commerce has hosted an annual event for kite-skiers in past years. No event is planned this year.