Tug Hill snowkite festival 2011
If I had one word to describe my experience at Tug Hill this year it would be ‘Epic’. I rode for about 14 hours over the course of 3 days, most of the time in foot deep powder.
I drove up Friday after work to meet Zebulon ‘Crab Nebula’ at Deer River Farm. The winds were very light and he was giving lessons to a very nice couple. Later on in the weekend I would discover that the woman thought the Speed 3 was sexy, and is probably the only woman in the USA that thinks that ANY kite is sexy. I put up the 19 Speed 3 but the winds were too light to ride in such thick powder and I forgot my spare lineset so I couldn’t make the linesets longer. I setup a new triple release system on my 19 and 15 meter kites which works like a suicide leash and keeps you from dropping like a rock in the event of harness, spreader bar, chickenloop, chickendick, chickenloopline or depowerstrap failure. The only failure that could drop you hard would be a front line failure which would still leave 3 lines to support you on the way down. Last winter I had a close call when my third spreader bar broke and left me 20+ feet up off the ground with a fully powered up Speed 2 15 in 20 mph of wind. If I had let go of the bar its certain that I would have broken both legs at best or been dead as a doornail at worst. The redundant kite support system worked well with my climbing harness and I tested it extensively in light winds. I have destroyed 3 spreader bars, 5 harnesses, 10 chickenloops, 2 depower straps and countless chickenloop lines. The equipment is designed for 150lb guys that are far less aggressive riders than I am.
The sun went down and I hiked up to the top of the hill and cooked a nice meal with my camp stove and watched the sunset in the bitter cold with Zeb and his 2 students. That night I had dinner with Jan, Jackie and Zebulon at Jeb’s in Lowville. The atmosphere was nice and the company was pleasant. Jan helped organize the event every year and was very excited about permission we had gotten for a big hill in Honeyville at the end of Killenbeck Road. His eyes would light up when he talked about it and I could hear the kite addiction talking. Sat was calling for a stiff South wind so I decided I would start at Deer Farm and then move to Honeyville when the winds picked up and got gusty as they often do at Deer Farm. I slept at the end of a dead end road that the first event was held at 4 years ago and it was Cold with a capital ‘C’. It was so Cold that my breath froze around the head area of my -20 degree bag. I kept waking up in the night with ice on my face only to realize that I had rolled over and my frozen breath ice was pressing against my face.
The next morning at Deer River Farm I started out really early on my S3 19 and got lots of good runs on my snowboard in foot deep powder before anyone else was out. I went for the small hill in the South West corner and was getting really good jumps and landing in deep powder. The winds picked up and I had one jump that was way over 30 feet that scared me silly. Jumps that seem just fine over water can really scare you over land when you realize that if you land wrong it’s really going to hurt. I conceded to the wind gods and went in for a smaller kite. After putting up the 15 Psycho 4 I rode for another hour or so and the winds got so crappy and gusty I decided to bail for greener pastures. There was a newsman from NPR that did a piece on the event and I contributed my usual overenthusiastic psycho babble about how much fun it is and how intense it can be when conditions are good. The 6 minute audio link is here
After getting my free Tug Hill T-shirt I went to Honeyville to look at the 5 fields we had permission to ride on there. Although the field at Killenbeck looked like it had the potential to be awesome, the wind was too gusty and coming from the wrong direction (SSE). I settled on site #2 which had great cover and decent winds. I rode with my buddies from Ithaca, Washington DC, Jersey and Zeb until about 4:00 PM. The winds were scary so I didn’t ever jump more than 10 feet and turning your back on the kite was a pretty ballsy thing to do, so I kept the rotations down to just powered backrolls.
