This is a post from 2008.
A letter about gliding from Ozone designer Rob Whittall.
I have had the great fortune to snowkite this year, with the Rod Whittall, designer of the Ozone Frenzy/Manta/Access foils.
Although I mainly fly inflatables, we have had many conversations about backcountry snowkiting and gliding.
With all the videos on youtube, and with our locals getting so much heights on the glides,
he has put together his views on this growing aspect of our sport.
Hi there kiting friends,
I would like to put forward my opinion in the hope that it will help prevent the inevitable.
It is only my humble opinion and by no means do I mean it to sound like it is gospel in any way. I am putting forward what I see as reality from my position and history and that is all. I am sure there is much to be added that I do not know but as to date this is what I have to offer.
A brief background.
I have spent 18 years in paraglider design and development as a test pilot and designer. As a test pilot I was deeply involved with certification and the safety of the paragliders both in flight and structurally regarding the integrity of the materials involved in manufacturing.
As a designer of paragliders that have to pass a rigorous certification, I am used to thinking in terms safety and calculating forces and stress to avoid material fatigue or failure.
I have also learnt that if it can go wrong it will go wrong.
I have also witnessed the loss of life and permanent disability.
First off you must all understand that to myself and Ozone, Snowkiting does not involve flying off hills, That is another sport that I choose to take part in called "being pretty stupid".
Chasta has been going big for five years now but Ozone has never promoted that side of what he is doing because we and I do not consider it safe or good promotion for the sport of Snowkiting. We could have shown Chasta at over 200ft years ago but that would be foolish of us to do that as that is not what we want to promote as Snowkiting. Watch Chasta today and you will see that he flies a long time but never high, he has worked out that that is just dangerous and not very hard, it takes more skill to keep it close to the ground and reduces the risk a little.
And I am the first to hold up my hand and say that I realize just how thin a line I am walking when I fly my kite off the hill. I owe it to myself to understand the dangers and decide if I want to take the risk. I know that an equipment failure at 40ft plus could easily end in serious injury or death depending how lucky I were to be on that particular day!
If you want to be stupid like me then first remember that all your equipment should be in top condition and preferably new! Do not use old kites of any sort, foil or inflatable. Use a climbing harness and carabineer to hook into as well as your kite harness. Inspect your lines, bar and kite for any signs of ANYTHING and if you find anything wrong replace it.
Your life is hanging under something that is not designed for what you are doing so donâ€™t expect it to always go they way you think it is going to.
Weigh up the pros and cons.
I choose a Foil.
I know I am going to fly of hills, I am after all in love with flying one way or another. From what I know I choose a Foil kite for the simple reason that I think it is a safer option. I like the fact that the load of the pilot is more evenly distributed through the lines, the double surface and ribs. It makes perfect sense to me that this is better than say four or five attachment points. I also know they are built to the same standard as a paragliders and I know paragliders are incredibly strong. Paraglider load test takes the maximum pilot weight and then takes it to 8G. I would estimate we could load a foil kite up to about 5G with a 80kg load. We have not tested this but we have tested the Bullet speed wing 10m to 600kg no problemo!
The reason I don't personally want to ride a tube on the snow.
The very highly tensioned single surface and the tube at high pressure in very cold temperatures where materials start to get brittle, does not excite me. I don't like the fact that there are so few attachment points distributing my weight. I would worry about them splitting down one of the seams as I have seen happen. I don't want to pump! If you get a puncture your day is over. I want to be able to launch and land easily and I want small package when it is packed. For sure if you want to just do the same things as you do on water they work fine but if you want to ride up mountains and adventure all over the place like Chasta does then they are not a good option. Inflatables kick ass on the water but I don't think I will fly one on the snow.
Now having said that we are all fundamentally attached to four lines, bar and a harnessâ€¦ So it comes down to you as to which part you think is going to fail, the lines or the kite. I do know that we have tested well-used flying lines and the results have been very good with lines only dropping 10 to 30% after a full season on the snow and water. I know I can inspect the lines and bar easily and I change my lines regularly during the season. So the kite for me is what I worry about. So as pilots we can trust or take anything for granted.
I don't care really what you do or what type of kite you fly but you should really think about and understand the dangers you are really exposed to. Also remember that when you have a bad accident not only are you going to have a bad day, your friends are as well because the are going to be dealing with your broken ass instead of ripping it up.
Think before you fly!
Take it easy and enjoy.