GARRISON — Top snowkiters from the United States and Canada are expected to flock to Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison for the 16th annual Mille Lacs Kite Crossing race.

The three-day snowkite competition starting Friday, Feb. 28, will feature two new competitions: the freestyle “big air competition” and buoy-rounding speed racing.

The racing and freestyle events take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Kiters are on a snowboard or regular alpine skis, with a large kite (as a sail) harnessed to riders for wind power.

The two new mini-competitive events were added to the main 28-mile crossing race out and back across Mille Lacs Lake on Saturday.

The Switchblade Snowzone’s Big Air Competition after the big race will consist of three snow kickers and five terrain park features for competitive tricks.

The top three men, top three women 18 and over, and top three juniors 17 years and under will receive an award. There will also be special awards for the biggest air boost.

The new Lakawa Snowkite Racing event will challenge kiters’ skills with a windward (into the wind), reaching (perpendicular to the wind) and leeward (downwind) course around buoys, or markers. The kiter with the best navigational and kite-management skills will be the first around the course to the finish line. First-, second- and third-place awards will be given in two categories: ski and snowboard.

The Olympic committee accepted kiteboarding for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The format features speed and traditional sailing disciplines of buoy or regatta-style course racing. Submitted photo / Tim Browne
The Olympic committee accepted kiteboarding for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The format features speed and traditional sailing disciplines of buoy or regatta-style course racing. Submitted photo / Tim Browne

Minnesota has the largest and most active snowkite community in the nation with more than 600 riders, according to event organizers. The sport started in the state in the late 1990s.

The kite crossing on Mille Lacs Lake is the longest-running snow kite event in the country, and the longest-distance snow kite endurance race in the U.S. Considered the "Super Bowl of snowkiting competition,” the first Mille Lacs kite crossing was in 2004.

"We have phenomenally skilled and talented kiters in Minnesota who do this simply for the joy of it,” stated Mike Kratochwill of Lakawa School of Kiteboarding in a news release.

Spectators can enjoy one of the most visually exciting sports in existence with 100 large multi-colored kite sails racing across the lake, organizers stated. There is no charge for spectators and there is access to drive onto the lake’s ice off downtown Garrison.

The Olympic committee accepted kiteboarding for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The format features speed and traditional sailing disciplines of buoy or regatta-style course racing. The Mille Lacs Crossing's Lakawa Snowkite Racing mirrors sailboat buoy or regatta-style racing.