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An exciting way to go fly a kite.

Byline: Shaun Sutner

COLUMN: SNOW SPORTS

Bob Christian zoomed across the urban lake, all but vanishing into the sun-dappled, dead-of-winter horizon.

There he was, suddenly, on the thick black ice of the far southern end of Worcester's Indian Lake. Only an instant before, the 43-year-old heavy-equipment operator and professional snow groomer was on the northern bank of the lake near the Bancroft School.

The GPS instrument in his jacket pocket told the story. The Hubbardston resident had hit more than 56 mph, a personal fastest time doing the sport that he loves and most people would think insane.

"A lot of people say I am," he said. "I love this. It's a riot. It's a `10' every time. I've always been into outdoor sports, solitary sports like ice fishing and skiing. I was never into baseball."

They call what he does kite skiing.

It's as simple as buckling into a harness and letting your kite, whether inflatable or a wing-like foil like Bob used on Indian Lake, flutter to the end of a 100-meter line.

After that, it's like sailing on water, tacking down wind and coming about in a skidding U-turn that sends up a rooster-tail plume of snow. Only you don't have a boat between you and the ice. Just your skis.

Keep them sharp if you try this.

For those who practice the unusual, but growing, pastime, it's about the speed, being alone in nature and experiencing the lift.

"It's almost like being tethered to a crane where the crane lets you down gently," he explained. "All you do is jump into the air. But the learning curve can be painful."

On this gusty early February morning, the wind was a bit too unpredictable. Bob, a fit 225-pounder who stands 6-foot-2, soared about six feet into the air while his kite pulled him 15 or 20 feet.

He got off balance and crunched to the ice, glancing off his helmeted head and losing one of his 193cm Head Monster skis in the process.

Ouch. That's why he always wears his "brain bucket" and knee and elbow pads.

Kite sailing on water, the winter sport's warm-weather cousin, offers softer landings.

This is Bob's fifth season on the ice. He's now got about seven kites, including the 10-meter wind foil he was using at Indian Lake.

Bob dusted himself off and resumed his elegant figure-eights on the frozen snow-swept lake, which sported random splotches of smooth ice and crusty snow.

It takes a strong pair of legs and magnificent carving ability to stay on your edges, as Bob did while tethered to a kite, while going as fast as a truck on the nearby Interstate-190 overpass.

In fact, the prospect of getting his cord entangled in traffic, ended this session when Bob decided he was too close to the overpass for comfort.

"Game over," he said, grinning ear to ear after staking his cord to the ice and stuffing the kite into a backpack. "I wouldn't want the line caught up in the window of an 18-wheeler."

He and his friend, Pete Dugovic, 41, a kite snowboarder from Wells, Maine, who ran a kiting store for a while, packed up and headed to a secret and more wind-protected stretch of frozen water somewhere else in Central Massachusetts.

Back on track

Cross country is making a feeble comeback this winter.

Northern X-C centers are open, though most have had limited hard-pack. And backyard urban skiers can limp along barely covered golf courses and parks, and on the windswept sides of deeply frozen lakes and ponds.

The Weston Ski Track, however, with its snowmaking machinery, has been going strong since the cold spell started about a month ago.

Plenty of snow

Meanwhile, the upcoming weekend looks to be the best of the winter for New England snow sports, including, finally, snowmobiling.

Just take a look out the window. There's plenty of white stuff around after Tuesday and yesterday's storm - and even more on the slopes, which as far down as southern Vermont started getting dumped on early Tuesday.

Success in Vermont

Two 13-year-old alumni of Princeton's Wachusett Mountain Race Team are tearing it up on the race courses and freestyle runs of Vermont.

Nick Krause, an eighth-grader at Melican Middle School in Northboro, is spending the winter term at the Stratton Mountain School, a residential race training academy for elite competitors in Bondville, Vt.

Nick, who gets equipment support from Dynastar skis and Carrera helmets and goggles, has qualified for the "Rumble," the championship for the top 76 13- and 14-year-old "J3" ski racers in Vermont. His best result this year was a third place at a slalom in Bromley earlier this month, but he has consistently finished in the top six.

The 54 best boys and girls at the Feb. 26-27 Rumble at Sugarbush go to the Northeast Junior Olympics championship at Stratton March 10-13, and the remaining 22 racers head to the Eastern J3 Finals March 3-6 in Gore, N.Y. At the Eastern J3 Finals (with participants from Maine to Virginia), the top five boys and girls move on to the Junior Olympics at Stratton. The Stratton Mountain School, and its top J3 coach, David Edry, the highly regarded former head coach of the Wachusett Mountain team, will host the JOs. From there, the winners either go to Mount Tremblant in Quebec for the Canadian J3 nationals or to Whistler, British Columbia, in April for the North American championship.

Nick's friend, Sammy Bateman, who attends Samoset Middle School in Leominster, races and trains at Killington. He does race gates in the morning and bumps and jumps in the afternoon.

Sammy is also on track to make the Rumble. He won a slalom at the Ascutney ski area earlier in the winter.

The Leominster eighth-grader is also a talented freestyler, who represents Wachusett at freestyle meets. In addition to a third place at Sugarbush and fourth place at Mount Sunapee, he won the Next Snow Search competition at Wachusett in early January and will compete in the Next finals at Killington March 2-4.

On board at Ward

Ski Ward in Shrewsbury is hosting USASA-sanctioned Boarder/Skier Cross races this Sunday.

These sports are hot. Boardercross is already an Olympic sport, and Skiercross - sort of a mixture of ski racing and half-court basketball - has been approved for the 2010 Winter Games.

In both events, riders race to the finish over a series of undulating humps and jumps and through tightly banked turns. The key is maintaining your line in tight traffic at high speed. It is not for the meek. Collisions occur frequently.

Registration for the Ward races is from 8-10 a.m. Competitors can practice, inspect the course and train in a free clinic from 9-11. Time trials start at 11. Event fee is $20 for one race, $35 for two, plus a $20 lift ticket.

Open for food and drink

By the way, in last week's column I didn't mention that while Jim and Dale Caruso's Pine Ridge Snow Park is closed indefinitely, the couple's restaurant and bar, the Upper Deck Sports Bar & Grille, is still open.

The bustling night spot is at 377 Stetson Rd. in Barre in the ski area base lodge. Hours are Thursday-Sunday, 4 p.m.-closing; dining from 5-10 p.m.

The snow park is also still on track to host a snowmobile hill climb sponsored by Higgins Power Sports of Barre on Sunday, Feb. 25.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Bob Christian of Hubbardston kite skis across Worcester's Indian Lake. (2, 3, 4) Bob Christian, 43, of Hubbardston kite skis on Worcester's Indian Lake. "A lot of people say I am (insane)," he said. "I love this. It's a riot."

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/BETTY JENEWIN
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 15, 2007
Words:1294
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