Snowkiting: A New Adventure on Lake Michigan

Taking to inland lakes or the frozen bay in winter is an experience usually reserved for snowmobiling and ice fishing. However, there’s another way to experience the Hothian landscape. When snow is fresh and winds rise above 15 knots, the window of opportunity to snowkite opens. 

Similar to kitesurfing, snowkiting uses a kite to harness wind power and propel riders. The main difference between the two activities is that a wetsuit is swapped for a winter jacket and a kiteboard for a snowboard or skis.

Chris Miller rides the ice on two skis. Photo by Sam Kersebet.

The kite itself is similar in design to a set of wings. Kites vary in style, but the most common ones have inflatable bladders that, when pumped, keep the sail rigid. They can be used on both land and water. 

When kitesurfing was being pioneered in the late 1990s, many of the kites were designed with two lines. Modern kites now have four lines that give the kiter the ability to “sheet,” which changes the angle of the kite and gives the rider improved control over wind power. Kiters harness into the kite through a “chicken loop” that descends from a control bar that they hold on to and use to steer. 

Because the rider is tethered to the kite, snowkiting is a high-risk sport that requires sufficient training. There is plenty of video evidence of the force of the wind putting kiters into tricky situations and overpowering their ability to maintain control. 

A kiter grips the control bar. Photo by Sam Kersebet.

Kites range from five to 18 square meters in size, so with wind variations, a session can quickly go from being fun to scary. For this reason, it’s highly advisable to learn kite handling from an experienced kiter before trying it alone.

With experience, snowkiting can be both physical and meditative. Wind power allows kiters to move across the snow at incredible speeds, and they can send themselves into the air with a simple adjustment of the kite. 

Although it’s best to ride with others for safety, once moving, snowkiting tends to be a rather solitary activity. The horizon is unobstructed, and the sound of a motor is nonexistent. That’s when things can go on autopilot, allowing the stress of navigating to fall away and the kiter to become immersed in the environment.

It takes many factors to produce optimal conditions for snowkiting: The right wind, snow coverage and temperatures all dictate safe enjoyment. The side effect in seeking these conditions is that one’s perspective on weather becomes skewed – and perhaps for the better. Cold days and fair winds are things that many people dread about winter, but in the context of snowkiting, they’re essential. 

Check out this snowkiting video by Peninsula Filmworks in which Chris Miller snowkites at Ephraim’s Eagle Harbor. Josh Miller made the jumps. Sam Kersebet shot the gimbal footage, and Brett Kosmider shot the drone work.