The northeasternmost tip of Norway has vast white plains, wind aplenty and mountain snow into late summer. Every year, Varanger – known as "the Hawaii of snow kiting" – invites athletes from across the globe to compete in the world’s toughest snow kiting competition – the Varanger Arctic Kite Enduro (VAKE).
The news has spread worldwide since 2008, and a record number of 88 kiters took part in 2015, coming from Europe, the US and Russia.
“VAKE is just the thing to do if you’re a snow kiter,” says Jamie Anderson from England.
The World Championships take place this year.
The start of VAKE is a joy to behold, with more than 70 colourful kites in the air at once in anything from light wind and sun to near blizzard. VAKE is organised as a team competition, as it’s simply too dangerous to kite across the Varanger Peninsula alone. Anyone wishing to take part must find a teammate. Over the years, many have discovered there’s strength in numbers. Injury, broken gear and blunders can all put a stop to the journey, and then it’s good to be a pair.
Each team has a strict packing list. It must have overnight camping gear, enough food, a stove and other potentially life-saving items. Even in April, the temperature can plummet to -20º C overnight. Last year’s teams enjoyed a magical show of Northern Lights over the camp.
However, the most important qualifications for taking part are experience as a kiter and an ability to cope in the wilds. Several applications have been rejected due to teams being insufficiently prepared in this way. As VAKE asks on their website: “Are you prepared? Really prepared?”
VAKE stirs the emotions. Kiting at Varanger has given rise to both friendship and love – and a few quarrels, for sure. It’s no small thing, after all. VAKE is special in that participants return year on year. Maybe not to win, but to take part, test yourself and see how far and how fast you can sail.
Englishman Jamie is resolute: “If I qualify, you can bet that you’ll find me in the VAKE line-up at the World Championships in April 2019!”