Flew To SLC To Snowkite, Ended Up Sleeping Outside On Top Of Skyline Drive In -20F. Cold. Fun.

Skyline is the quintessential West coast snow kiting destination that deserves every ounce of its reputation. The scenery was amazing and the terrain was varied and extensive. Almost every day we wanted to ride there we were able to ride, except for when the storms were rolling through. Traveling with Zeb for 10 days was fantastic, he had already been to skyline countless times and he was pretty good at predicting the winds and the conditions at the top of the mountain. Zebulon is the only kiter I’ve ever met that is actually weirder than I am so it gives me immense satisfaction traveling with him. Whenever people are like ‘dude you are so weird’ I can always be like ‘Yes but my buddy Zebulon is even weirder, why he’s from the Crabnebula galaxy’.

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The trip started off pretty insanely when Zeb texted me that a woman had given birth on the flight he was on and he had gotten re-rerouted to Denver. Apparently this is a pretty uncommon occurrence as it ended up making the national news. The last time he had flown in an airplane the person in the seat behind him had stopped breathing so he had to give him CPR, that’s some bad flying karma. When I met Zeb in Salt Lake City my bags hadn’t made it there yet, so we had to wait a couple of hours till the next flight brought them in. We ended up getting a humongous Chevy Malibu rental car and Zeb had acquired conjunctivitis (pink eye) on the plane so we had a prescription for antibiotic eye drops called into the nearest pharmacy. Zeb had gotten one of the new Android phones and it ended up being a real boon to have with us on the trip, the phone impressed me so much that I can’t wait to get a google phone of my very own. It did voice activated navigation with real-time traffic updates so you can see how slow the Freeways are moving. I’ve been waiting a long time to get that functionality out of my phone, and it’s all free.

We headed immediately to Mt Pleasant to say high to Brian and Heather, the US distributers for Ozone and good friends of Zeb. They had just purchased the Triangle bar in downtown Mt Pleasant and were heavily involved in making it into the ultimate snowkiter bar. I think that Brian and Heather have realized that it’s nearly impossible to make money off kiters as they are all such cheapskates, it’s a lot easier to sell them alcohol than to try to make a living off selling kites. Honestly I’m surprised that anyone can make a living at selling kites, but lots of people do seem to be able to pull it off. We hung out at the bar and several people we didn’t even know offered to put us up in their homes. Brian and Heather put us up the first night and the next morning we headed up to Skyline Drive even though everyone in the valley said that there was no snow at the top. When we got there we saw a couple of inches of base so Zeb and I rode for several hours trashing our skis on the multitude of sharp rocks that were scattered everywhere. The skiboards I brought on the trip were brand new, but by the time I was done with 10 days of riding they looked like a doggy chew toy.The second night we decided to crash outside even though snow was in the forecast and it was pretty darn cold. I could not get my tent stakes into the ground because it was too hard so Zeb and I slept outside under the stars. It was pretty fun until it started to snow and the cold flakes on my face kept waking me up. The worst part was when I would roll over and all the snow that piled up on top of my sleeping bag would fall into the hole for my face. My -20 degree bag kept me pretty warm until about 5:00 in the morning when I woke up and was way too cold so I got in the car and started it up. We rode that day at skyline for several hours and Zeb broke one of his bindings off while doing a pretty big jump off the hill. We stopped riding for the day and decided the best course of action was to drive into SLC and get the binding fixed. One of Zeb’s good friends Jay lived in SLC with a bunch of other ski patrol guys and we figured we’d just crash on their couch for a day or three. There was a huge storm rolling in that was supposed to dump 2-4 feet of snow at skyline so we figured it would not be ridable the next 2 days there anyway because of high winds and zero visibility.

Jay was great and his housemates were unbelievably hospitable, the next day we got a tour of the Black Diamond Factory at their headquarters. It was really amazing watching all the industrial machinery heating, shaping and coating metals for climbing gear. Although I don’t climb much anymore, it was great seeing the manufacturing process for carabineers, ice screws and crampons. They replaced Zeb’s binding with no questions asked, which was amazingly cool of them. That night we realized that his other binding was bent as well and so we had to replace that one as well.

Being idle for a whole day made me pretty stir crazy. Salt Lake City was supposed to get quite a bit of snow, so the next day we decided to hit Alta and ski for the day. We went to Black Diamond in the morning to get Zeb’s other binding replaced then we went to the Park and Ride lot to catch the bus. We waited for over an hour before we realized that the buses were not running. I went down to the road to hitchhike and the first car that came up the hill stopped. He was going to Snowbird so we ended up riding there instead of Alta for the day. The main trails were OK but anytime I tried to ski in the woods or off-piste I would take pretty hard hits on my micro skis from the rocks. I didn’t have a spare pair and I doubt I would be able to buy replacements in Utah. There was no one else riding little skis there and most people were riding the widest, fattest powder skis I had ever seen in my life. It was not too crowded and people said that it was the best conditions they had seen there that year so far. We ran into Jay’s roommate Travis on the slopes and rode with him and a friend of his for part of the day. I was acclimating well to the altitude so I rode all day and got in about 20 runs, most of them off the high-speed quad. It had been a long time since I had ridden on the slopes, and I remembered all the things I hated about mountain skiing, the lines, the people and having to buy a lift ticket.

