I had the pleasure of spending last weekend (Feb 9 – 12, 2012) with a group of talented and amazing pro kitesurfers, entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists from silicon valley who are all members of the MaiTai kite camp.
MaiTai is an exclusive invite only club of entrepreneurs, pro kiters, and investors who all share a passion for kiteboarding. The name MaiTai is a play on words and comes from the last names of Susi Mai, professional kiteboarder and Bill Tai, partner at Charles River Ventures who are the founding members and organizers of MaiTai events. Every year in May the group gathers in Maui where participants enjoy kitesurfing and business networking on the North Shore. Lots of collaborations have been born from this gathering and many companies have gotten funded following introductions and discussions on the beach.
I had attended the MaiTai camp in Maui back in May 2011 but the gathering last weekend was neither on the beach nor in an office. In turn, it was up at 10,000 ft elevation on the snow covered mountains of Skyline Utah! This was my first attempt at snow kiting and I have to say, I am hooked! It was an amazing feeling to be able to go up hill. No more chairs, no more skinning up, no more carrying all your gear up in the back country. Just pump your kite and use the power of wind to cruise!
If you are already a kitesurfer and a skier or snowboarder, snow kiting will not be a big challenge for you. But you still need about an hour of instructions from a qualified snow kiter before you hook yourself to a kite, because there are some differences between the water and the snow. First off, the air is thinner at higher elevations and the wind is not as powerful. So, you need to take your bigger kites. During the weekend I mostly saw 12 meter and 14 meter kites. Secondly, the direction of the wind changes as it hits the slope and that can confuse you quite a bit. Depending on the direction of the wind you could be going upwind AND downhill at the same time (or downwind and uphill at the same time), which feels very strange! Last but not least, relaunching the kite can be very challenging as there are lots of wind shadows in the gullies. So, be sure to practice your hot launch beforehand.
Fortunately, we had the luck of having professional kiteboarders and snowkiters such as Aaron Sales, Jeff Kafka and his team of instructors from Wind Over Water, US Ski Team alumni Ken Lucas, Snowkite World Champion Remi Meum, Jeremy Lund, Jesse Richman, Susi Mai, Laurel Eastman and many more who were helping us get a hang of it.
Bellow you can see my talk with Susi Mai and Bill Tai about MaiTai and snow kiting. Next time you are going on a ski/snowboard trip, consider taking your kiting gear with you! You just might find a new thrill and a new addiction!