Sunday, May 3, 2009

Training Sites

There is nothing more critical to this sport than training sites. If you learned to fly a long time ago you might think that there are other factors than are more important. But think of this, if no one learns to fly then, there are no pilots. This will be a fact if there is no where to train.

I hopped into Mark W’s truck this morning to head out to the western slope of Colorado. We are on a mission to find more places to train.

The front range of Colorado lost a half a dozen flying sites one day. One misguided person cut down some trees on Boulder Open space. As a community it was decided that it was better to tell the powers to be than to try to hide the fact. This was a huge mistake as the entire flying community was punished for the actions of one individual. To this day we have only be able to reopen one of the sites.

Over the years the weather has also become a lot less accommodating. I’ve seen the flying season go from close to nine months to as little as six months. I now question how viable a paragliding business really is here in Colorado. I love teaching flying too much, and the life style it affords me, to just walk away without trying everything I can to keep it. If I could find another reliable training site, I could teach more days and make up, at least somewhat, for the shorter season.

So this trip is about exploring for new sites, not for soaring or cross country, but for those small smooth hills where one can take the average person and reveal to them what it is like to leave the ground behind.

Good flying sites are not a fluke. There are very solid reasons why the best sites are so good. It starts with weather. The all essential factor is the wind must blow up the hill. The wind has to really want to blow up the hill, it has to be the easiest thing for the wind to do.

We’ve gone to the western slope because every night the air cools and gets heavy way up in the mountains. That heavy air makes it’s way down Vale pass along the Eagle river valley, passed Avon till Near Dotsero it joins up with the Colorado river. This mass of cold air drains through Glenwood canyon, then past Rifle and, at last, floods across the plains west of Grand Junction. I meet this air one morning flowing over a ridge in the desert and flew for hours. Now if there was a training site some where with that same smooth morning air flowing up it. That could be a perfect training site.


There is a mind numbing aspect to spending a day doing something which yields no results. And yet... Seven hours of exploring dirt roads in the desert plains, in and out of canyons, up cliff lines over looking the Colorado river, bumping along jarring roads, wild flowers blushing color into a landscape of rock, wind twisted junipers paused in a dance that takes years to perform... This is not hardship... and yet I would love to report that I found that perfect hill. I didn’t.

“Where’s that one go? I don’t know. Might as well try it as long as we’re here. Where the hell are we going to turn around. You know if there’s a place to land under that, that would be great, I can see a road over there, but I’ve no idea of how to get to it. Well that’s what the map said... ” That how the conversation went.

The wind roared all day long. I returned to find my tent, pulled free of it’s stakes, at the bottom of a three hundred foot cliff, ripped and torn after taking the only flight of the trip so far. I am a wind blown, sun dried, tired. My body stretched by the chips and chocolates that were too close at hand in the car. I saw so many things but not “The Hill”

I think we found the best place yesterday. This is an area I had check out before. But it took going soaring on another ridge, to understand that the wind could well blow up it, in a predictable matter day after day, to look again at it. First off there is a wide open landing zone. Next, a few launches of various heights. I would like there to be less rocks but it’s OK. If that perfect breeze blows up them, then great. I would like to have road up then but we have to hike everything else, so what the hell.

I have spent so many days looking for the perfect site. Rounding every bend hoping that I will find what I’m looking for. For all that effort I have found only a few sites and only one truly great training hill. There are few more roads to try tomorrow. Fingers and toes are crossed.

In the end, the place we went the first day was the best. A good training hill has to have all these factors, A nicely sloped, grassy launch, a landing zone that is an easy glide away and is open without obstacles. And most of all a consistent breeze most blowing up it. We found all of these factors but none all in one spot. None the less, though a a little rocky, there is a spot worth a trip and a try. And if the weather here stays SOOOOOO fickle we’ll have the opportunity.