Sierra Snowkite Center back in business thanks to Tahoe winter’s return
SODA SPRINGS, Calif. — For two straight years, the Sierra Snowkite Center was twisting in the wind.
Unable to open due to the lack of snow, the Sierra Snowkite Center, which first opened in 2012 at Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort, was on the verge of pulling the plug for good on its short-lived operation.
Simply put, the persistent drought had dried up the business.
But then, the 2015-16 winter season swept in.
And thanks to the steady string of snowstorms since November, the center’s 250 acres of undulating terrain at Van Norden Meadow (a high Sierra meadow known for consistent wind) is in pristine shape once again — finally.
“It’s so nice,” said Tyler Brown, the Sierra Snowkite School director and a former North American Snowkite Tour champion. “Otherwise, it was like, man, this was kind of the last year I could’ve held on to it financially. If you can’t open for two years, it’s not very easy to run a business that way.”
‘IT’S HUGELY EXCITING’
Since the Sierra Snowkite Center opened back up this season, Brown said he’s given more than 50 lessons thus far, and the terrain has seen plenty of kiters riding on their own.
“It’s been non-stop,” Brown added. “It’s been tricky with the wind, but we got plenty of snow. I imagine we’ll be able to be out here kiting through April, no problem.”
In other words, once again, local kiters, and those interested in giving the sport a whirl, have terrain tailored for kiting to explore.
“It’s hugely exciting that the Sierra Snowkite Center has reopened and is ready to allow people to enjoy the sport here,” said Truckee resident Morgan Duncan, who took snowkite lessons from Brown four years ago. “Tyler, he’s an incredible teacher; very patient and very methodical in the way he teaches.
“The Sierra Snowkite Center really makes that transformation from knowing nothing to knowing the best practice for kiting.”
The center’s location at Royal Gorge, Duncan said, plays a key role in helping one learn the ropes.
“It’s very conducive for kiting,” he said. “Obviously when you’re on a kite, you have quite a distance between you and the actual kite. You need to have big broad open spaces, and the Sierra Snowkite Center is fantastic for it.
“It’s one of those sports you have to try, and once you try, you’ll fall in love with it.”
When it first opened in 2012, the Sierra Snowkite Center received a lot of interest, but very little of it came from the Truckee-Tahoe region. The bulk of the lessons given by Brown and his fellow instructors were to Bay Area residents.
After all, the Sierra Snowkite Center is the first and only snowkite school in California.
“It was popular right away, only because we’re only three hours from San Francisco, which is one of the main hubs in the world for kiteboarding,” Brown said. “Right off the bat, I wouldn’t say we had so many mountain people that knew what it was, but we had all these kiters who had never been on snow. So we had a ton of lessons with all these kiters coming up and teaching them to do it in the snow.”
With an influx of skiers and snowboarders traversing Van Norden Meadow using colorful kites sprouted into the sky, it didn’t take long for snowkiting to pique local interest, as well.
“People would be on the mountain, looking down and seeing all these colorful kites,” Brown said. “It happened pretty quickly as far as gaining notoriety in the Tahoe area. Now I’d say I get at least 50-50 as far as mountain people to existing kiteboarders.”
‘AN ADDENDUM SPORT’
So why has snowkiting caught on and continued to grow?
For Brown, the answer is simple.
“It’s just another way to play in the snow,” he said, adding that the backcountry aspect also pulls people into trying it.
“You find a zone that you can ski and also kite up — it’s above the tree line and facing the right wind direction,” Brown said, “and you can lap it with a kite and get 25 runs in versus three runs if you were just touring with AT gear. So as far as the travel aspect, you can go longer distances in the backcountry.”
Essentially, Brown said, snowkiting is in “addendum sport” for skiers, snowboarders, kiteboarders and the like.
“If you ski and snowboard, you already know how to do that,” he continued. “This is just a way of harnessing the wind and doing the same thing you know how to do on the mountain.
“And the same thing with the water, if you know how to surf or wakeboard, anything like that, it’s just another addendum. Kiteboarding, it’s exploding. And all these people have this gear and now they can use it in the snow, so why not?”