The last night we stayed at Jay’s I picked up our friend Kelly from Maine at the SLC airport. He was coming out to meet his buddy John from Maryland who was driving his RV out but had gotten held up in Telluride. John was a hardcore kayaker, so we had that in common, he was also one of the funniest guys I’ve ever hung out with. He missed a great day of riding and ended up hiking in Arches NP instead so we ribbed him and called him ‘John who would rather go hiking than kiting.’ His ridiculous enthusiasm for kiting really resounded with me in every way. Kelly, John, Zeb and I basically were there representing the hardcore East-coast snow kiting contingent.

At Jay’s house I watched way too much ski porn and learned lots of new terminology like ‘tomahawking’. Tomahawking is what they call it when they cartwheel out of control after a botched landing. A lot of the tricks that require huge speed and big airs are much easier when done with a kite. The next morning we bade farewell to Jay and his awesome roommates and headed back to skyline which was supposed to have gotten 2-4 feet of snow. Skyline was pretty epic for the entire next week and there were defidently places where the snow was quite deep. One of the days was really windy and I was getting pretty big airs on my 12 Speed 3. I learned quickly that if I didn’t want to crash hard with that new kite I had to redirect early and hard to catch my landings. Most of the time the kite would be directly in the powerzone by the time my skis hit the snow. Zeb did a bunch of kiteloops with his 8 Manta3 but landed with so much speed it was scary. By some miracle we were able to ride hard for several days in decent winds without getting injured or trashing our gear.

The first night we spent back at skyline we tried to get a room at the Skyline Hotel. The room was freezing, so much so that the water in the toilet bowl was frozen. Turns out they were suffering from brownouts so we ended up moving to the Horseshoe Mountain hotel which was the same price, much nicer and had a free breakfast to boot. Kelly bought us pizza for picking him up at the airport and I was so hungry I wolfed down an entire anchovy pizza at the bar.

There is a new offshoot of kiting called kite gliding that I had never seen before except on videos. Basically you use the kite to drag yourself up to the top of a hill then you get as much speed as you can coming back down and glide up in the air for as long as you can. It looked interesting, but not that much fun. I prefer to stay within 20 feet of the ground when snow kiting and I like the feeling of intense G forces from the kite feeling like its going to rip you in half all the time which you really don’t get with gliding.

The best powder stashes I found were behind the snow fences. The snow fence at the top of the ridge had made some amazing drifts that had hardened in places into ramps. One of the lighter wind days I spent the day riding behind the fence in deep powder and hitting these amazing 3-4 ft high ramps at different angles and speeds. There were 6 foot gaps between some of the drifts and if you timed it just right you could blast off a ramp and slam into the drift after it really hard breaking apart the crust and encasing you with powder. It was like a skatepark at 10,000 feet with some of the most amazing scenery ever.

The big snowkite event was slated for the weekend but the weather did not look like it was going to cooperate. On Sat we woke up at the crack of dawn and were riding at skyline by 8:00AM. Being the first ones out we got many hours of good riding in before the front moved in and the winds got sketchy and the visibility dropped to nothing at around noon. Zeb, Kelly and John decided to hit Electric Lake which was a few miles away and at a much lower elevation. When we got to Electric Lake Zeb took off on his 8 Manta 3 and came back to tell me that he was overpowered. I was nervous about putting up my 12 but didn’t have much choice because I knew that the 8 Speed 2 would not be enough kite for all the deep powder. The 12 Speed 3 did amazingly well even though the winds were gusting from 10-30 mph. I found 3 feet of powder stashed behind a wind fence so I tracked it out for several hours until I decided I had enough and quit.

That night was the big party at the bar. Zeb and I were so exhausted from riding that we basically crashed out in the hotel room and missed the whole thing. The next day was so bad that we didn’t even go to the top of the mountain. We looked for places to ride down in the valley and spent a lot of time talking to this really cool cop. We ended up giving up and deciding not to kite because the conditions were too warm and we could not find a decent place to ride. We went back to Salt Lake and did some bowling instead, on the 2nd game I put my back out and it hurt like heck the rest of the trip. I can’t believe that I ride like I do and get away unscathed and then when we go bowling I put my back out. Ironic.

It was another amazing trip spent in the company of good friends, I met a lot of new people and left SLC feeling energized and renewed. Utah really is the best snow on earth, just like the license plates say…and license plates never lie.

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