Montana State University

Wind brings out kite skiers on MSU campus

February 24, 2009 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Bucko Slabaugh kite skis on a practice field near the Montana State University football stadium. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- Outdoor enthusiasts like Josh Manchester, Phillip M. Journey and Bucko Slabaugh don't need to buy ski passes to have fun. Just give them a windy day, some snow, and they're high as kites.

Not literally, though. That would be dangerous and call for swift action.

But the three do love kite skiing and sometimes do it at Montana State University. Manchester, of Great Falls, is a recent MSU graduate in microbiology. Journey, from Florida, is an MSU sophomore in construction engineering technology. Slabaugh, from Bozeman, is a first-year architecture student at MSU.

Kite skiing is a sport that lets participants ski while flying a giant kite. They wear the same skis and gear they'd normally wear while skiing down hill. Then they strap a harness and control bar around their waists. The harness holds lines that let them fly the kite and safety devices that let them bail if they lift off the ground or head for a cliff. They can kite ski on flat open ground in town or open fields in the mountains.

"I've hurt myself a few times," Journey said. "It can pick you up and set you down pretty hard."

He continues to kite ski, though, because "It's pretty exhilarating. Skiing is probably my all-time favorite thing to do."

One recent day as winter seemed to be slipping toward spring, Slabaugh kite skied on an MSU practice field near the Reno H. Sales Stadium.

"I'm a student. It's really easy for me to get there," he said. "It's one of the last fields that has snow left."

Earlier in the season, Slabaugh flew his Scout 3.0 kite near Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and a Bozeman subdivision. He started kite skiing this winter after watching someone else do it, he said. Fascinated by the possibilities of skiing on flat ground, Slabaugh said, "It's been great. It's like anything else. You understand the risks and don't do it when it's going to be dangerous for you."

At the end of January, as winds gusted up to 25 mph, Manchester zigzagged at the speed of air across an MSU intramural field between Roskie Hall and South Nineteenth Avenue. His kite pulled him east, then north and south. The edge of his skis sliced the snow as sharply as if he were skiing down a mountain. Sometimes he held onto his control bar with one hand, his other hand stretched toward the ground. A few times, Manchester became a low-flying kite himself. It was something he didn't want.

"I definitely recommend a helmet," he said later.

Journey, who joined Manchester earlier in the day, said he started kite skiing about a year ago. It lets him ski without buying a ski pass or driving to a ski resort, he said. It also gets him to untouched snow and makes it possible to ski in June or July.

"You can go anywhere," Journey said. "You can do big loops in the middle of the field or up-down, side to side."

Dobbie Lambert Intramural Fields where the two were kite skiing is flat with no trees or power lines.

"You need a wide open field to make mistakes in," Manchester said.

Journey has two inflatable snow kites. One, a "Slingshot Fuel," covers 15 square yards. The other, a "Slingshot Machine," measures 24.6 square yards. Manchester has two snow kites, including an "Ozone Frenzy." The red, black and yellow kite cost him about $1,000 and covers about 15.6 square yards. It doesn't inflate, but flies when the wind fills its pockets.

Manchester said he and his father, Dale Manchester of Great Falls, started kite skiing in 2003 after observing kite surfing on the ocean in Hawaii. After learning more about it, they figured they could adapt kite surfing to snow. People had kite skied before and they decided to try it, too.

"We thought it was really a great idea because it's always blowing in Great Falls," Manchester said.

Bozeman isn't as windy as Great Falls, but kite skiing works in both places, Manchester said. This particular day was perfect, he said, because it had snowed over the weekend and temperatures were starting to rise.

"The change from cold to warm temperatures brings all the wind," Manchester said. "It's a great time to go kite skiing right now."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu