Saturday, July 22, 2006

Golden July 21

Kim and I have been flying in Golden the last two days, it's been good value. Kim has about doubled her cumulative thermal time from the last three years over the last two days, and managed to get up above Mt. 7 last night, which fired her up. It was one of those perfect Mt. 7 evenings--abundant lift until around 9:00 p.m., nice light on the range, just a great evening, and the morning was good for thermal aspirants also.

I'm still feeling congested and was pondering not flying yesterday as the air looked a bit stable, but I'm a sucker for thermals, and the cycles on launch looked good enough. Amazingly, there was almost no wind yesterday, it was like flying in France or something. The early afternoon thermals were a bit small, but going up well if you could lock into them. The lack of wind meant there were only localized winds, it really felt like France where you can stuff it into the "lee," play close to the rocks and just enjoy the range. Base was even lower than yesterday, and there wasn't a cloud to be seen anyhow, so once again the wilderness flying ideas didn't happen. But after about 20K, just above Castle Peak, I spied this perfect alpine ridge with a little meadow. I've always wanted to land up high in the Candian Rockies, but mid-day conditions normally preclude this idea... Today things were perfect, so I did a few fly-bys just to make sure the wind wasn't stronger than I thought it was, then tried to top land a few times. The ridge was above treeline and directly south-facing, so the thermic breeze would just lift me up the side of it too fast to land each time I came in. Finally I gave up with the standand top-landing techniques and went for the "surge and swoop" trick, which I've really been getting into lately. Hang gliders have been downing "fly on the wall" landings for years, but only recently have paraglider pilots been trying the trick. Basically you just point the glider at the hill from well below the top, slow it down with brake, then release and let the glider surge up the hillside. With the lift on the hillside you end getting a surprisingly long flare window, and for extra points you can hammer one brake and neatly spin the glider just as you touch down. I didn't get an extra points due to coming in through a bit of a sink cycle and thinking I was going to pound in a bit hot, but it ended up working perfectly, I was just so surprised that it worked well that I forgot to spin the wing and managed to fill the leading edge up with quarter-sized rocks when I "whacked" it. I balled the wing up on top of the alpine ridge, took off my shirt, ate lunch, and marvelled at being in such a cool place. Paragliding is so good sometimes!

I kept careful watch on the winds; there have been at least two people who have top-landed along the range and then had to walk down when conditions got too strong to relaunch. My day was perfect, so after a while I got back into the air and flew down the range a bit more with a Swede before turning around and going hard back to Mt. 7, maybe 60K out and back with a lunch stop. I've been flying the Boomerang Sport a lot lately, it just gives an extra margin of confidence and relaxation to flying; I don't think I would have top-landed on my Boom IV, but I have a lot of faith in the Sport, it's definitely more forgiving. I was able to keep half bar on while flying through some pretty turbulent air, something I'm normally not up for.

After another downwind uphill landing on 7 I realized conditions were still good and Kim wasn't yet ready to fly, so I set myself a mini-task to fly onto the range north of launch across the Kicking Horse Canyon (the rocks behind the photo of Keith on his Boom IV) and back; with the top of the lift at 8500 feet that wouldn't leave a lot of room for the long transition, but it just looked like fun to fly over the canyon and explore the rocky cliffs and then try to make it back to launch to drive the truck down while Kim flew. The 5K glide over was pretty sinky and a bit upwind (a light north set up later in the day), so it was near full-bar all the way there. I came into the west-facing hillside low but immediately climbed back out to 8300 feet, sweet! Unfortunately I sunk like a rock as I flew a bit more north and ended up down to below 6000 feet. From that altitude it wasn't clear if I had the glide over the bump between me and Golden, and certainly not enough altitude to make it back to launch. I started thinking I had pushed the day too long, but finally got back out to 8,200 and went for the glide back "home." Somehow the whole canyon was lifting off this time and with the tailwind I got back to launch plenty high to land again, and to drive the truck down for Kim, who was already thermalling out. Keith was in the air over launch as well, we did some long glide tests between the Boom IV and the Sport I was flying. The Boom IV had a slight speed edge at 1/2 bar, but the Sport was gliding very, very close at 1/2 bar. The air was calm, which favours the Sport a bit, but I was very surprised at how well the Sport glides. It's becoming my favorite glider for its handling, nice to get a confirmation that it also glides very well. In an upwind glide in more turbulent air the IV would likely have a bigger performance edge, but still...

So this is a long story about doing nothing but having a really good time flying in Golden. Nothing beats just messing about in the air for hours.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Canmore Paragliding Page, Golden

The paragliding scene is growing quickly in Canmore--when I first moved to Canmore there were only two or three active pilots, now there's around 20 of us at various skill levels. It's gotten to the point where I'll see gliders in the sky and not know who it is, almost strange, grin.

To help both the newer pilots and visiting pilots I wrote a short Canmore Paragliding Guide. It has useful weather links, hike descriptions, etc.

Kim and I are over in Golden getting an air fix. Kim had her longest thermal flight yesterday morning, and another good one in the evening. One of the great things about Golden is the morning and evening thermal action, nice and relaxed but still above big terrain. I had big plans to fly off into the wilderness after flying about 60K down to Parson, but it was a bit high pressure, the thermal were topping out at about 10,000 feet which is low for Golden (but still 7K over the valley). I ended up cruising down to Radium, 90K, in around three hours, then spent a half hour soaring a small road cut in town just above my chosen landing field. The hawks and ravens were also playing there, I really enjoyed messing about low with the birds. I'm often pretty goal-driven when flying, yesterday the goal wasn't smart to chase but the flying sure was fun--saw some goats on an alpine ridge, got a good view of the Bugaboos and Assinaboine, nice to just turn some circles and groove on the mountains.

Today also looks good, so Kim and I have stayed in Golden. Maybe today will be good for back country flying. I've got a strong desire to try a new back country flight, we'll see.


I managed to stay reasonably fit during the Paragliding Nationals in Quebec through going to the Allez-up gym in Montreal, but came down with yet another case of Crud on the way home. This is the third time in six months I've been sick, it's getting old. Anyhow, didn't train for a week but then got after it with Kevin at Grassi, a couple of good but short gym sessions and then a trip up to Planet X in Cougar Creek with Scott. I think Planet X is the best crag I've climbed at in the Rockies, it's a lot like Rifle. Not very many routes yet, but the potential is amazing. Scott redpointed Sticky Buns, a super-classic, congrats to him. I had a go at on-sighting it but pitched off, I'm not at that level yet. I managed to redpoint second go with Scott's helpful beta, then decided to get on Fudge Packer, which is named after Derek, a super-talented local who actually makes fudge as his primary job. Anyhow, it destroyed me, feels very hard. I've only ever climbed one other route of that grade, Fudge Packer is savage. I'm going to try that again. Managed to do a victory lap on Sticky Buns, I'm looking forward to going back up there with Scott, who plans to bump it up a letter grade and do Shooting Star, one of the best 13a routes anywhere.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gin Glider Comments

Gin "Glider Family" Notes

I’ve flown Gin gliders exclusively for the last four years. The following are some comments on my experiences with the current Gin "family" of gliders; other pilots may have different impressions, glider preferences and even results seem very pilot-related. I am a Gin Team pilot.

I have 100+ hours on the SM Boom III and a similar amount on the IV, and around 40 on the new M Boomerang Sport. I've flown both in all sorts of conditions ranging from light to very strong, mountains and flats. I also have a fair number of hours on the Zoom Race (50+) and Gangster. I’ve also been flying the Beetle tandem some this spring. The gliders are all related, so these notes are written that way.

The Boom IV is the obvious performance benchmark for the family. The IV excels at gliding well at speed--it's a competition-focused tool. It also climbs well--I can normally get to the top or near the top of the stack on the IV. Brake pressure is stiff and precise, and the whole glider feels very hard in the air. Every single air movement is translated to the pilot, which is great for locating thermals and really feeling the air. This “air feel” is primarily why I prefer to fly comp gliders most of the time. The IV out-glides the old Boom III, especially at higher speeds. The IV prefers to be flown relatively fast in thermals, and is always "in front" of the pilot. It almost never pitches back behind the pilot when encountering thermals or headwind gusts, which makes it go into the wind very well. It requires regular strong input to keep the glider from pitching forward aggressively in strong air, but this is also why it tends to go upwind so well. The IV tends to frontal when it collapses on bar, which is generally a faster recovery than an asym deflation. It also tends to frontal in big collapses in extreme turbulence, again preferable to a big asym. Most frontals are relatively casual even with some bar on, but big asymetrics at speed generally result in excitement and some loss of altitude. At comparable speeds the IV is about as stable as the III, but because it's faster at 1/2 bar collapses can be more dynamic at similar bar settings—for the first year of flying the IV I’d often look down at my GPS and think, “Am I really going that fast?” The only issue I have with the IV is that the tips get stuck in the lines somewhat easily compared to the II and III. The IV is an "orbit" glider, meaning that it's best to just set the bank angle and then ride it around instead of constantly adjusting it. A friend called the IV a “sail plane,” that’s a good metaphor.

