Alaska WIndjammer Kites


Kiting on Snow, Water, and Land

Kiting encompasses snowkiting, kiteboarding on water, kite-skating on ice, and landboarding and carting. Once you have your kite skills down, you can use them to pull you on virtually anything that moves! The practical kiting styles here in Southeast Alaska are on snow and water, including ice if you are a skilled skater.

White Pass snowkiting

Above: Bruce Todd snowkites on White Pass, BC, near Skagway.

Snowkiting on snowcovered lakes is easy to learn, and requires little additional gear if you are already a skier or snowboarder. Mountain slopes require more practice, but you can kite right up a hill and ski or snowboard down if you have the right combination of skill, wind, and terrain. Skate kiting is for skilled skaters with good helmets and hockey padding, but requires only a couple small trainer kites.

Mendenhall Lake kiteboarding

Above: Tim Gray kiteboards on Mendenhall Lake, Juneau.

Kiteboarding in water requires a good wet or drysuit, and is a little harder to learn. It is much like learning to snowboard - you need a good teacher to get you through the first few days, but once you have the basic skills down, you progress so rapidly that you can see the difference every time you go out. As for the fun factor, it is the closest thing summer has to riding deep powder snow!

With salt water that is quite warm enough with a proper suit, our water kiting season goes from April through mid-November and beyond. Snow kiting season can go from November through March at lower elevations, in years when there is snow, and year-round on the icefields.

Kiting is perfect for Juneau's often-light winds. In water, you can plane, go fast, jump, and have a great time in as little as eight knots with gusts to 15; or a steady breeze at eight to ten knots. On snow, the kiting threshold is around four to six knots.

For steadier and stronger winds, weekend trips to Haines, Skagway, and the Yukon yield reliable breezes that blow almost every day.

Kite travel: Cape Hatteras, NC

Above: kite travel; warm water, board shorts, and steady wind at sunset in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Kiting opens up a world of possible places to go because the gear is compact and easy to travel with. A complete kit fits in a 140cm roller kiteboard bag without going over airline size or weight limits.

How Do I Learn?

Kiting is surprisingly easy to learn; but do not try to teach yourself! Kiting is aviation; trying to teach yourself to kite is like buying an airplane and thinking you are going to teach yourself to fly. Without proper instruction in either activity, you are likely to get hurt. With instruction, the risk is quite reasonable.

Beware friends who offer to teach you! Your buddies may be good kiters, but they don't know how to teach, and they will not take the time that good coaching requires. Hire a qualified instructor; you will learn quickly and minimize your risk!

You can learn here in Southeast Alaska, or you can travel. If you just want to sample what kiting is about, we offer free introductory-level trainer kite coaching and full-size kite coaching at a token cost on the annual informal Icefield snowkite trip, and on our water kiting demo days every summer in Haines and Skagway.

Our rates are lower than most in the 48 states, and Alaskans save travel time and cost by learning here. Bill Glude is now an IKO (International Kite Organization) kite instructor, so you have the benefit of finishing with an IKO card that is valid worldwide, and of using their short-line teaching methods. Check our Education page for prices, schedules, and details.

Kite trainer Skagway

Above: Miriam Osredkar practices with the Uno tube kite trainer at Dyea flats, Skagway.

The best thing you can do to start learning, even before formal lessons, is to get a foil trainer kite and practice as much with it as you can. We will make sure that you end up having a free trainer if you also buy the rest of your gear from us. The more practice time you put in, the faster you will learn when you get on a full-size kite.

Learning snowkiting on the Juneau Icefield.

Above: Shawn Eisele learns to snowkite on a 6m Ozone Access on the Juneau Icefield in May.

Snowkiting is the perfect introduction to kiting. If you are a skier or snowboarder, you already have the gear for those sports. All you need to add is a harness and kite. Learning on a snowcovered lake is easier than on water, and you can then learn water kiting quickly using the kite skills you have developed on snow.

