Trip Report / Bighorn Range, WY

Winter snowkiting topics and locations.

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Trip Report / Bighorn Range, WY

Postby BayAreaKite » Wed Mar 23, 2016 9:25 pm

I have been wanting to snowkite the Bighorn Range ever since the Jackson Hole Kiters began sharing their epic videos of deep light powder and endless glides above the undulating terrain. So when I got an email from Brad Gordon of Thermal Foundation Snowkite Adventures proposing a trip, I jumped on it. While our season is just beginning, my mind is still thinking snow, and I wanted to share my trip report with fellow BAK’ers who are interested in eventually visiting this amazing place.

Brad has been running snowkite tours for years, and coaches the youth freeride team at Crystal Mountain, WA. Needless to say, he can tear up any mountain and is an endless source of advice and experience of anything involving a kite or wing. We met about 5 years ago on the Camas Prairie in Idaho, after the Snowkite Soldier event was cancelled but my now wife and I figured we’d go anyway. Brad showed us some spots, and become a good friend always happy to share the stoke.

The trip began in Billings, MT. This was the closest major airport, about 2.5 hours from the lodge. While there are a few direct flights to Jackson, it would result in a 6+ hour drive. Brad picked us up at the airport, with a trailer for all of our gear and even a snowmobile for onsite assistance and no-wind fun.
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Brad filling the snowmobile amidst a ton of gear!
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It’s very obvious where Wyoming High Country gets its name. While driving along the valley floor at about 4,000 feet, the plateau rises steeply to the east with visible peaks to 8,000 feet.
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The road climbing from the valley floor
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Just as I was losing hope that the wintery conditions I had seen in the Jackson Kiter videos had given way to spring corn, we turned around a final switchback before the road closed due to snow. As we pulled into a parking lot full of trucks and empty trailers, our ride to snowkite heaven was waiting for us.
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Lodge Shuttle
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We loaded gear into the trailer, and hopped in the back of the snowcat. Leaving the car behind, relied on the steel treads to cruise past the closed gate towards Wyoming High Country Lodge.
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Leaving the truck behind
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The lodge’s main purpose is to serve the hundreds of snowmobilers bombing around the terrain at any given moment. They need gas, bud light, and pork. With the arrival of snowkiters, the lodge is now stocking IPAs and a more diverse menu.
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Do cowboys where seat or waist harnesses?
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Ozone hooked the crew up with a quiver of demos, but I was having too much fun on my 13m Frenzy to waste anytime rigging another kite. Brad was having a ton of fun on the new Enduro, which I can’t wait to fly on water.
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Ozone Demo Kites!
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After unloading our gear, around 1pm, we suited up and hopped right back into the cat for our first session of the trip. Fortunately for us, about 6-8inches of new fell in the couple days before our arrival, and our first day despite being the shortest, proved to the best. Here we are rigging up on the south face of Mt. Bald, getting ready to enjoy some atypical northerly winds.
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first sesh
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The vis and lighting came and went, creating a wintery canvas on which we kiters painted our art. It had been about two years since my last snowkite trip to the Camas Prairie in Idaho, and I had nearly forgotten how amazing this form of kiting truly is.
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Darren on Day 1
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pano shot
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deep
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Climbing the West face of Bald
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finding freshies
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As we began to explore the terrain further from the comfort of our mobile warming hut, Brad mentioned that with the wind direction it would be possible to circumnavigate Bald Mountain. Without even hesitating, I suggested we take advantage of the conditions and give it shot, as everyone appeared pretty comfortable in the light winds and deep snow. Darren and I parked the kite in the southern sky on an east tack, following Brad to the backside of Bald famously known as Terminal B.
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Terminal B
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As we zigzagged in the fresh snow and cold dry wind, we made our way towards the north face of the mountain. We were approaching our 6pm pickup time, so we regrouped and discussed the final line of our adventure which entailed about a 1000ft climb up the cornice-ridden north side. Here our 17m LEIs and my 13m foil generated plenty of power in the compressed winds.
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Climbing the north face of Bald.
