By D. Dion
Telluride Snowkiting Instructor Mark Worth is a wind junkie. After spending winters here teaching people how to snowkite, he blows out of town and spends summers in Hood River Gorge in Oregon, where he teaches people how to kite surf. He owns his own businesses in both towns, Telluride Snowkite School and Gorge Kiteboard School, and leads something of a double life.
“The migration thing’s just become part of the deal. It’s really a challenge to deal with the logistics,” says Worth, “but the upside is that in the Gorge, in the summertime, it’s really sunny and dry; but in the winter, it’s cloudy and rainy, so it’s nice to be in Telluride where the sun is shining and the snow is falling.”
And the wind, of course, is blowing. Worth makes his living sharing his passion for sports that bank on the breeze. He says that there’s something special about being wind-powered, and that it’s similar to sailing a boat, which he grew up doing on the East Coast. He moved out West in the 70s, and started teaching windsurfing in the 80s in the Gorge. About 15 years later, he found himself on the forefront of a new sports movement, using “kites,” which look something like mini-parachutes, to sail across the snow and water.
“The main difference between the kites is that for kiteboarding, they are inflatable so you can pull them up out of the water,” says Worth. “For snowkiting, we use Ozone foil kites, which launch in lighter winds and are like small paragliders.” Snowkiting also lets you go faster, about 30 mph, using lighter winds; kiteboarding lets you harness higher winds but the rough surface of the water keeps speeds at 25 mph. But you can catch more air on a kiteboard, says Worth, maybe 50 feet, because “the water’s a little bit more forgiving.”
He says that both sports are gaining in popularity. Worth held a clinic for Telluride locals after the ski season, taking a group up to Lizard Head pass to try out snowkiting. Interest here in the sport has doubled since last season, he says, and since snowkiting has started to take off in Europe, he imagines it will do the same thing here. “I expect it will continue to double over the next three years,” says Worth, who obviously enjoys sharing his adrenaline addiction. “It’s really exciting, whether you’re on water or snow, because you’re using the wind to power you…you can focus that energy to move you at speed and lift you into the sky.” For more information about snowkiting, visit telluridesnowkite.com, or to learn more about kiteboarding, visit gorgekiteboard.com.