Bill Glude teaching kiteboarding, Haines

Above: Bill Glude teaching Tim Thomas to kiteboard, Haines. Photo © Peter Nave.

Water kiting is a little harder to start with, but good coaching offsets the initial challenge, and you get better very rapidly once you are past the first few days. You need a little more gear, including a good wet or dry suit. We use the IKO (International Kite Organization) teaching progression which uses short lines to depower the kites as you learn. We find that our students learn much faster, and with better confidence.

Bill Glude teaching kiteboarding, Haines

Above: Bill Glude teaching, Tim Thomas up and riding, Haines. Photo © Peter Nave.

If you want to learn in warm water, or on vacation, the ultimate spot may be Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It has warm water, steady ocean breezes, endless shallows, and great schools. I highly recommend Real Kiteboarding's kite camps, where I learned. You can fly Southwest to Norfolk, Virginia, rent a car, drive down, and stay in a motel or with friends in a weekly-rental beach cabin.

Real Kiteboarding, Cape Hatteras, NC

Above: Real Kiteboarding, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in October.

The most-forgiving spots to learn in the Northwest states outside of Alaska are Urban Surf's Jetty Island school just north of Seattle, or Floras Lake Windsurfing's Kite School on the Oregon coast.

Kite Spit, Hood River, OR

Above: Kite Spit, Hood River, Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

The Columbia Gorge is great for experienced kiters. The Kite Spit in Hood River, Oregon is a more-challenging spot to learn because it is small and heavily-used, with strong and gusty Gorge winds, but my first instructor Mark Worth is excellent, and will clue you in on how to kite there with minimum risk. I recommend his his Gorge Kiteboard School if you want to get started there, or are going there after learning somewhere else.

What Does It Cost?

Kiting costs about the same to get into as most active sports. Consider that the average backcountry skier or snowboarder has over $4,000 in gear, and buys lift tickets on top of that. Or that mountain bikes in the $3,000-5,000 range are common now, and they require frequent service and repair, plus ER visits when you crash! Or that sailing small sport catamarans or fast monohulls will cost at least $5,000, even if you buy a used, fixer-upper boat and trailer.

Then consider that kiteboards trade off with the multimillion-dollar experimental foiling trimaran Hydroptére for the world speed record for wind-powered water craft, jump higher than any other, and that you can pack the whole setup into one bag and travel anywhere in the world!

Snowkiting in the cheapest kite sport, since if you are considering it, you already have ski or snowboard gear, and one kite will cover most of your days. You can get a snowkite and climbing harness for less than a thousand dollars, sixty to seventy percent of that if you buy demo or used gear.

For water kiting in Alaska, you will need a drysuit or good steamer wetsuit with hood, gloves, and booties; plus a harness, helmet, and kite. That starter setup will cost you somewhere around $3,000 if you buy new; half that if you buy demo or used gear; and some $600 less if you already have the suit.

You'll soon want a second kite, at $1,700 to $2,000 new; half that for demo or used. At that point, you have spent about the same total cost as skiing or snowboarding, but kiting is actually cheaper because you don't need lift tickets; and couples can easily share kites and boards!

If you go crazy and buy a complete new quiver of four kites, twin tip board, and surfboard, you could spend $7,000 to $8,000. That is still far less than any other fast sail or motor boat would cost.

The $199 introduction to water or snow kiting overview lesson takes you to self-sufficiency in snow kiting or gets you some skills to start working on in water. You can follow up with more lessons as you need them.

If you want to become a self-sufficient water kiter, 12 to 15 hours of lessons with us cost $960-1200; less than what you would pay for comparable lessons in the other states.

What Gear and Skills Do I Need?

For snowkiting, you need to be at least an intermediate skier or snowboarder. You can start on a roadside lake with downhill-only gear, but if you are going far you will need a way to get back when the wind dies - AT or tele skis with skins and collapsible poles, a splitboard with skins and collapsible poles, or snowboard and snowshoes. And a snow helmet.

