Caught

Will snowkiting bring big air to the prairies?

Outside

Outside    

"Flatlanders will love it," predicts Charlie Patterson, 31, a professional snowboarder and one of a new cadre of American athletes using kites to grab big winter air. An offshoot of its waterbound cousin kiteboarding, snowkiting allows a skier or snowboarder harnessed to the 98-foot-long reins of an inflatable mylar foil kite to launch upwards of 40 feet off horizontal terrain. Patterson may be worth listening to, judging from the growth of kiteboarding: The arrival of a water-relaunchable kite in 1998 attracted nearly a dozen new kiteboarding manufacturers, inspired three magazine startups, and is winning over many of America's estimated 1.5 million wakeboarders. In Europe, where the shift from water to snow originated, there's already a snowkiting competition circuit. And if the fledgling sport can take off on such a cramped continent, imagine the possibilities for the Midwest. "The best place for this isn't really a ski resort, but an open field where you could go for miles and days at a time," says Patterson, pictured here at California's Soda Springs Lake last March. Maybe there's something in it for the South Dakota tourism board, which has the unenviable task of promoting Interstate 94; the corridor must boast a thousand square miles of launchable three-foot-high snowdrifts.

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