Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kite skiing lifting off in Yellowknife

Local instructor looks to start racing circuit

Jesse Winter
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hanging from a 20-meter kite while it rockets you across the waves on a sun-drenched lake sounds like a pitch from a Caribbean vacation company, but in Yellowknife there is one key difference. 

Stephane Sevigny, instructor with Aquilon Power Kiting, gives guidance to a new client on Yellowknife Bay. - Jesse Winter/NNSL Photo
These waves are frozen.

Aside from that, it's pretty much the same high-adrenaline sport that vexes traditional windsurfers on beaches farther south. And according to Yellowknife's St├ęphane Sevigny, this version is way more fun.

"It's incredible, the power of the wind. You use the kite like a sailing boat. By steering your kite and your skis, snowboard, or whatever slides, you are able to go back and forth with the power of the wind. Using the power of the wind to pull you on any surface," Sevigny said.

Sevigny runs Aquilon Power Kiting, and spends his time teaching many of Yellowknife's growing kiting community how to carve snowdrifts like Malibu surf.

His career in kite skiing started 15 years ago in Montreal, when a friend introduced him to the sport.
He's been running the company in Yellowknife for about five years, but only recently starting putting things into high gear. With the help of a Supporters of Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) grant from the territory's Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), he was able cover the costs of getting certified as an International Kiteboarding Organization instructor, and said he's seen a strong increase in the numbers of kites on the bay.

"Right now, it's kind of (peaking). Everybody's heard about it, everyone's seeing it and want to get involved. Every time I go out I see sometimes 10 new kites on the lake that I don't recognize," Sevigny said.

The growth is encouraging for Sevigny, but he said it also raises some concerns about safety. That's one of the reasons he started teaching in the first place.

"Tacking across the wind, you need to learn that. But you also need to learn all about safety. For example yesterday, I saw a guy and thought 'Oh, my god, I have to do something.' He was holding his mother-in-law from behind, with one arm over her shoulder trying to control the kite in probably 35 – 40 km per hour wind. It was very dangerous. I said 'I'm sorry, I don't know you but if you keep doing what you're doing your could kill your mother-in-law.'

"People need to understand the dangers involved. It can be dangerous because people don't understand the power of the wind. They think 'oh, my friend has a kite. He will teach me,'" Sevigny said.

One of the most important skills kiters need to learn is how to control their kite throughout the window of the wind. The window of the wind is a three-dimensional dome extending 180 degrees downwind from a kiter. The closer to 90 degrees the kite gets, the more wind it captures. If kiters don't learn to control their kites within the power zone, they can generate so much lift that they get swept off their feet and potentially into other kiters, dragged into obstacles or tangled in lines that are tight enough to cut unprotected flesh to the bone, Sevigny said.

"You need to know how to play with the kite in the power zone. Before people go on skis or a snowboard people need to know how to play with the kite, how to disconnect it from yourself or close it down in an emergency. You wouldn't just pick up an oxygen tank and regulator and go scuba diving without taking a course. It's the same thing with kiting," he said.

But once people master the skills, Yellowknife Bay is an ideal place to kite because you can catch wind from any direction. Further out past Dettah, there is enough open space that kiters can get up to 60 or 70 km per hour if they know what they're doing, Sevigny said.

The kiting guru gets easily excited talking about his beloved sport, especially when discussing a future that he hopes will be bright.

Sevigny is still in contact with his friends in Montreal. They have a kite racing circuit there that has seen great success, and Sevigny said he wants to replicate the event in Yellowknife for a potentially international audience.
"I think the way I'm seeing it, we have a good spot for competitions. That's what I want to do soon, and you can have all different kids of competitions. You have speed competitions, acrobatics competitions. I'm in contact with people right now to create a circuit around the lake," Sevigny said.

Sevigny said he wants to build an international stage race, where teams would have support crews to follow them around the different stages of a race on Great Slave Lake.

"They'd stop at different parts of the circuit, and there could be all kinds of entertainment, musicians, stuff like that.. They did this in Quebec already. They had a really good competition that we could recreate here. It would be a very big event for tourism, similar to what used to the the Rock and Ice Ultra," he said.

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