You can use a snow or water kiting harness, but a lightweight climbing harness with a locking carabiner is our favorite light, compact setup.

10m Access, snowkiting

Above: Wade Panzich on the 10m Ozone Access, an excellent first snowkite, on the Juneau Icefield in late May.

On most days, a midsized snowkite will be your choice, something in the 9 to 11m size range, depending on your weight. You might eventually add something in the 6m range for storm days. You can add a big kite for light air, but for most of us, a one or two-kite quiver is enough.

You can use water kites on snow, but not the reverse, unless you use the new closed-cell foils that work on land and can be relaunched from water, if you don't soak them too badly. We recommend foil snowkites, because they are easier to use, work better in the cold, are lighter to carry, and pack much smaller; but water kites are fine for roadside snowkiting.

Good drysuit on; ready to head out.

Bill Glude in a good drysuit, coming in from a great session at Sandy Beach, Juneau. Photo © Lisa Miles.

For water kiting, you can start with a good warm wet or dry suit, water kiting harness, water helmet, one twin-tip board, and one water kite in the 12m size range. You will soon want two more kites to cover the typical Juneau wind range.

Kiteboard gear on the beach

Above: Kiteboarding gear on the beach, Carcross, YT. The Ozone Catalyst 12m is a great first water kite, and the 138cm Xenon Rayo is a great board to learn on.

A typical Juneau quiver for someone in the 84 kg (185lb) weight range is a 138cm twin-tip board, a 17m light-wind kite for most Juneau days, an 11 or 12m kite for the windier days, and an 8 or 9m kite for travel and for the really windy days in Juneau.

The basic three-kite, one-board quiver will be enough for most Juneau kiters, but that quiver might eventually expand to include one smaller high-wind kite, a smaller twin tip board for strong wind, and a directional kiting surfboard for wave-riding.

Isn't the Water too Cold in Alaska?

Yes, the water is cold. But staying comfortable in it is simply a matter of dressing properly in a good drysuit, with booties, gloves, and hood.

Would you ski or snowboard in shorts and a t-shirt in midwinter? Of course not! Is it miserable when you are dressed properly? Of course not! We are not impervious to cold water; we are just dressed for it.

Good suits are like magic - you can be out enjoying violent storm days while staying warm and cozy inside your suit. It doesn't matter if it rains and blows; you are already wet, and your suit keeps you toasty warm!

Heading out in October, good suiot is key.

Above: With a good suit, kiters in late fall are warm and comfortable. Bill Glude heads out in drysuit, hooded vest, helmet, 3mm gloves, and neoprene socks inside 5mm booties at the Mendenhall Wetlands. Photo © Kent Haley.

For our students, we supply the baggy-style drysuits with 3mm gloves and 5mm booties. In fall and spring, or in Mendehall Lake, we use hooded neoprene vests over them, and prefer diver's lobster mitts. You will need your own long johns and fleece to wear under the suits.

For your own gear, baggy drysuits work well and can serve for kayaking and other paddling too. A new semi-baggy neoprene suit design looks promising, but we are waiting to see how their durability proves out.

For your own gear, baggy drysuits work well and can serve for kayaking and other paddling too. ProMotion's tight-fitting neoprene drysuit is reasonably priced and has the advantage of not taking in enough water to cool you down when it is punctured or torn. Supplement it with a neoprene hooded vest, 5 or 7mm zipperless high booties with neoprene socks, and good 3 or 5mm gloves or lobster mitts, and you are set for anything including Mendenhall Lake. ProMotion's drysuit is listed on their online store but not in the general website information on suits; if you have sizing questions, you can call them or drop by their store in Hood River.

People who only kite in salt water in summer, or in non-glacial lakes, or who are naturally warm, get by with a good zipperless steamer wetsuit with hooded vest, and the same foot and handwear.

