Bighorn 2017 / Thermal Foundation Adventures

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Bighorn 2017 / Thermal Foundation Adventures

Postby BayAreaKite » Sat Apr 01, 2017 7:49 am

With an epic winter all along the west coast, I was eager to return to the Bighorn range with Thermal Foundation Snowkite Adventures. Despite the record snowfall, from Mammoth to Whistler, I didn’t get much play time this year as I was recovering from an operation due to a mountain bike accident in October. I missed our annual fall Baja trip, and many ski days… instead spending my money on a new piece of titanium for my clavicle and some synthetic fibers to hold my shoulder together. 2016 was the year of joint replacements for my wife and I (hers was an ankle), so while we had high expectations for the conditions, we were less confident in our ability to aggressively kite them. But the nice thing about snowkiting is you can go at the pace you like. Fly a trainer if you want, you don’t need to plane on the water and as long as you’re in flat terrain a small kite can easily provide enough force to overcome the friction between the P-Tex of your skis and even the wettest snow. Snowkiting would be a great way to reintroduce my body to the wind.
fly through SEA, PDX, or SLC
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I’ve known Brad with Thermal Foundation for about 7 years. We met on the Camas Prairie in Idaho during what was supposed to be the Snowkite Soldier event. Brad used to guide tours up there, but a slow decline in the quality of conditions and lack of predictability in wind resulted in a little hiatus from his snowkite tour business. But after discovering the Bighorns, he had no problem filling a couple tours with eager past clients and friends, and we were excited to be returning with him.
upgraded cat and trailer!
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Details on logistics can be found in the 2016 trip report in the snowkite forum, so I’ll omit them from this one. The Wyoming High Country Lodge is literally in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, accessible only by snowmobiles and snowcats in the winter. I had fond memories of the their homestyle, comfort food meals last year, and the welcoming staff who continue to tease me with their backyard snowkiting photos on Facebook daily. It’s not an easy place to visit solo unless you have a snowmobile, but if you get a group together they will gladly pick you up at the end of the road and shuttle you in. This year, we appreciated the faster snow cat and enclosed trailer during the short ride to the lodge.
happy hour
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One of the nicest things about these trips is there’s nothing you have to think about other than snowkiting. You don’t have to plan meals, or even try to forecast wind or pick the best spot. You simply wakeup, eat breakfast, look out the window, and go. That being said, we’re extra eager on arrival day to get out there. So after a warm soup at the lodge, we unpacked our gear and suited up for an afternoon of snowkiting.
view from the lodge
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Unfortunately despite the west getting hammered all winter, this area of Wyoming was overlooked by the snow gods. Either that, or it was blessed by the wind gods… and I think the latter. Our first day out was a nuker, with me lit on an 8m Ozone Access foil and my wife completely overpowered on our 6m. The snow was wind scoured and mountain tops bare. I was afraid to get off the ground due to the hard snow and gusty winds, but that gave me a good excuse to just cruise back and fourth enjoying the occasional sun spot and breaks in the flat lighting. But after watching my wife get yanked to the ground followed by a double eject in a freak extended guest we decided to wind up the lines and crack open some Snake River Brewery cans in the back of the snowcat and be grateful that our bodies survived our first session in months.
thanks for the beer Snake River Brewing!
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We returned to the lodge and were welcomed by some homemade chicken pot pie and a fun social dinner with some other snowkiters and snowmobilers. Anticipating calmer winds and sunnier skies, I went to bed early our first night, only to wake up at 3am with a pounding headache. Knowing it wasn’t dehydration, because I was sure to drink lots of water throughout my travels and during the day, I began to fear a migraine. But I wasn’t getting associated vision problems, so I began to consider altitude sickness. I could not fall back asleep and noticed that my heart was racing, it was extremely uncomfortable. After about an hour, I was forced to the bathroom where I experienced the worst symptoms of altitude sickness. I’ll tack it on to one of the many beautiful aspects of aging, and caution those considering a trip to be aware of 9,000 foot altitude level of the lodge. Next time, I may take an extra day to acclimate in Montana or Wyoming before heading up to high country.
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I couldn’t make the 10AM cat run to Terminal B with the group, but by noon I was feeling a little better, and Jim from the lodge rushed me out there on a snowmobile after a little lunch. I was grateful for my recovery, and had a wonderful afternoon session with the group. I was quickly reminded that Terminal B is a giant play pen for extreme sports athletes. One of our group members, Travis, was ridge soaring in the steady winds while Brian looped his kite what appeared to be just below his feet. We had speed wings, paragliding wings, kites of all sizes, snowmobiles and cats. What a fun day.
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happy wife, happy life
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playing in the wind
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Day 3 brought increased confidence and improved conditions yet again. It was a little lighter, so I demoed the new Ozone Frenzy Ultralight in a size 11m. I was blown away at how quickly this kite inflated and lifted off the ground. It was super stable and stayed aloft in the lulls and provided a friendly pull in the gusts. I have always loved Ozone foils on snow, especially as companions on backcountry tours. But these new ultralights take it to another level, and I quickly began to explore beyond my comfort zone.
prepping for the day
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I looped the kite, climbing Bald Mountain and picked my way through the grass at the wind swept top. Brian lead the way, having been up there the day prior. He led me over a small cornice into the west bowl, and we played around in the updrafts enjoying the soft snow. The sensations were surreal, being pulled so strongly up a mountain, but leaning down with gravity reacting the edge pressure. Energy from below, and above.
view from above
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dropping into the west bowl
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picking my way through west bowl
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Brian popped back over the mountain but I wanted to pick my way down this side, and traverse the base. I scouted out some lines, between cornices, rocks, and exposed grass. As I descended, the winds decreased with the reduced compression from the mountain top. But the 11m Frenzy UL stayed afloat, never once dropping and allowing me to focus 100% on my skis. I had a nice short reach and then a long downwinder all the way back to the snowcat where a much needed lunch awaited.
thanks to the lodge for the amazing sandwiches!
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Arnaud on his first day riding a snowboard!
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During lunch, we enjoyed watching fellow BAK’ers Arnaud and Nico rock freestyle moves and Travis continue to impress us with his soaring skills. With the wind direction favorable, a few us kited all the way back to the lodge, a fun adventure after making some wrong turns. The hot tub quickly warmed us up, followed by another amazing meal (did I mention the best homemade bread ever?) thanks to the awesome cooks at the lodge. We ended the evening with the annual awards ceremony, recognizing the those who brought extra stoke to the group, and a few rounds of hammerschlagen.
kiting to the lodge
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cue the sausage fest jokes...
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I encourage anyone interested in snowkting the Bighorn range to contact Wyoming High Country lodge (their Facebook page is quite active) to see if there are any scheduled pickups one could piggyback off of. I heard they are even renting snowmobiles now, which would be a great way to kite the area with a smaller group. Otherwise, Thermal Foundation trips happen in March, when it’s a little warmer and the days a little longer. Having kited Idaho (Camas Prairie), Whistler (alpine and valley), Utah (Skyline) I can honestly say the Bighorn offers some of the best terrain in the world. And despite some epic gliding conditions and challenging terrain, it’s just as easy to have fun in the flatter bowls and shallower slopes… so don’t let it deter you from checking it out! I'm placing this report outside the snowkite forum to encourage others to try it "?%#
soooo good after a day of snowkiting!
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a good day.
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watch your fingers... and eyes!
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Thanks again to Brad for another awesome trip, and to the amazing staff at Wyoming High Country lodge for the amazing support, meals, and general all around stoke. Looking forward to returning next year!
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