Here in Northern New England we have gusty winds. The average gust factor on any given day is usually double the baseline wind speed so if it's blowing 15kts we get gusts in the 30kt range. These are standard wind conditions and they really force you to choose kites that have great gust handling and depower properties. As you can imagine this makes for a shallow pool of options if you want it to find kites that don't beat you up so low AR "touring" style kites are usually the "go to" option.
Hardwater Kiting (www.hardwaterkiter.com) picked up the 6 and 9m Peaks back in December as part of our demo kite inventory. Our initial impressions, based on photos of the kites, was that they would be a issue in the occasional conditions where bridles kites get snagged on rough frozen surfaces and the Lack of bottom skin and the long thin bridles just screamed "snag me!".
To be honest, they can become a mess if you make the mistake of landing the kite on some frozen slush snowmobile tracks. But after a season of multiple kiters flying the heck out of these kites we have found they aren't prone to snagging any more than any other bridled kite. This was a pleasant surprise and Peak has actually turned out to be one of our most popular offerings, especially to our customers looking for their first depower kite.
The Peak for novice/intermediate snowkiters.
First, why do we feel the Peak a great kite for this segment of snowkiters? To put it simply the Peak is really the best of many worlds. Think of what you would get if a Foil and SLE inflatable had a baby. From a depower point of view the only kites that depower as well and as quickly in our opinion are SLE inflatable kites. There are a lot of kites out there that have great depow range but the immediate depower available, the ability to dump all the power in an SLE is really amazing. The Peak depows the same way. Like many kites when things get nasty, let the bar out but unlike many kites, the Peak dumps nearly 100% of its power. We try to explain to our students and customers how the wing dumps so much power so fast but if you don't get to see or try it firsthand it's really a little hard to believe.
Nobody really understands it until they get to try it.
This ability to dump power so quickly has made the Peak an excellent tool for getting some of our more conservative students to the next level. Students and riders worried about being overpowered and constantly wanting to rig a kite too small. The Peak's depow range allows them to really explore and test the waters of being fully powered. It gives them the confidence to try a kite in the appropriate power range even if they go back to a more traditional foil. This season we saw the Peak move a lot of "perpetual intermediate" kiters into more of an advanced level of riding. The Peak is a huge confidence builder for intermediates and beginners.
From a novice/intermediated riders "ease of use" point of view the Peak really shines. Simple to fly, simple to depow, simple to pack up and unpack. No cells to over pressure and blow out. Of course no pumps or bladders. Lays on the ice much like a Paraski Flex. Reverse launches better than any other kites we had in our school or demo inventory this season. In my opinion it reverse launches better than any kite we've ever flown. Flags out beautifully when the safety is released, reloads and relaunches with ease. No "mechanical" trim system beyond shortening or lengthening the center leader from "Freeride" (which we found not much fun most of the time) and "Tour" (Which we pretty much have the kites set at 99.9% of the time). All the kiter has to do is fly and sheet in or out as need be. Only occasionally did anyone ever have an issue and it was usually due to the kite rolling on the surface while not being flown and a bridle would fall behind the kite and cause a bowtie on launch. In reality this is easy to avoid by simply paying attention while the kite is on the ground.
Also if you ride in an environment like ours where "Hot" launch is actually the safest way to get up and out into smoother winds away from shoreline turbulence. In hot launches the Peak is unmatched.
The Peak for advanced/expert snowkiters.
If you know anything about backcountry or Alpine Tour skiing, Flysurfer designed the Peak in much of the same design philosophy as a Dynafit designed their alpine touring system. Bare bones, uber light weight, super simple. The wind ranges listed on the Flysurfer site are in our opinion a bit conservative as we have found that the Peaks have a much higher top end than Flysurfer states but the ranges are kind of a "moving target".