Where Can I Kite Around Here?

Snowkiting Spots

Mendenhall Glacier snowkiting

Above: Laura Green snowkiting on Mendenhall Lake, Juneau.

The best Juneau snowkite spots are Twin Lakes, Mendenhall Lake, the Sandy Beach ballfield, and the Icefield. South Twin Lake has the best snowkiting wind in town. Mendenhall Lake is great when it blows, but is not usually windy in winter.

Beware thin ice near inlets and outlets in both lakes. Stay well clear of the power lines, light poles, and Egan Expressway at Twin Lakes; and thin ice and calving icebergs near the Mendenhall Glacier.

Below: Marc Scholten snowkiting on Twin Lakes, Juneau.

Twin Lakes snowkiting

The baseball field between the Sandy Beach parking lot and the hockey rink can have good snowkiting when there is snow on the ground and the lakes are not in good condition. It is a tight space, just big enough for two kiters. Lights on poles around the edge allow night kiting, especially when combined with a headlamp to tend lines and see detail on the ground. Stay on the upwind half, well clear of buildings, fences, and poles!

Below: Marc Scholten snowkiting in late evening, Sandy Beach ballfield, Juneau.

Marc Scholten snowkiting, Sandy Beach ballfield, Juneau

Weekend trips to Haines and Skagway give access to excellent kiting near the Haines Airport on the Chilkat River flats, at 34 mile Haines Highway on the Klehini River flats, and on both the Haines and White Pass summits.

Below: Nancy Pfeiffer snowkiting on Summit Lake, White Pass, BC, out of Skagway, Alaska.

White Pass snowkiting

The Juneau Icefield has unlimited snowkiting, is especially nice in the spring, and is only a short and relatively inexpensive ski plane or helicopter flight away from town.

Below: Nancy Pfeiffer snowkiting on Lemon Creek Glacier, Juneau Icefield, in May.

Juneau Icefield snowkiting

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Water Kiting Spots - Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach kiteboarding

Above: Bill Glude heelside turn, Sandy Beach, Juneau, photo © Jack Kreinheder.

The best spot to learn water kiting in Juneau is Sandy Beach, beacuse it has shallows and lots of open sandy space. It offers good kiting and easy launching and landing on all stages of the tide. Be sure to stay near shore and inside Mayflower Island if the wind is not steady or if you are practicing new skills.

The best spot to learn water kiting in Juneau is Sandy Beach, beacuse it has shallows and lots of open sandy space. It offers good kiting and easy launching and landing on all stages of the tide. Be sure to stay near shore and inside Mayflower Island if the wind is not steady or if you are practicing new skills.

It is best on SE wind. NW winds should be avoided because they are turbulent and holey, with a dangerous wind shadow behind the causeway and Mayflower Island. Spring and fall storms often bring strong winds, and some sunny spring and summer days have just enough of a sea breeze for big kites.

The major hazards are all the old mining junk on the beach, notably some sharp-edged, barnacle-encrusted rusting pipes and railroad tracks, and the signpost forest that threatens us when carrying kites or sails through between beach and parking lot. Be sure to let Parks and Rec know that we kiters and windsurfers support cleanup of these hazards, and will pitch in whenever we get the chance to help.

Douglas Boat Harbor is the closest online anemometer, but it is poorly located and often misleading. It reads low on SE winds, high on NW, and the wind shadow of Mayflower Island often throws its direction off as well. It also seems to come and go, often not updating on its website.

This is a popular spot for many other users - be sure to be a good neighbor to all the kids, dogs, and dog-walkers.

Water Kiting Spots - Mendenhall Wetlands

Mendenhall Wetlands kiting

Above: Kent Haley heads in from the main kite launch across the high-tide sloughs to the Airport Dike Trail, Mendenhall Wetlands, Juneau.

