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March 6, 2012


Where Have we Been Again 3: The Georgetown Lake Open (GTO)

by flykitesports

This weekend Frances and I traveled just 2 hours down Interstate 90 to the GTO.  Cole Russell put on a wonderful event with course racing, speed and distance trials and a freestyle competition.

There are experiences or events that I experience where the sum is truly greater than the parts and this weekend was one of those happy and great take aways.  On Saturday morning I got out of bed and started organizing for the weekend at 5:00 AM.  I was hoping that Frances and I could have a 6:30 departure for Georgetown Lake and the Georgetown Open, affectingly called the GTO.  This was the final snowkite event for this season, put together by Cole Russell.  Cole has worked hard to put this event on for the past six years as he has diligently built his snowkite business, Underground Kitesports, in Phillipsburg, Montana.

We did not quite make the 6:30 departure as Frances slept thru her morning wake up when I opened her shades to the early dawn.  7:00 isn’t so bad when traveling with a fourteen year old so I was still happy.  As we cruised down the interstate toward Butte we pulled into the Wheat Montana drive up window, in Three Forks, for caffeinated tea and turkey sandwiches, yum, yum.

I love the road signs on the way to Mount Haggin and Georgetown Lake; I exit at Opportunity and this time I passed by Wisdom and headed west thru Anaconda. We arrived at the lake just after 9 and were the first car in the parking lot besides a group of locals setting up to sell treats to raise money for the nearby animal shelter.

At 9:30 Cale Benson and his three kids pulled in with Dan from Great Falls.  After chatting a bit with Cale he opened the camper door to a jack-in-the-box experience, the door swung open and four-year old Kai stood in the opening completely dressed and ready to roll with his hands held high in a victory dance.  Cale had told the kids whoever was dressed first got to kite first and Kai was on top of things with the exception of his ski boots, which he need help getting on.

Cale broke his back six weeks ago and at this point is walking around a bit stiff and can’t kite.  Cale has been trailing his snowmobile every weekend and doing the kid kite expeditions with all three of his kid.  He uses the snowmobile to shuttle the kids up wind so they can do down winders.  So far his kids have been flying 2 to 4 meter trainer kites without hooking in.  Cale has decided that attaching a 40-pound dynamo to a power kite might not be a good idea.  Cale spent 3 hours, when the wind was light, being super kite dad.  Bob Randolf from Whitefish also brought his two daughter ages 8 and 10.  Bob spent several hours with his girls flying the trainer kites and joined Cale for a few “herd” down-winders; it was the cutest thing I have ever seen.  The whole industry owes dads like these for teaching and creating the shredders of the future assuring a kite market years down the road.

At 2 Cole ran the course race.  The wind had started picking up considerably and Frances and I shifted down kite sizes.  I was worried about being able to stay up wind on the 10-meter Evo, as the gust were getting crazy.  The format was super fun with two laps and a mandatory jumps.  Frances and I kited together for most of the first lap.  Cole latter mentioned that he had not realized that Frances and I did a lot of talking during the races.  He thought it was pretty cool to hear me give her advise like:  “Really pull hard up wind right now, there is a big gust coming down the lake that will blow you down wind, and you really want to make the buoy on the first tack.”

Brynn with Troy in her lenses.

Troy on the beach in Montana.

After the race Frances landed her kite and I was still messing around when I had a bit of a “kitemare”. The wind was picking up fast and I could no longer hold myself and the 10-meter kite to the earth.  I had to pull my safety and flag the kite.  Brynn Achenson (from Montana and the Cook Islands and co owner of kiteSUP in the Cook Islands with Troy Nooroa) helped me get my poop in a group. Brian Literski showed up and went out on his 8 meter Air Rush.  While Brian was setting the speed record of the day (58 MPH) I was chasing a kite bag that was blowing down the lake and trying to put away our 12 and 10 meter kites.



What sastrugi looks like.

After a bit of a break Justi Vonada gave me her GPS to see how fast I could go on my 7-meter North Evo.  I was able to get up to 49.5 MPH but could not break 50 MPH as the snow was getting bumpy and slow from the warm wind.  Brian and I kept making laps to try to get my speed up; we would ghost each other on our downwind reaches.  At one point both Brian and I almost had heart attacks when I caught an inside edge on one of the snowdrift/sastrugi that were starting to form.  It took all of my strength to pull my skis back together, yikes that could have hurt.  With the deteriorating snow conditions Brian was unable to go nearly as fast as he did earlier in the session but it was fun having a speed mentor, thanks Brian.  In those short 40 minutes I logged 10 miles of distance, this included the tedious and tiring up wind tacks to get repositioned for the down-wind speed runs.

