Noah Poritz can be a hard man to please. The 53-year-old has spent the last hour snowkiting his way across cruddy late-season terrain on Bootjack Hill in Island Park, Idaho. He’s never been here before. He reaches speeds upward of 30 mph with skis strapped to his feet and, more notably, a 13-meter-wide, multicolored kite tethered to his torso via four 65-foot flying lines. The kite—and a strong wind coming off nearby Henrys Lake—pulls him to Bootjack’s top, cheating the usual uphill grind of backcountry skiing. He also uses the kite during descents, lifting off the rotten snow and soaring 20, sometimes 30 feet into the air, spinning, twisting, rolling “boosts” that suspend him like a slow-motion highlight reel against the snow-covered backdrop of the Henrys Lake Mountains.
Save for those precious moments when he dangles in a perfect blue sky, there’s nothing slow about what Poritz is doing. He constantly maneuvers the kite with his hands, positioning it in “power zones” that harness the wind and propel him forward, while his legs work to hold an edge against the icy ground and absorb his landings. When everything’s working in harmony, he looks like a Hollywood special effect, a martial artist from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or some high-flying Marvel superhero. Cars down below Bootjack pull to the side of the road and watch the display, and onlookers on the hill are speechless.
He makes it look effortless, an ear-to-ear grin visible behind his goggles on each pass.
But even when everything clicks, like it does on Bootjack Hill, there’s something gnawing at Poritz. Like any hardcore thrill-seeker or dedicated athlete, he wrestles with the balance between blissing out in the moment and wanting to push the moment further. He wants more.
“You know, if I had any cojones, I’d take advantage of that wind and fly down the whole side of the hill, maybe get 100 feet up and just coast all the way from top to bottom,” he says during a brief break. “If I had the cojones …”
The wind pulls Poritz away before he can elaborate, and before anyone on the hill can respond. Glances are exchanged and one person laughs. If he had the cojones? It sounds ridiculous coming from a guy who just flipped his way through the air 20 feet directly above us and landed on a surface that crunches like breakfast cereal. There seemed to be an abundance of cojones, of intestinal fortitude, even brazen showmanship on display that morning.
Poritz saw it differently. He wondered if there was more he could do, a new trick he could try, or a way to improve one he’d already performed.
Poritz is something of a recreational perfectionist, and his recreation of choice the last 11 years has been the obscure one called snowkiting. He spends between 80 and 100 days each year chasing the right combination of wind and snow, logging thousands of miles in his customized RV and hundreds more on a snowmobile he uses to reach prime backcountry. He’s a team rider for Ozone, a leading manufacturer of snowkites. He’s recognized as Montana’s most devoted snowkiter, a title that’s difficult to confirm aside from the fact that no one even remotely disputes it. The only one with doubts about Poritz’s credentials is Poritz himself.
Joel Beatty fields lots of questions about snowkiting. As cofounder of MontanaKiteSports.com, the state’s only dedicated snowkiting forum, and a former snowkiting teacher out of Bozeman, he hears from all sorts of people curious about the sport and how to get started. Many have seen kiters on the West Coast or in Hawaii, performing tricks on waves instead of snow, and are surprised to hear that there’s a winter version. Others may have caught a glimpse of a glider casually skimming frozen Georgetown Lake, and figured it looked easy and fun. Beatty says Montana has a healthy snowkiting community, and it is relatively easy to get started, but the sport remains far from the mainstream.