The Mendenhall Wetlands are great on high tides, above about 10' for the Channel flats, on E and SE winds. Be a good neighbor - do not kite off the ends of the airport's runways, float pond, or helicopter approaches, including the otherwise-tempting areas along the Egan Expressway and the waters beyond the observation platform near Lemon Creek. Keep your kite low when aircraft fly over even though it is far beneath their altitude, and don't crowd the duck hunters!

Walk out the Airport Dike Trail (now signed as "EVAR", but no one calls it that) from the trailhead at the end of Radcliffe Road by the Mendenhall Sewage Plant, around the end of the runway to the Wetlands side, past the huge new fence on the left, to where a parallel trail drops down to the right. Take it and almost immediately turn right to follow along the first slough, toward the Channel.

On 15' and higher tides, skilled kiters can launch here and kite the "slick" flatwater of this slough, about the width of a good two-lane highway, then work upwind to the Channel. Walking, head ESE toward the Channel, crossing the first and a second slough where they shallow, aiming to the grassy right end of the treed high-tide island that is on your left as you head to the Channel. You'll arrive at a good launch on the Channel side of the island with no trees upwind, on a big cove with steady breezes.

Beware the steel channel marker, squirrely winds near the trees on the far shore, tiny low-tide mussels and barnacles that will shred carelessly-landed kites, and areas of slimy summer seaweed that clog and bind kite lines together!

There is a launch off the 9 Mile Creek wetlands access, on 9 Mile Creek Road off North Douglas, just past the Eaglecrest turnoff., but it is better for windsurfers than kiters. The nearby forest makes the wind turbulent, and it does not have as friendly a downwind shore. A small muddy parking spot and short gravel trail give access to launches off a long grassy wetland. You may have to wade the creek channel.

If you kite from 9 Mile Creek, be especially careful to stay on the south side, within the Channel itself, well clear of the areas where floatplanes make a low-altitude turn when arriving and departing the airport float pond.

Below: Mendenhall Wetlands Kite Map on Google Maps base.


Below: Kent Haley heads out into the Channel at high tide, Mendenhall Wetlands, Juneau.

Mendenhall Wetlands kiting

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Water Kiting Spots - Mendenhall Lake

Mendenhall Lake kiteboarding

Above: Tim Gray and Mary Soltys kite in front of the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau.

On hot, sunny summer days, the only reliable wind in Juneau comes off the Mendenhall Glacier On a good day, it will start at 3:00 pm, peak around 5:00-7:00 pm, and blow until the shadows reach across the Glacier. It tends to be smoother earlier, and gustier later in the evening.

When it really fills in, you can launch off the West side, upwind of Skaters Cabin, if the lake level is low enough. The kite launch is up West Glacier Trail past the first bridge. Watch for a little footpath off the right side near the top of the first small hill, leading to the "Big Boulder" and a small point that becomes an island at high water. Be sure to come back before the wind line retreats toward the far shore as the evening comes on.
The wind is stronger and kiting is usually much better on the other side of the Lake, the Visitor Center side. Trees have blocked the view from the parking lot, so you have to go up to the first switchback of the Visitor Center access ramp; it is usually calm by the Center but you can see ruffled water and whitecaps to the west if it is blowing. Binoculars are handy to assess wind from a distance by reading the waves. 

Avoid the Steep Creek trail and Visitor Center area due to access fees and tourist congestion, and unpredictable and un-signed closures of the access through to the trails we need to get to. This used to be our main and most-direct access, but is now best avoided.

Instead, park along the road in the lot near the bus parking lot and take the trail from the back of the bus lot down to the Moraine Ecology loop trail and follow it north, then west along the lakeshore. Don't park in the bus lot though; the gate is closed and locked early!

Take the first side trail to the beach if the water is low, or the second one if it is higher. Work west on the paths along the lake, avoiding getting stuck on the one peninsula, and head toward the beach once you are past the slough behind the peninsula.

