When I was in China, I was determined to get to Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival. Not only does the festival have life-size castles made of ice, but the whole city gets involved to make it a winter extravaganza. There are tasty treats (the Russian sausages are to die for), interactive ice sculptures, ice slides and lots of ice related activities. I had heard that a lot of activities would be found on the Songhua River.
I knew the ice festival would be lit up at night so I headed towards the river during the day to see what kinds of activities people were doing. Despite a huge ice slide that took you all the way down to the river (which was closed at the time), I found that most activities were more suitable for kids.
The Songhua River
I really didn’t know what to expect but there was not that much going on here. I was about to leave when I saw these huge kites from a distance and decided to go check it out. There were several people with kites and a small group of people who could see me coming from a mile away. They were all kind of looking my way and it was too late to turn back, so I boldly went by myself.
When I got closer, I realized they were on boards. Snowboards being pulled by kites across a frozen river. I was so intrigued, that when a Chinese boarder steered his kite over to me and spoke in Chinese (I believe telling me to follow him), I quickly obliged. (He actually could have been saying anything and maybe I just awkwardly followed him.)
When I arrived at the group of people, they directed me towards one guy in particular who happened to be German and spoke English! (a rare find in my Chinese travels). He happened to be a snowkiting instructor. I didn’t even know this existed but signed up for lessons the next day.
As it happened to be Chinese New Year (on the actual eve), the river was empty. I had a 3-hour lesson that began with getting familiar with my kite without a board. If you haven’t tried any sport with a kite, it can be a little hard! I steered my kite into the ground numerous times and when I did get it up into the air, it also took my body with it, causing my instructor to chase after me and pull me back to the ground.
When I got the hang of it, we added the board. The hardest part for me was getting the kite into the air. It can go crashing down, sideways, upside down-tangling your ropes and so on. But once that kite is in the air, your board follows and easily gets pulled. And maybe you should take the word ‘easily’ lightly. I’ve been snowboarding since I was 13 and very familiar with a board, so once I learned the kite, the rest came pretty naturally for me.
My take on snowkiting? I. LOVED. IT. I absolutely loved it. I really only went to Harbin for the ice festival and this was one of those things that was a complete surprise. The afternoon was spent falling, crashing my kite and finally gliding across the snow and it was so much fun.
Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to walk up to a group of strangers that you know don’t speak English because it might just turn into a really cool opportunity to try something new!
Check out some highlights below!
Have you heard of snowkiting before?