Mille Lacs Kite Crossing: Local competitors set to defend titles

A spark started in the Nierenhausen household in Crosslake several years ago has caught the whole family ablaze for the outdoor activity of snowkiting.

Snowkites are seen in flight on a frozen lake.Special to the Brainerd Dispatch
Snowkites are seen in flight on a frozen lake. Special to the Brainerd Dispatch

A spark started in the Nierenhausen household in Crosslake several years ago has caught the whole family ablaze for the outdoor activity of snowkiting.

The family plans to show up in full force for the 13th annual Grand Casino Mille Lacs Kite Crossing, which is set for March 3-5 out of Garrison and is a go based on when the wind cooperates.

The family includes Greg (dad), Stephanie (mom), their daughter Maddie, 17, and sons Jack, 19, Peter and Nic. According to 15-year-old Peter, everyone in the family, except mom, regularly sails across the ice harnessed to a kite powered by the wind.

Peter has been competing at the Mille Lacs contest and taken first place in the youth division the last three years. His opponents include Sam Roberts from the Crosby area. Roberts races on skis rather than the snowboard that Peter uses.

Peter also races against his younger brother Nic, 13, in the youth category.


The boys say the sport is difficult as it requires constant counterbalancing against the winds pulling the giant kites across the frozen lake. But they also enjoy feeling the wind's power to propel across the ice and even launch into the sky.

"Our whole family does it so it's really fun," Peter said of the activity. "I always feel good about myself after I get a good workout in."

"I think it teaches discipline, it's a great workout and fun," Peter added.

Peter said the sport requires a lot of practice, which he and the family do on Cross Lake and Pelican Lake. That practice prepares them for the task of crossing Mille Lacs Lake, which includes kiting a total of 24 miles, or 12 miles back and forth, the boys said. In Peter's first-place performance last year, that took about 1.5 hours of riding the wind.

"The day after the race you'll usually feel it," Peter said.

With pain comes rewards, and Peter is hopeful more youths will be involved in this sport to see how rewarding he feels it is.

"It would be great if more younger kids could join the sport," Peter said.

While it can be costly to get involved in snowkiting (some new kites can cost $3,000), Peter said it at least saves gas money over such equipment as a snowmobile or all terrain vehicle to get across a lake.


While Peter has been kiting for about six years, his younger brother Nic has been kiting about four years. He's been practicing hard, too, to see if he can keep up or even pass his brother this year.

"It's been an awesome thing to do with my family," Nic said.

He agrees that it takes a great deal of time behind the kite to improve and a good wind is necessary for all event goers.

"Fifteen to 25 (mile-per-hour wind) would be perfect," Nic said.

As long as the wind blows the competition will go on.

You don't have to look far to find to find other top returning competitors to this year's Kite Crossing as they all reside in Minnesota-and three reside in the Brainerd lakes area.

As the country's premier snowkite event, the lake will come alive with kites and riders from 14 states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Illinois, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, D.C., and Canada.

Previous champions from around the country are expected to return to regain their titles, including Denis Foo Kune (Minneapolis), a team rider for kite manufacturer Slingshot Sports and a multi-year Kite Crossing Snowboard Category Champion; 2005 and 2006 Mille Lacs Kite Crossing Champion; Jeff Cole (Minnetonka), multi-year Kite Crossing Champion, Rob Evans (Excelsior), 1997 Ice and Snow Surfing World Champion and nine-time Inland Lake Yachting Association Champion.


First Place finishers by category from 2016 will compete again. They are:

Men's Ski: Michael Kratochwill, White Bear Lake

Women's Ski: Christine Zobitz, Brainerd

Men's Snowboard: Justin Specht, Minneapolis

Women's Snowboard: Vicky Hanson, Crosslake

Junior/Youth: Peter Nierenhausen, Crosslake

There are several events scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day March 3-5 on Mille Lacs Lake, based out of Garrison. Races are on either a wakeboard-type board or regular alpine skis, with a large kite harnessed to the riders for wind power.

Besides two legs out and back that define this event, over 100 participants will also compete in free-style events and shorter sprint races.


The sport started in Minnesota in the 1980s, and the first Kite Crossing was in 2004 on Mille Lacs Lake. Today it is the longest running snowkite event in the country, and the longest snowkite endurance race, according to a news release.

For the competitors and families, there will be a welcome reception with live music Friday night, racing, events and large bonfires during the day on the lake Saturday and dinner awards party that evening, and more competition Sunday.

There is no charge for spectators.

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