The Main and High Water launches on the map are the best practice areas, with a friendly shores downwind and shallows extending out far enough to stand and relaunch or take a break. Stay inside the point where the Lake bends south so you have a friendly downwind shore.

This is cold water, so wear your warmest suit, and watch out for drifting and rolling icebergs. Don't drop a kite with lines over a berg! The water is totally opaque, so the wave patterns are the only giveaway to the rocks or spots that are too shallow to kite through.

The wind flows down the middle of the Glacier, with calm zones outside the wind lines on both sides of the Lake, especially as the wind dies late in the day. Beware of riding a stray gust into these calm zones where you will not be able to relaunch! Turn early to stay within the strongest wind, and kite only in spots with friendly downwind shores if the wind is holey.

Below: Mendenhall Lake Kite Map on Google Maps base.

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Water Kiting Spots - Eagle Beach

8m Kiting at Eagle Beach

Above: Bill Glude, 8m kiting at Eagle Beach.

Eagle River is a long half-hour drive northwest from Juneau, and is wind-shadowed on SE storm winds and on the usual NE clear-weather winds, but is a beautiful spot with the only surf kiting in Juneau on the rare days when it fills in. Look for NW wind at Eldred Rock and Point Retreat, both far away but the nearest wind sensors. Not for beginning kiters.

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Water Kiting Spots - Haines, Skagway, and Yukon

Haines Mud Bay kiteboarding

Above: James Alborough, Pyramid Island spit, Haines, Alaska.

Haines has reliable wind and great water kiting out Mud Bay Road, at the mouth of the Chilkat River. Go past where the road first descends to the shore of Chilkat Inlet. Where the small trees on the right break and open up the view, you will see a spit extending out toward Pyramid Island, just before the guardrail and turnout. Park on the road shoulder and launch from the spit.

Beware very strong ebb current that will steal your board! Put one 20cm (8") or two 17cm (6") wheelbarrow inner tubes through your board handle to make it drift faster downwind, or use one of the extra-long reel-style leashes.

Haines is also the home base for James Alborough's Kiting Alaska website.

Dyea Flats kiteboarding

Above: Dyea flats beach, Skagway, Alaska.

The Dyea Flats near Skagway have usually-reliable afternoon wind, minimal current, and they work on all stages of the tide. On the highest tides, the Nelson Creek slough offers great flatwater "slick" conditions amid the grasses.

Drive out the Klondike Highway toward White Pass, turn left on Dyea Road just before leaving town, go past the Chilkoot River bridge, and take the signed left to the old Dyea townsite. Drive down to the open grassy flats.

The City campground on the left in the last trees before the meadows is perfectly located for kiters; it is free but you should register at the new Police station and fire hall near the upper end of State Street in town, and bring water.

The mud, dirt, and sand "road" leads to the sloughs and beach. Take care where you park; higher (17 foot-plus) tides flood not only the sloughs, but also the road behind the beach ridge, and those low-tide puddles are full of corrosive salt water!

Watch out for the pilings from the old 3.2 km long Gold Rush dock! The upper pilings are easily visible. There is a long gap beyond them with no pilings, but beware the next group of pilings that show only around 8 to 9 feet of tide, and intermittent shorter, knee-high piling groups beyond those. The best strategy is to stay on one side or the other. Keep an eye on the pilings above the water and turn well before you are in line with them.

At low tide, launch and land above the barnacle line and walk to the water.

Carcross YT kiteboarding

Above: Bruce Todd soars over the shallows, Carcross, Yukon.

The Yukon has some great kiting. Lake Bennett near Carcross is our favorite for dry weather and gusty but reliable onshore winds, and a kilometer-wide sandy shallows to practice in. We camp there every summer for at least one long visit.

Kluane Lake is big, deep and cold, but scenic and often windy. We have windsurfed there in the past, and have begun to explore some new spots there with kites.

Kiting Videos Online

Here are a few of our favorite kiting videos:

All photos, text, and images on this website are © Bill Glude unless otherwise noted.