Did you see someone ripping around your local lake on a Wing Surfer last summer? If you haven't seen it yet, you will soon, for sure- it is a really fun way to hit the water and enjoy the wind, so it is exploding in popularity! But what many people don't know is that wings have been used as winter toys for decades already. It is a simple and fun way to rip around a snowy field or frozen lake on a windy day! In this guide we will introduce you to some of the techniques and equipment that you can use to go have some windy winter fun!
The cool (cold?) thing about getting into Wing Skiing is that you can learn the basics really quickly on snow. It is relatively easy to keep your balance, and you can glide really fast on the slippery snow! Then, when summer rolls around, you can transition those new wing skills to the water and go for a cruise on your SUP or foil board! The same wings will work for you all year long- both on snow and on water!
And maybe best of all? Wing Skiing is easy enough to learn that kids can pick it up very quickly, too, making it an awesome family sport!
First off, though- Safety. If you're heading out onto a frozen body of water, knowing your ice safety criteria is of utmost importance. As the Coast Guard says- there is no such thing as safe ice. Thoroughly read this Ice Safety Guide BEFORE venturing out onto the ice, or do your own research from a trusted source. And if you don't know the current ice conditions and/or don't study or heed the ice safety recommendations, don't go out!
Safe Ice isn't the only concern- make sure that you're dressed appropriately for the cold weather conditions, and wear safety gear like helmets/goggles/pads/etc. Be aware of changing weather/squalls/whiteouts/etc. If you're in a field or on mountainous terrain, be aware of your surroundings and look out for rocks/cliffs/trees/holes/fences/etc etc etc. The potential hazards are endless, so be careful!
OK, now on to the Fun Stuff! The conditions you're looking for are, first and foremost, WINDY. You'll want to know the direction and strength of the wind. Winter wind is hard to gauge, since you can't see the water texture in the waves and whitecaps, and usually any trees around are leafless and won't be blowing around very much. So you can look for blowing snow, flags, bushes, etc. If you can't find anything like that, you can pick up a handful of snow, throw it straight up into the air, and see what happens to it. We also find our subscriptions to iWindsurf.com invaluable. It gives you access to a world wide network of live wind meter readings and forecasts.
Make sure the wind direction is appropriate- is it pulling you out away from shore, toward thin ice or open water? Yikes, no thank you. Is it pulling you toward a cliff or other hazard? Yikes, no thank you. Find a spot where the wind will leave you in a safe place if things go wrong.
The next thing you want to look at are the surface conditions- is it ice, hardpack snow, or soft deep powder? Most people will need at least 10-15 mph of wind to get moving on ice or hardpack snow, and at least 15-20 mph of wind to get moving in deep or soft snow. It is OK to have stronger wind than these minimums, especially as your experience level increases. The softer/deeper the snow is, the more power you will need to get moving. This power can be found with either stronger winds or by using bigger wings (which will have more power than a smaller wing).
You can go wing skiing with skis, snowboards, or ice skates. Ice skates or skis (with good sharp edges) are the best choice for clear ice. Snowboards or skis are good choices for hardpack snow. And if you have super deep powder snow, you'll want to use big powder skis or a snowboard to help you float a bit higher. Quite often, frozen lakes will have areas with snow drifts and clear ice patches scattered around intermittently. We've found that skis are the easiest way to tackle these variable conditions.
Now that you have your gliding tools figured out, let's chat WINGS! Wings come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and constructions. These factors will effect the weight, power, and handling characteristics of the wing. A good handling range (power when the wind is light and stability when the wind is strong) is important, as it will help you cover a broader range of conditions with a single wing. Some wings have clear windows in them, too- these help with your ability to see your surroundings while cruising around. But in winter, you have to be very careful when storing these wings- creases and crush points in the window material can lead to cracks and tears, so take care when putting your wing away and store it correctly!
Please reach out if you'd like help choosing your wing model. We're experienced and happy to help! Shop For Wings HERE.
