As the windiest state in the U.S., North Dakota could very well become the country’s snow kiting capital one day. What’s more, according the American Wind Energy Association, the state has the potential to produce more than 25 percent of the country’s electricity needs. These two ideas came together last month in the To Cross the Moon expedition, the first successful traverse of North Dakota by kite.
Over 18 days, a trio of athletes covered 300 miles from Canada to the South Dakota border by kite. "North Dakota has more wind-power potential than any state, but people don’t seem to know it and there isn’t any leadership for its development, like there is for oil and coal," says team member Sam Salwei, 26, a North Dakota native who lives in Grand Forks. "We wanted to get the message out there in a cool way with this cool, unknown sport."
The crew, which included Paul Cassedy, 19, and Jason Magness, 32, first attempted this feat last year, but a lack of snow made it impossible. This time, however, with good snow cover and temperatures dropping to 54 below, it seemed frostbite would be their greatest worry.
"We were definitely not expecting the snow to melt mid-expedition," notes Salwei, "but temperatures got up to 54 degrees in the sun." To deal with the heat, the team completed the expedition by learning how to use two kite-powered, three-wheeled buggies (which, thanks to the state’s natural resources, hit speeds of 40 miles per hour) and a mountain board. Southern California native Paul Cassedy, 19, “surfed” the last 120 miles on mountain board tethered to a buggie.
Their field efforts were magnified by a four-person team who spoke in 30 communities along the way about wind energy, climate change, and snow kiting. “We put 70 percent of our resources toward the education portion of this expedition, using a Will Steger model to make sure the outreach was the priority,” recalls Salwei.
One thing remains certain: North Dakota is not as white as it used to be. "Growing up, winters began by Halloween and lasted all the way until we were getting out of school in May,” recalls Salwei. “Now we hardly get any snow, and what we get melts in February."
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Watch an audio slide show, buy a recycled kite windsock, or get involved at the To Cross The Moon website.