Once again, I found myself on the vast plains of Hardangervidda in Norway with kites all around me. We arrived Thursday morning after a 5-6-ish hour drive and before that, a 3 hour trip by boat and checked into the rented apartment. After an hours sleep we was ready to go check out the conditions, so we drove out on the plateau. The race is in the end of the season this means the day temperature often is just around zero degrees Celsius or even a few degrees above, this means the snow is more ice than powder, so once more I decided to go for skies rather than snowboard.
There was a lot of wind so I put up the 12 meter Peter Lynn Charger II and off I went. I tracked around 30 kilometers and hit a top speed of roughly 55 km/h – not too bad for a freestyle kite and a pilot who has never skied without a kite before (and not much with a kite actually as well.
After a bit of hassle, I managed to change my race class to skies and we went back to the apartment to get a good night’s sleep. Everything pointed toward the race would be held the next day and so we checked out gear one last time and hit the sack.
At the race meeting the next day what everybody seems to know already was confirmed; it was race day! A course consisting of 5 laps each measuring 20 kilometers (bee-line) surely would put even the best kiters to the test – and there was some serious kiters present, and then all us weekend warriors, heck even a few contestants who has just learned to kite a week before the race. The preliminary reports from the spot said up to 15 m/s (28-30 knots) and complete whiteout on the plateau, but was supposed to clear up. Around 300 kiters went out to pack their gear in the busses, needless to say you could cut the tension with a knife, everybody was super excited to see what was in store for us.
We managed to get on the first bus taking us to the spot and arrived with 1½ hour before the expected start. A quick reading and scouting of the area along with the session yesterday made me put up the 12 meter Peter Lynn Charger II and head out to check the starting area out. I was fully powered on, the sun was shining and the snow wasn’t as icy is yesterday, what a great day for a race. The wind was forecasted to be quite stable, with a small chance of getting just a wee bit higher, so I was confident I had chosen the right kite. The start was postponed one hour due to whiteout, not that we could see anything in the start area; the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky – a friendly reminder on how conditions can change up here. We decided to save our strength and only did a few quick runs, completing the course would mean at least 100 kilometers worth of snowkiting - that will take its toll on the body.
We was just about to set up the kites and find a good spot to await the horn, but then we heard the start was postponed another ½ hour. We went out for another scouting run, and it was quite clear the wind had dropped but I was still able to climb the mountains, so I decided to play it a bit safe, I knew from last year I could expect more wind on top of the mountains. Still I couldn’t shred the thought that I might have been better off putting up the 18 meter Peter Lynn Charger II, then again I could easily and quite fast change kites after the first round if that was needed – and surely I had enough wind to finish the first round.
Like last year I decided to start a bit in the back, being on a freestyle kite I was not competing with the race guys anyway – and I would rather not get tangle during the mayhem-to-be. The start was postponed yet another 15 minutes, oh how frustrating everybody could feel the wind was dropping, but there was no time to switch kites. Suddenly the yellow flag came up, 1 minute to start and everybody started slowly moving towards the line – then the horn sounded and bam 300 kite dropped in a massive powerstroke. It was on!
I soon found myself in the middle of the pack; there was kites everywhere I tell you. It might sound unlikely, but the only place there was any kites was on the ground in front of me – but what a relief. After a few hundred meters we found ourselves in a wind-hole so I had to work the kite a bit – not the easiest task with this many kites in the air, but I managed. I could see the first gate that – unlike last year – was placed on the flat and not on a mountain. Further ahead I could see a lot of kiters was struggling to keep the kites in the air, so I decided to go a few hundred meters past the gate before I turned. It turned out to be the right decision and I was heading up towards the second gate, after a minor incident where a guy dropped his kite in my lines and I had to relaunch it before I could get on. It’s a part of the game, and last year I was the guy who dropped my kite in somebody’s lines, so I guess it’s a karma thing.
Now the Red Bull guys like to challenge us and they didn’t disappoint us this year, just after the second gate we faced a very steep descent. Not something I was mentally prepared for, so I quickly decided to go and see if I could find a better route. I managed to find one and began my descent, but in a combination of excitement, adrenaline and inattention, I caught up with the kite and in dropped from the sky.
I had no other choice but to walk the lines, not the easiest task in knee deep snow on the side of a mountain, not to mention actually launching the kite there. But after a good 40 minutes I managed and let me tell you it felt good! The wind had dropped further, but the way to the third gate was a beam reach and I soon passed that as well. The race had been on for a good 1½ hour know and there was kites everywhere on the course, I decided to follow some of the closest kiters after all they might be on their second round and know the course by know. From the third to the fourth gate was nearly dead downwind and counting in a gentle descent from gate three, it’s not the worst situation when on skies, but I decided to tack down, I really didn’t feel like catching up with the kite and having to walk out the lines once more.
Down in the valley I made good speed, but only for a while, then the wind completely vanished, I mean just gone. I saw one of my mate’s kites on the ground; it looked like she was stranded as well. Oh well there was nothing to do than to walk up to the fourth gate and see if the struggle would be rewarded. All of a sudden, we could see a lot of kiters moving up the mountain towards the third gate, they came with the wind it would seem, clearly they also brought complete chaos. I counted at least three kiters who managed to completely block the gate with their kites/lines – obliviously not intentionally but quite unpractical. I decided the stay and help a bit; there was nowhere to launch my own kite anyway at the moment.
It didn’t take long before the guys ahead was once more having trouble keeping their kites in the air. I decided to take a slightly different route to be able to stay on the top of the ridge, it paid off and I managed to get a fair bit further than most of the guys. But eventually I couldn't even keep the kite in the air and I was once more stranded, the view as astonishing and I didn’t really feel like walking a few kilometers back to gate four. Once more I saw one of my mates, she manage to fight her way up to me and we hang out there for a few minutes – and all of a sudden the third mate’s kite was seen on the horizon. He started the race on a small 6 meter Peter Lynn Fury, but after the first round he then switched over to the 11 meter Peter Lynn Leopard.
Once more the wind picked up, another testimony on how quickly things can change up here. After a bit of fiddling with my lines I was up and on my way. Given the wind it actually went ok towards gate five, I was able to climb the mountain, since I only had a rough idea on where the gate was it was quite lucky I actually found it. I was nearly on the top of the mountain when I managed to crash the kite on the downwind side of the mountain, I thought for sure it would be close to impossible to relaunch there, this time around lady luck decided to smile at me. With close to no hassle the kite was in the air again – ok now where is that damn gate five? I decided to cross the mountaintop and in less than 50 meters was gate five, what a lovely sight. The rest of the way to the starting line was easily covered and I moved towards gate one.
What I didn’t knew was the cutover time was 18.00 and it was now 18.30 – ok well back to the start area and pack up. When I returned one of my mates waved vigorously at me yelling I missed gate six! Cutover time or not I decided to finish in style and pass the sixth gate. So disregarding the cutovertime I actually managed to finish one round this time around. I didn’t bring and water or food on because I was expecting to finish one lap in one hour, and not 4½ hours, so the water and Red Bull was highly appreciated.
I have secured my spot for Red Bull Ragnarok 2016, this time I expect to be using my Flysurfer Speed 4 Lotus and actually finish the entire damn race :-)
Our video from the trip:
And we was also interviwed for the official video: