April in Review

As I sift through the memories, flights, photographs, and videos of the last month I have to just giggle a bit.  Spring appears to be falling upon us, but still the cold air of winter lingers.  The month has taken us across the state from beautiful flights above the cliffs of Randolph down to great thermal flights off the Provo Y… and everything in between.  It was nice to get in the air above my home at The B again, and to be honest, not so bad getting a good hike-n-fly off the North Side at Point of the Mountain.  I haven’t flown there in months, and you forget how smooth the air is there.  So much so, that you almost do not even need to think.  Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. It has been a fantastic month, and I look forward to another fabulous season in the sky.

Paragliding – April 2012 from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

As many of you know, I rarely fly at the Point of the Mountain as my sights are often set on the surrounding mountains, and beyond.  I am finding in my conversations with budding pilots, that everyone is just plain nervous about flying sites away from The Point of the Mountain, away from their instructors care, and therefore many are just falling away from the sport.  I feel there has got to be a way to help pilots develop, help the public understand what we do.  Perhaps through education and exposure we can overcome some of the challenges that face us here in Utah.  Issues like wilderness boundaries, insurance, and general understanding of what paragliding is…I will have to think on that.

Local Ramblings of the DEAF Crew

Winter continues to be kept at bay, which is bad for snow, water, and life in the valley, but it continues to be oh so good for flying.  As the weeks pass we continue to find ourselves rambling around our Wasatch Mountains, enjoying the calm winter skies, and believe it or not, cashing in a few light thermal and short cross country days as well.  We continue to frequent our local sites from Bountiful down to Lone Peak.  We hike, fly, and smile as we feel a hint of warm air returning.  However, with the returning of warmer air, I will miss the calm, cold air flights of winter.  Some of the most memorable, and inspiring flights of the year are found in the icy skies of winter.  Gliding off the upper plateaus of Lone Peak in knee deep snow and out into the orange sunset; or flying off The V, above the polluted inversion layer as the valley darkens below.  These are the memories that last, and ones that never seem to fade.

Local Ramblings of The Deaf Crew – March 2012 from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

The DEAF Crew continues to solidify as we add a new member to the group.  Clark, a new pilot who has been flying with us the last few months, and one whose enthusiasm earns him the right to be a part of this unique crew.  It is great to be a part of a group of highly dedicated pilots that do not fit the…well….typical paraglider pilot mold.  I am proud to be a member of such a group, and one who collectively, and individually emulates a pure passion for flying.

A Skywalk Adventure

I stare out into the blackness of night, unable to sleep, but knowing the day is passing by. Every few seconds a red light flashes illuminating the wing from darkness.  Today will be shorter by eight hours, which means if I don’t sleep now I am going to be worthless. I try to get in a few hours but, 2 or 3 restless hours is hardly enough. I stare out in the pre-dawn sky and see London passing by, glowing gold in the darkness of dawn.  I realize I am actually over Europe and will soon be landing. As I cruise through the air, my thoughts race forward to the events that may lie ahead. Right now they are still unknown, but I meet them mentally with some fear and trepidation. I have never been off this continent….Hawaii doesn’t count. Never been to a foreign culture….again, Canada doesn’t count. But if life is about living, gaining knowledge and having new experiences…then perhaps I am on the right track.

As I look back on my life… I think I am learning to live in the moment, learning to enjoy the journey a bit more than I have in the past. Since I have learned to paraglide, learned to fly, a skill and hobby that consumes much of my energy, I have opened myself up to a new world of experiences, friends, and now memories. It is this developing love of flying that is the reason for the trip. I am on my way to Grassau, Germany for a 5 day conference with Skywalk Paragliders. They have been kind enough to invite me out to their corporate headquarters for a week. I am traveling with my friend, mentor and original instructor Jonathan Jeffries as he is one of only two Skywalk representatives for the USA.

At this point I will spare you from my boring travelog.  I know nobody wants to know what I had for dinner, or what time I went to bed…after all this blog is about paragliding right??  So on to the flying.

Paragliding Austria – 2012 from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

A day later and after spending hours in solitude walking the surrounding forest and small village several miles away, just soaking up Germany it is time to get in the air.  After wandering through Skywalk’s inventory racks, piled with wings, Jonathan, Tetsu (Japan), Ian (UK), and myself grab some flying gear and head for the mountains of Austria. Absolutely amazing! As we drive through the alps and pass small villages I can’t believe how beautiful each is all nestled in small pristine valleys.

Once in Austria we arrive at Kossen Mountain, hike to the resort, buy a gondola ticket and fall inline with the skiers. So strange to be able to walk right next to the skiers, with your paragliding stuff, and not get strange looks. We get off, hike a few hundred feet and find ourselves at a beautifully groomed launch site. So foreign, but so awesome.  A quick layout of my glider for the day (black and white Chili 2) a few tugs on the A-lines, the wing lifts, turn, run and watch the snow fall below me. I stare up into the Wilder Kaiser mountains. Not much lift anywhere, but flying several thousand feet high above the valley floor and among the snow covered Austrian Alps is a memory not soon to be forgotten. As we all get in the air, it is awesome to look around and see just a bunch of Skywalk paragliders in the air. Everybody having a good time playing in the smooth winter air! A safe landing in the huge designated LZ right next to the ski school area. We quickly pack up our wings and head up for another. Like little kids in a candy store, we just can’t get to the top fast enough. Once at the top we again get all set up and all launch into the air together. There is a little more lift and we are able to stay in the air a bit longer, goofing off and having just a great time. After this, it seemed everyone was kinda done, so I went up by myself for just one more. After all that is why I am here…to fly. Another awesome flight. The afternoon is getting later, and just so amazing flying around in these mountains. In Utah, our mountains are so spectacular, but being in Austria is just an amazing experience with the small villages, the beautiful vistas, and the acceptance of the sport.

Above the Village of Grassau, Germany

Through several days of Skywalk training it is clear this group is a melting pot of cultures.  Pilots from various countries all over the world.  People from Romania, Japan, UK, Turkey, Korea, Israel, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Columbia, Australia, etc. JJ and I are the only ones from North America.  After several days together learning, testing, and getting to know Skywalk Paragliders it is clear this is a fabulous company, filled with great people, brilliant engineers, and talented test pilots.  What a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with so many great people.  I have learned that regardless of languages and cultures, we all share the same passion for flying, and it is wonderful.

As my eyes reluctantly turn home I reflect on a fantastic and memorable adventure. Meeting great new friends, flying in the Austrian alps, and continuing in this fantastic road that paragliding has set me on. At the close of the trip I am enthusiastic for Skywalk, and honored to be considered as the only Skywalk team pilot in the United States. I am not sure what that means right now, but I am thankful for their support and their faith in me as a pilot.  As I look back on my tenure as a pilot it is amazing how far this sport has taken me, and helped to define my life. I am learning that perhaps throwing out the goals that society so regularly demands is perhaps the best approach to learning to live in the moment. It continues to amaze me how much freedom and happiness I have found in flying and I want to share that with others. I think I walk out of Germany with renewed confidence and a deeper passion for this wonderful sport.