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After a fun decent and sharing of high fives, we were whisked away to the lodge for a warm fire, fresh homemade biscuits, and a hearty beef stew. I casually mentioned over dinner that even if we were skunked the next few days, I would be satisfied with the trip. We couldn’t have had a better introduction to the Bighorns.
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clearing of the storm
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warming up in the lodge
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fresh biscuits
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Friday we awoke to continued snow and wind. Our mobile warming hut provided shelter from the storm, and storage for lunch and post-kiting beer. Unfortunately at this altitude and temperature, our beers froze within minutes of opening them. Well I think the water froze, but the alcohol was forced out in liquid form… turning the beer from a single to a double IPA but halving the volume.
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mobile warming hut
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cold beer!
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That evening while some of us soaked in the outdoor hot tub, warming our frozen toes but freezing the tips of our hair, Brad and Darren enjoyed a sunset session. It was definitely one of those times you were super happy for your friends, but didn’t want to hear about it. That evening provided some of the strongest winds of the trip, not to mention the epic lighting and beautiful views.
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Darren enjoying the sunset sesh
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Saturday morning brought the clear skies and spring sun, but the wind only made a brief appearance. Fortunately I was able to quickly launch my already-rigged 13m Ozone Frenzy and get about an hour of kiting in the warm light winds. Inflating 17m LEI kites at 10,000’ took a bit longer for the others, but some were still able to snag a few tacks before it shut off. With a snowcat and snowmobile, we were also able to ski a few laps in the trees where the snow was a little less wind affected and extra deep. Also on the bucket list for me was speedflying, only possible thanks to the light winds. We picked a mellow slope and progressed further up each run, getting enough speed on my final lap to fully load the wing and lift my tips. But I should probably take some paragliding lessons before I go any faster or higher under a speedwing!
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Sarah shredding
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learning to speedfly
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Sunday we were again blessed with high alpine sun and even warmer temps. It was nice to remove a layer of down from under my shell, and finally feel my toes again. The light winds made for a playful session in Terminal B, where we were able to climb the mountain and ski the warming snow. With only a half day available before our return to the valley floor, Brad enjoyed some ridge soaring while I worked on gliding. It was a nice mellow way to end the trip, and ensure maximum goggle tan for our return to the office on Monday afternoon! Below is the crew along with our trusty cat driver Matt.
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playing in Terminal B
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enjoying the decent
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Brad soaring above me
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the crew
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Coming back from kite vacations is always hard, this one especially. The crew at Wyoming High Country Lodge took such good care of us, and Brad was an awesome guide for our fun group of Portland/HR kiters and Montana girl Sara. Brad said he’d be happy to help organize a BAK trip next season, so definitely leave a note if you’re interested in joining! Otherwise, find the lodge via Google or Facebook and they’re happy to help you figure out how to get there. The mobile warming hut and cat service is available for larger groups, but if you want to go solo, you can rent a snowmobile to access the different kite spots. Or, take some touring gear and skin to the wind!
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heading home
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Hope some of you will join us next season!
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Re: Trip Report / Bighorn Range, WY

Postby OliverG » Thu Mar 24, 2016 7:27 am

Nice write-up, looks like a pretty epic trip, lots of memories I'm sure! MJ0_
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Re: Trip Report / Bighorn Range, WY

Postby windstoked » Thu Mar 24, 2016 8:36 am

Thanks for that great write-up and photos. However, the story is the same for most snowkiting: remote locations and often difficult access. Many serious snowkiters use a snowmobile for access, but I've heard of more serious injuries from snowmobile accidents sustained accessing terrain than from the actual kiting.
The closest lodging to Skyline in Utah is the Skyline Motel. It isn't up to the standards of the Wyoming High Country Lodge, but it's only 20 minutes from park-and-pump at perhaps the best snowkiting site in the US, and ten minutes from the only place in San Pete county where you can have a draft beer (3.2 {}[] ).
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Re: Trip Report / Bighorn Range, WY

Postby Frappes » Thu Mar 24, 2016 12:33 pm

Looks like fun! Might need to try to get on that next year...

The Ozone Enduro is a great all-rounder and I had a good deal of fun riding it in La Ventana. However, the canopy did flutter a lot and the kite inverted on me when I crashed it. I got some pretty solid boosts though!
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