Justi trying her new kite from Epic Kites.

That evening Cale and I took the kids to the 7 Gables for dinner and then rushed to the awards ceremony in Phillipsburg, we were all anxious for the raffle.  Both Cale and I are big winners in raffles so we did not want to miss the opportunity to win some of the amazing gear Cole had arranged for the event.  I took home a Hyperflex wetsuit and hoodie just right for Packy and Cale took home t-shirts, a trainer kite, beer and some movies.  Justi won the new 9 meter Epic kite, it could not have happened to a better person.

Justi looking at her new Epic kite.

Brynn referred Frances and me to the bed and breakfast where she and Troy Nooroa were staying.  After the raffle Frances and I headed straight to bed at the Quigley Cottage in Phillipsburg.  The cottage is where all the pleasant Phillipsburg surprises really started to happen for Frances and me.  The Quigley Cottage is amazing, the rooms are comfortable, the price is right, the owner Dave is charming and interesting and the food is out of this world.  We spent Sunday morning eating homemade bread, pasties, muffins and cookie while drinking fine English tea.

Quigley Cottage in the summer.

One of many beautiful stained glass windows in Phillipsberg.

A Downtown P-berg building, check out the drinking man sculpture in the window.

After packing up we decided to take a look around Phillipsburg.  I had never been to Phillipsburg before and had no idea that it is one of the cutest towns in the West.  The residence clearly love this darling historic town and keep it darling and historic.  Besides oodles of incredible Victorian brick houses the main street is right out of a movie set.

The inner workings of the Sweet Palace.

One of the main attractions of Phillipsburg is a world-class candy shop.  People doing driving tours of Montana plan a stop in Phillipsburg and visiting the Sweet Palace as part of their to do list.  Frances and I spent a 1 ½ hours admiring this totally amazing shop and because of the sheer volume of candy didn’t buy that much because of overload.

Rhett Sanborn

When we arrived at the lake around noon Cole was ready for the freestyle event.  I decided to get my fun camera out and take some pictures and not compete.  I regretted not taking pictures the day before but there was a lot of surviving happening with the gusty winds.  As soon as the camera came out the wind died so I was able only to get a few kite shots.  I did get some great portraits of a few of our friends before heading home.

What a great weekend of wonderful people and experinces.

The Unhooked Threads Team.

Justi and Frances clowning around.

Part of the crew in the warming tent.

The results from the weekend are as follows:

Men’s Race Board:
1st – Troy Nooroa (KiteSUP Cook Islands)
2nd – Rhett Sanborn (Unhooked Threads, Underground Kite Sports )
3rd – Chris Miller

Men’s Race Ski:
1st – Bob Randolph
2nd – Peter Larkin
3rd – Julian Holland

Men’s Freestyle:
1st – Jace Prideaux
2nd – Rhett Sanborn (Unhooked Threads, Underground Kite Sports)
3rd – Troy Nooroa (KiteSUP Cook Islands)

Women’s Race Board:
1st – Justi Vonada (Unhooked Threads, Underground Kite Sports)
2nd – Lisa-kay Keen

Women’s Race Ski
1st – Melissa Cronin
2nd – Frances Cronin (Unhooked Threads, North Kiteboarding)
3rd – Brynn Acheson (KiteSUP Cook Islands)

Women’s Freestyle Board:
1st – Justi Vonada (Unhooked Threads, Underground Kite Sports)
2nd – Lisa-kay Keen

Women’s Freestyle Ski:
1st – Frances Cronin (Unhooked Threads, North Kiteboarding)

Freeride Speed:
1st – Brian Litirski
2nd – Melissa Cronin
3rd – Jeff Maynard

Freeride Distance:
1st – Chris Miller
2nd – Frances Cronin (Unhooked Threads, North Kiteboarding)
3rd – Melissa Ball Cronin

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cole Russell
    Mar 6 2012

    Great write-up Melissa. Thanks for coming out and playing in the snow with us.

  2. Packy
    Mar 6 2012

    Sounds like a super weekend, wish I had been there instead of getting soaked in Hawaii. Great post, too.

    • Mar 6 2012

      We missed you too! I do know Hawaii is not so bad, looking forward to seeing you soon.

  3. Mar 6 2012

    Epic Post Mel. You are getting really good at this.


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