I've been flying with the new 2011 Ozone Access XT 10m for the last two days.
No previous kite experience.
Winds: 0 to 10 mph, gusting to 15 mph.
Rider: 180 pounds/seat harness, skis.
Surface: 4 inches of heavy snow on a large frozen lake.
Day 1, First Attempt: My first day with a kite, really. Watched a lot of videos, read a lot, checked wind reports, checked ice thickness reports, previously scoped out the spot for hazards, helmet, back/crash protection gear on. Even got a pair of ice claws. Feeling sort of anxious for trying to teach myself, but I taught myself how to fly RC planes and helicopters so what the hell right?
Fully de-powered on the clam cleat and attempting to launch at the side of the wind window, using the leash and not hooked in. No go, not enough wind. Tried at varying angles to the wind to safely launch but either too much depower and/or not enough wind. There wasn't really even enough to dump the snow I piled along the trailing edge and I was just sort of dragging the kite.
Finally took the bold step of launching straight up through the power zone with no depower on the clam cleat, ah success, and a nice pull that made me take a few quick steps forward. I was expecting to be dragged, but was pleasantly surprised.
I really had to yank on the centerline to get it up and it went up fast, but not really a whole lot of pull at zenith, and very stable once up there requiring virtually no inputs to stay airborne. (Quite the opposite from the things I am used to flying.) I didn't really like the leash, it got in the way a lot of the time when I was trying to launch, so my second time, and knowing what kind of pull to expect, I tried with the chicken-loop attached.
This time when launching up through the power zone, I sheeted out and could definitely feel the pull lessen and it wasn't jerky as my first attempt on the leash. With the kite at the top of the wind window, I pulled on the brake line, a little bit of resistance and the kite folded and landed upside down. Reverse relaunch; very easy, pushed the bar out, pulled the brake to my hip and the kite just rolled over, released brake and up it goes.
For fun, pulled the primary release when the kite was about halfway to the top and the kite folded nicely as expected and fell to the ground. Before flying I had a few reservations about it being sticky, but with the lines under tension it was no problem. I sat down on the snow and pulled each brake line in and wrapped it around the horns of the bar while resetting the safety. About the only gripe I have so far is that there are no handy loops here that can be hooked around the horns to 'permantently' shorten/brake the lines while resetting the safety. There is a spot where the control lines temporarily branch into two lines for the horizontal brake pull, so I guess that can be used, although it is hard to separate when under tension. The floats sort of mess with this as well.
Tried some loops and figure 8's through the power zone, getting a feel for the depower and push/pull steering (how simple!), and learning when the kite is going to yank. It was getting close to dark at this point, so I packed up the kite and went home. I was a little nervous that I didn't have anything to anchor it to while folding up, so I just pulled the safety and wrapped the control lines around the bar and that worked pretty good, but then again the winds were very light. Probably should have brought a sand bag or something.
Day 2: Skis and more wind!
Today, I finally got the stones to try it with skis on and the wind was definitely more consistent and stronger. No problems launching, or reverse relaunching when I nosed it in a few times.
Since this was the first time flying the kite in apparent wind, I found that it was actually easier to keep up than the first time without skis. I had to work it almost all day, and it moves very slowly and predictably and never did anything I wasn't expecting it to do. Not as zippy as some of the kites I've seen videos of online, but that is ok, I don't want that.
It was really gusty and I could definitely feel the difference, a lot more pressure on the bar today. Practiced moving the kite in 'sine wave' forms through the power zone, getting a feel for how the bar in/out affects steering and fiddling with the clam cleat. Crossed the lines a few times over and no real issues, they slide by each other very easily although I did make it a point to practice spinning the bar over to right it. Interestingly the lines that came with my kite aren't red and blue like I thought they would be, they're neon orange, which I think is even better because they're easy to see in the sky and on the ground.
Got up to some pretty good speeds, figured out how turn and go the opposite way without stopping. Had a lot of fun for about an hour, then realized how very far downwind I was from my car!
Spent the next hour learning how to tack up wind, that was really difficult to do when the kite was fully powered up. It's an odd sensation being angled on the skis and moving with a kite, you think you're turning and moving upwind until you realize that a fixed point on shore tells you that isn't so.
I made the most progress upwind while flying the kite with minimal power settings, sheeted out. I had to be careful because sometimes the wind would just begin to die down completely and I had to get on the clam cleat and power it up quickly or else it would go down. I'd say this kite has pretty good upwind performance, but you'll be working hard if the wind is low.
All in all a good couple of days, I don't think I would have been able to do it if I hadn't spent the time researching it all. I got the 'How To SnowKite' DVD, which was awesome and if you think you can teach yourself then watch it a dozen times. I also got the 'Fire on Ice' DVD, which sucks, don't even bother. Anyway, back to the Access XT - a very enjoyable first kite for me. Good quality workmanship - nothing on it looks 'cheap.' I certainly recommend it, but maybe not for your first kite unless you're good at self teaching and picking things like this up.