Comparisons like "the 6m pulls like a 9m" can be either be considered understated or overstated depending on the surface conditions and the rider's weight and pilot skill. And though it's true the Peak will fly in 4kts it's not likely to pull you in that wind if you have anything but clean ice underfoot and even then you will have to work it to get it going and build some apparent wind. That said we have come up with some simple mods that really broaden the wind range of both sizes but that's for another write up.
How they tour and transport.
From a snowkiting set up and pack down perspective the Peak single skins are to traditional open cell foils what open cells are to LEIs. Easier to use and transport-the 6m and 9m complete, 2 kites, bars and lines will fit in an 8m open cell foil kite pack with room for extra clothing, climbing skins and food but as you usually have one wing in the air and one on your back there's even more room. The 6m will fit in a medium size hydration pack with the bar and lines. The 9m RTF with the bag and repair kite/owner's manual, weighs the same as an 8.5m HQ Apex 4 KO. If you are an occasional snowkiter that likes to get out once or twice a season and ride short distances near your launch area these aren't really great benefits. For those of us who like to fly long distance and do 70-100 mile day tours these details are pretty damn cool.
Steering and handling.
Both the 6m and 9m come with the same length bar. On the surface the bar seems short but in use it works fine for both sizes. Steering pressure is medium and the feel is nice and direct. There is a period of getting used to the flutter that the kite produces when depowered but in time you learn to ignore it and after a while you don't even notice it. Turn rate can be cheated by over the bar steering if need be and the kite can actually be reverse steered or spun by tail stalling one side. Some of our riders have experience with stunt kites and they say the Peak actually flies a lot like those kites. In the right hands it really does amazing things.
Power and Depower.
The instant and immediate power/depower range of these kites make them really shine on large lake and alpine environments. Obviously in an alpine environment where you are using a kite to climb, there is sometimes an issue with the broad wind range from the bottom of a climb up higher where you get into the compression gradient at the ridgeline. Sometimes you're underpowered at the bottom of the ridge, limping and looping your way up only to find yourself overpowered or borderline OP'd at the ridgeline in addition to the risk of getting lofted. The Peaks almost completely eliminate a much of this risk and really open up areas that for many years we felt were not worth the risk to fly in. The same goes for long excursions where the wind you find yourself in 20 miles from your launch is often not the same wind you started in. In both cases, change of wind due to locations or due to gradient, even if it gets to the point that you do have to swap wings, they are so small and light you don't really mind carrying the extra wing.
Advanced riders will find there is a lot of overlap between the 6 and 9m. The 6m has been by far the most popular kite we've sold to our students and customers as it really does pull much like an 8 or 9m open cell but it depows to about the same as an un-trimmed 3-4m open cell. The 9 pulls much like an 11-12m open cell and depows to about the same as a 5m un-trimmed open cell. This said, if you put a 5m line extension set on the 9m and have a low resistance surface the 9m can go head to head, can in some cases outperform it's Speed 3.5 15m brother in light winds. In low winds a 145lb kiter will have roughly the same power on the 9m Peak as a 200 lb kiter does on a 19m Psycho 4 SA DLX. And what it lacks in low end grunt it makes up with turn rate in comparison to the bigger kites.
We have found the Peak provides roughly the same wind range for advance riders as 2 traditional open cell depower able kites. And as most traditional depowers cover the wind ranges of 2 or 3 fixed bridle kites the economics of flying Peaks is really good.
As far as high winds go we have had the 6m in winds in excess of 40mph and found it surprisingly manageable for advance riders and we even saw some fairly new (2 yrs of snowkite experience) riders actually having fun on the 6m in 30mph+ winds. Winds that they would have struggle with on smaller depower kites. We've seen the 6m pulling riders at speeds beyond 60mph.