That night we all met at a bar named Tuggers near Deer farm. I arrived early since I had no hotel to go to and no shower to take. When I was at the bar I met a couple of very friendly locals, Charlie and Dave who were nice enough to teach me how to play shuffleboard. After a few rounds of them kicking my ass at Shuffleboard I was chatting and getting pretty friendly with all of the locals. I had never seen the game shuffleboard before and it was far more fun than I expected it to be. Basically you push a puck shaped weight down a 20 foot long wooden lane covered in silicone beads about the size of sand particles and it rides nearly frictionlessly to the other end. The goal is to get your weights farther than your opponent without going off the end or to knock your opponent’s pucks off the lane. Both Charlie and Dave seemed pretty interested in the kiting scene and were itching to try it. Once my kiting friends started to show up we took over the bar and dining area. Every year at Tug Hill Saturday night is my favorite night. I love getting a chance to talk to other kiters from the surrounding area and sharing the ‘Stoke’. There was a huge showing of people from Mass that I didn’t know and lots of folks from DC, Jersey and upstate NY. There was nothing on the menu I could order due to my absurdly strict dietary restrictions, but I was able to get my fill by dining on the leftover sweet potato fries from others picking my way around their leftover meat like a confused herbivoric scavenger. I was so exhausted that I left Tuggers and drove to Killenbeck where I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. I had kited at least 8 hours in gusty winds in deep powder and I honestly didn’t know if I would even be able to kite at all on Sunday.
Sunday morning I woke up to the sounds of car horns as kiters drove by and did me the service of being my alarm clock on the way to the top of Killenbeck. My buddies from DC had decided to hit Sandy Pond and there was no wind yet at either place. I climbed back into my sleeping bag and started reading Slaughterhouse 5 and promptly fell back asleep. I was awoken at about 11:00 AM by a random kiter pounding on my hood telling me that it was windy and I should wake the hell up and ride. The level of entropy in the van always seems to directly correspond with my level of exhaustion. At this point there were dirty wet socks piled high on the dashboard and wet gear everywhere in the van. My boots were frozen solid and when I ran the car heater the stink from the socks and gloves was totally overpowering, I literally would have to leave the window open to not asphyxiate myself. There was only a few kites that were all less than 12 meters up and they looked like there were working it. I thought about putting up the 19 but that kite pulls like a truck all the time and I just couldn’t take it at my current level of exhaustion. I put up the Psycho 4 15 SA and when it was finally up I was really glad I hadn’t put up the 19. I went rocketing across the top of the hill which had almost no cover and found an amazing powder stash in the SE corner of the field. The powder was 2 feet deep in most of the tiny bowl and I was hucking 20+ foot airs in smooth winds doing front rolls and back rolls with ease. Even when you botch the landing on a 20’ jump when you land in 2 feet of powder it doesn’t really matter that much. I rode on the 15 P4 all day and it was hands down my best snowkiting day in my life. At times it felt like I had snowkited for the last 8 years just building up my skills so I could enjoy this day. Although I had recently switched from microskis to a snowboard and had only about 12 sessions on a snowboard so far, it felt very natural to me and I had the time of my life. I had no previous experience snowboarding at ski resorts and always told myself that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard and besides I was already really good on microskis. I’m glad I got over it and made the switch, the snowboard is the weapon of choice in deep powder where the microskis just get bogged down and plod along.
Bob, one the main event organizers got me to wear a ‘hero cam’ on my helmet and I was able to shoot some great footage of riding and jumps. At one point I counted over 25 kites in air which is the most I’ve ever seen at one time in NY. After several hours it started getting gusty and twice I was completely out of control on my kite. I landed it and ate some much needed food, as someone had swiped the OJ container I had left for myself on the top of the hill. Bob gave me a container of local Maple flavored yogurt which made up for the lost OJ. After the winds dropped down a bit I went back out for several more hours in winds that were quite a bit gustier but still really fun. At about 4:00 I had to pack it up because I was so exhausted that I couldn’t land anything anymore, which generally means it is time for me to stop before I get hurt. I literally chilled out with George for a while and packed it in and headed to Ithaca. When I got back into town I slept in my van for 4 hours and then got back up and went out dancing for another 3 hours straight with my local tribe at The Haunt to the beats of industrial electronica. The feeling of energy and vitality I had was amazing, I think it was probably the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I am and always will be, a total endorphin junkie.
I hope to see YOU there next year. Let’s hope Jan and Bob move the event to Killenbeck instead of Deer Farm. That hill has the potential to become the Skyline of the east coast. A hearty thanks goes out to Jan, Bob, Zeb and everyone else that worked to make this event happen.
It’s hard to convey what it’s like flying across so much powder getting pulled along by the kite. All I can say is that it’s hard not to sing while you’re riding and when you jump all you hear is the sound of the wind whistling through your lines. The focus and energy makes you feel complete and at peace. It is the only time in my life that I feel that way.