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The sky above Island Park is so gray and dull that there’s no telling where the snow-covered plains give way to the Henrys Lake Mountains, or where the mountains meet the clouds. It’s all muck, made worse by a wicked easterly wind blowing as much rain as snow.
“I’d say this is a 2 out of 10 day,” Poritz says. “Cruddy snowpack. But a sliding surface and wind is all you really need.”
He’s beaming. Poritz has packed all of his kites—13-, 11-, 9-, 7- and 5-meter, the latter necessary only in 50 mph gusts—and a specialty trainer kite in anticipation of teaching the sport to a group of newbies. This is not something he does often—he’s given maybe 10 lessons, ever, he says—but he seems excited to talk about what he loves with three people eager to listen.
“It doesn’t matter whether you come from a wakeboarding background, skiing background, skateboarding, surfing—it takes all those skill sets that you’ve accumulated over your lifetime and takes them to a new place, because now there’s a three-dimensional element,” he explains. “Now you’re going up mountainsides that would normally take you hours to walk up. Now you can boost and end up being higher than you just were on that mountainside. It’s a synergistic sport.”
The kite connects to the harness via three or four lines made of high-performance polyethylene and linked to a horizontal bar that provides steering. The experience is similar to flying the classic diamond-shaped Eddy kite every kid has owned, except this kite is bigger, more powerful, and acts as if it’s connected to the kiter’s belly button.
Once a kite is “powered up,” or in the air, it’s easiest to position it directly overhead, at 12 o’clock. Here, the kite provides some resistance, but generally stays steady. A smooth push-pull movement of the bar to either side—think 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock—puts the kite into a “power zone” that catches the wind and propels the snowkiter across the surface. To boost, a kiter pulls the bar toward his torso and “flies the kite” as smoothly as possible through to a landing.
“Boosting is a controlled activity,” says Poritz. “There are some guys, like in Jackson Hole, who do more gliding than boosting. They just float. That’s their style. The key is to not be overwhelmed by your situation.”
Poritz makes it look and sound easy. After the lesson he tears across a stretch of Island Park ranchland—he says there’s a standing agreement between the landowner and snowkiters—and is soon joined by three other kiters with smaller kites. Two never leave the ground and the third doesn’t boost with nearly as much lift as Poritz. Nevertheless, all four look like dogs at play in a field, circling and leaping each other without ever getting too close. Even on a wet day with bad snow and low visibility, they have all they need.