Mid-season last winter while doing a demo we had two expert riders doing a tour to the north end of one of the larger lakes we frequent. Round trip is about 25 miles with the most technical aspect of this trip being a 1/2 long narrow tree lined cut that in a West wind a dead zone apart from the occasional rotor/gust that you can hook into and limp through on. We had a straight West that day. The kiter on the 6m was 210lbs,was on the 6m Peak Demo the other, 165lbs on a 12m Speed 3.5 SA. The 6m rider found his way fairly easily as he was able to throw the 6m around to keep it powered in the dead spots and able to quickly reposition it where it needed to be for a given wind situation. The 12m, even though slightly more powerful and piloted by a lighter rider, lacked the ability to maneuver and take advantage of the limited opportunities to get good power and get through the dead spots. The kiter on the Peak made the 25 mile out and back trip. The 12m Speed rider turned back as the winds were getting lighter and he couldn't get through the cut.
We were really blown away by this and it really illustrated to us the potential of these kites.
Launching and landing.
In our local snowkite community we feel strongly that as snowkiters we have to be self sufficient and keep reliance on others to a minimum. Self launching and landing in these parts is the general rule and when touring it's a mandatory requirement. The Peak is super fast to set up and launch. Faster than any kite we've ever flown. There are ways to pack it that make it deploy even faster, basically the time it takes to unwrap your lines and hook in, but they rely on special packing procedure. From a packing/unpacking standpoint our only complaint is that unlike most kites the Peak lacks a strap to keep the wing secured when unwrapping lines during set up or pack down phases. It's not a requirement but we strongly recommend using a strap with these kites. It makes life a bit easier if the wind is nukin'.
The Peaks (to our surprise) can be "Ghost Launched" if need be. A prime situation would be where you are on glass ice with no way to secure the wing to the surface or if you have to land in an emergency and have no way to secure the wing. We're sure Flysurfer would probably frown on it but you can secure the chicken loop to your ice screw and either hot launch or edge of window launch completely unassisted. If "Ghost Launching" we recommend edge window launch.
You can also "Ghost Land" (see pic at bottom). If you want to ghost land it you fly to the edge of the window, secure the chicken loop to your anchor, disconnect yourself from the kite, approach the kite from the up wind side, grab the ground/ice level wingtip and simply walk it toward the anchor. The kite flags, pack the wing and wrap your lines. It's very easy as the Peaks are very good and just bouncing at the edge of the window when you want to stop and land or take a break.
The Peak can also be landed in traditional ways such as grabbing the back lines and tail stalling or flagging the kite out either manually or via the safety system. It does not have a rear cross over brake line.
Jumping and Freestyle.
Although the Peak is a lower AR touring kite designed to offer minimal lift and is not designed for freestyle type riding many have found that the Peak not only jumps but it actually has a very "Flysurfer" floaty feel in jumps. The timing is a little different than you would find in a freestyle based kite but it's manageable and actually really nice. The direct feel in the steering is also there when sheeting in or out while jumping. In the event that a jump is going badly it is very easy to reduce lift fairly precisely if needed. The turn rate, even with the bars as short as they are, is fast enough to allow kite loops in higher winds.
Build Quality and Durability.
Build quality is much like what you expect from Flysurfer, obviously at a lower dollar amount than the brand's pricier offerings. Compared to other offerings in the Flysurfer line the Peak is dirt cheap. Don't let the price tag fool you, when you open the kite up for the first time nothing about it screams "budget" kite.
From a durability standpoint we've found the kite by and large is tough as nails. On the surface it seems like it would be prone to damage but in practice it has proven to be able to handle everything we see here in New England. The only issues we've seen were due mostly to pilot error, mostly from dragging the kite leading edge down and wearing into the fabric on the leading edge stiffeners and one instance where one of the stiffeners came out due to a bad stitch which was a warranty issue and Flysurfer dealt with it quickly and satisfactorily.
Otherwise the build quality and durability is first rate.
As with most kites there is a ton more we could go into but it would equate to writing a small novel. Bottom line is this kite is unlike anything we've ever seen. The 6m has been the more popular seller for us and is easily the most versatile for most people's needs. No matter what size the Peak is a really a great kite.
For more information about the changes we made to our PEAK 1's please visit our PEAK Resource page.