I had given up flying 2/3 gliders a few years back as all of this class of glider that I'd flown seemed to only offer the performance of a 2 with all the instability of a 3. The 2/3 gliders also didn't offer very good "feel" for the air, and without the air "feel" I would think the glider was fine and then it would all go to hell, especially on bar. Recovering 2/3s was every bit as entertaining as a 3. For this reason I started flying DHV 2 gliders like the Gangster and the Zoom when I needed something solid for deep wilderness flights (Andes, over the Grand Canyon) or to film and take pictures in the air, and various Boomerangs when I was free flying or competing. I take more collapses flying the 2s because I pay less attention to the air and the wing, but the collapses are benign--on both the Zoom and Gangster I felt confident flying in even very strong conditions with the brakes in one hand and a camera in the other, or both hands off the brakes. I've folded the Zoom Race up a few times without the brakes in my hands, no big deal. The Zoom Race offers very respectable performance with a large margin of inherent stability, plus it’s more fun to mess with (wing-overs, acro) than a comp glider, at least for me. The Zoom Race does take proper weight shift control and input to stay open in rough air.

I first flew the new Boomerang Sport while shooting photos with a French friend. I was honestly prepared for another DHV 2/3 that didn't go all that well compared to a proper comp glider, and yet blew up a lot. My first few flights were into windy strong spring conditions here in the Canadian Rockies--the valleys are already hot, yet the temps aloft are usually below freezing, meaning the lapse rate and thermal strength tend to be high. Right off launch it was clear that the Sport is a new glider--I could feel the air very well despite the "buttery" smooth feeling of the wing. As I thermalled out in rowdy air I thought, “Hey, this feels nice!” On the first glide I pushed half bar and the glide was good; I kept the bar on as I flew into a mild lee, surprisingly the glider stayed open and cut through the chop smoothly. I actually forgot to completely release the speed bar when I connected with the first lee thermal, the glider just felt good on bar and the step-down speed system means the bar pressure is quite low. My 5020 confirms that glide and speed are both better than the Zoom Race and very close to the Boomerang III on most glides.

After many more flights I’ve decided the Sport does three things very well. First, It's incredibly pitch stable, meaning that it seldom gets "out front" of the pilot, yet it doesn't lag behind the pilot in thermals or when hitting headwind gusts. I don't know how Gin and the other designers made these two contradictory factors work, but they did, a first for DHV 2 or 2/3 glider for me. Second, the Sport is also the best coordinated glider I've ever flown--set the angle, relax, go up. It's almost like cheating. Finally, it glides on bar very well--it feels very close to the III in glide up to about half bar, and it's stable even with a lot of bar on. I can keep the bar at half or more in air that I would have to reduce the bar on the IV in. I’ve done some filming and photography while flying the Sport; at first I was concerned that it would be too hectic to fly one-handed, but it’s solid enough that I’ve sold my Zoom Race, my old “one handed” glider. My French friend, a professional photographer, also uses the Sport as his photo platform while flying one-handed even in strong conditions. That says a lot about both the glider and my friend's skill flying one-handed...

In short, the Sport has changed my basic opinion of DHV 2/3 gliders from “No” (all the instability of a 3 with the performance of a 2) to a “Yes!” It seems like the first 2/3 with very close to “3” performance and “2” recovery characteristics. I’m considering flying my Sport in my next two competitions—both are at big mountain sites with strong conditions where the glides between thermals can be very turbulent; if I can keep a decent glide with more bar on then I can with my IV then perhaps I can actually fly faster overall? The climb rate seems as good as the IV, so if I can fly faster between thermals then it could be a good solution. I’ve done enough competitions with people on Boom Sports to see that the Sport glides well compared to anything in the sky; it’s annoying to be on a Boom IV and have a Boom Sport keeping pace. I can drop the Sports with more bar, but sometimes I have to get off the bar in choppy air that the Sports can glide through on bar. Maybe this is lack of skill or faith on my part, but either way it makes me wonder if a Boom IV is the best tool for me to go fast at rough sites.

For competitions in relatively humid air (Eastern North America, Europe in general) I’ll continue to fly the IV, same for flatland comps where the climbs are strong but the inter-thermal glides generally OK (Chelan, Texas). Nothing goes like a Boom IV on 3/4 bar!

My only complaint with the Sport is relatively minor; the brakes attach to the riser with magnets, which seemed like a great idea at first. However, the bakes tend to detach from the risers when laying out the glider, and then also re-attach when launching, which is annoying. I like to feel my glider as it comes up, the feeling of the brakes being locked to the risers as I lift the glider feels like a possible brake line knot until the magnets release. I prefer snaps.

The final glider I’ve been flying some is the Gin tandem, the Beetle. I’ve flown a lot of tandems over the years, but my favorite was always the old Merak from about 1997. I’ve wanted a glider that flew like that tandem ever since. The closest tandem I’ve flown to the Merak was the Advance tandem, but the Beetle now takes the place of the Merak in my “best tandem” category. It launches easily (always the first consideration when flying passengers with very inconsistent responses to the command, “RUN!”), has good brake pressure and just flies well. I set my first tandem landing on the Beetle up like I did for my old tandem and found myself much too high; it’s more like a Zoom in terms of glide.

I wrote all this down to help me think about the differences between gliders, if you’ve read all of it you’re persistent, good luck with whatever you fly!