You'll also need to choose a wing SIZE. You have a few things to consider here- mostly your body weight, and the conditions that you will regularly have available to you. If you're light, you can use a small wing, and if you're heavy, you'll want a large wing. Clear ice with ice skates has virtually zero drag, so you can use a smaller wing than if you were in a deep powder field.
Here is a sample chart of wing sizes that might work for you. This chart is not meant to be an exact recommendation- just a guide to help you estimate gear and conditions.
|Body Weight (pounds)||Wind Speed (mph)||Wing Size for Ice||Wing Size for Packed Snow||Wing Size for Powder Snow|
Now that you have your gear sorted out, let's get out there and have some fun! The first thing you need to do is set up your equipment. On a windy day, things can blow away, so make sure your wing's leash is attached correctly and secure it to your wrist or an ice stake before pumping up. Many people will also bring a sandbag to help hold their wing and/or the wing's storage bag down. Roll out the wing, canopy facing down, with the leading edge facing upwind. Attach the pump, and inflate your wing to the manufacturer's recommended pressure. Under inflating will cause your wing to under perform- it won't have enough power or stability. Over inflating can damage the bladders and seams. After you're done inflating, stow your pump away in the bag and make sure nothing blows away while you're out cruising around.
Be careful of bushes, sharp sticks, rocks, ice skate blades, ski edges, etc- they can easily tear the wing! Handle with care.
Now that you're set up, put on those skis, and pick up the wing with the leading edge handle. It should float downwind of you, comfortably and without much power, with you standing upwind of the wing. This is "neutral position." If you aren't oriented correctly with the wind, the wing will naturally swing around until it is downwind of you.
If the wing is upside down (canopy down), you'll need to flip it over before proceeding. You can try to flip it from the middle, but if it is hard to do that you can walk your hands down toward one wing tip, and then flip it over from there, before walking your hands back up towards that leading edge handle.
Now it's time to get moving! Most people will cruise around, back and forth, ACROSS the wind. It is easy and fast to go slightly down wind, but it is harder to go back up into the wind, so 90 degrees across the wind is a good direction to aim for. This means that as you're standing there holding the wing in neutral position, you can look 90 degrees to the left, and then 90 degrees to the right, and try to follow those paths while cruising around.
If you want to go to the LEFT, clomp those feet around and point your skis/skates/board in that direction. Keep your right hand on the leading edge handle. Use your LEFT hand to reach under the wing. Find the forward handle on the strut and grab it with that left hand. Bring the wing up and over your head. Now release your right hand from the LE handle, reach back, and grab one of the back handles. In this scenario, your left hand is your steering wheel, and your right hand is your gas peddle!
Ready to GO? Slowly bring your left hand down and extend it out in front of you. Pull in slightly with your back hand. This should feel kind of like you're holding a bow and arrow aimed way up high- front arm straight and extended up and forward, and back hand pulling in towards your body. The wind will fill your wing with power and off you'll go!
Use your ski/board edges/ice skate blades to steer. The more power you have in the wing, the more you can lean out away from the wing and translate that power into SPEED! Stand strong and try not to get pulled over!
Now it is time to stop- release your back hand, but hold on with your front hand. The wing will go back toward neutral position, and you can switch your hands to the leading edge handle. All of the power will go away, and you will slow down to a stop. You can also use your skis/board/skates at the same time to slow down even faster.
To change directions and go back toward the right, just switch your hands. Your RIGHT hand will reach under to grab the front handle, and your LEFT hand will grab a back handle and be your power hand.
If your wing tips drag in the snow- keep your hands up higher, especially your front hand.
If you just get lifted up a bit but don't go anywhere- drop your front hand down a bit further out in front of you.
If you're overpowered, don't pull in so much with the back hand, and allow the wing come up over your head a bit more.
If you don't feel much power, pull in harder with your back hand. If that doesn't help, you might need to rig a bigger wing or wait for a stronger wind gust.
If you're having a hard time hanging on and your arms are getting tired (this can be the case in softer snow as you need more power), you can use a harness. This is an "advanced" technique but can be learned pretty quickly.