New Years Leap – Top Five Flights of 2013

I find myself staring down yet another year.  Sometimes it feels like a cliff that awaits, other times a wall.  Regardless, the clock pushes each of us to that edge perhaps filled with fear and apprehension….or is that the smell of “opportunity?”  As I stand on the brink I am deeply thankful that I have yet another year to play on (or above) this magnificent earth.  I stare down, forward, and up with renewed excitement for adventures and opportunities that lay ahead.

DCIM100GOPROOne cannot properly look forward without briefly looking back.  It has been a spectacular year full of great adventures and I have to shake my head and wonder why I am so lucky to live this unbelievable dream. Over the last 12 months the pursuit of favorable skies and magic light has guided me through nine US states and six countries; from the Alps to my home here in the Rocky Mountains.  Sure, there are always the everyday challenges in life like family, work, church, social obligations, and the unending demand to provide for the necessities of life for my small family.  It is these such constants and challenges that often keep my feet firmly on the ground, but I also realize it is these responsibilities that keep my life in balance.  That’s makes what little adventures I do get to eek out all the sweeter.

As I have been reflecting backwards, I thought I would try and make a list of my top five flights for the year.  Not necessarily the most epic of flights, just the ones that perhaps made a deeper impression upon my soul.  With over 135 mountain flights (away from The Point), and over 1,200 miles of XC distance (~2,000 km) etched through the skies this year alone I am finding it is no small feat to whittle it down to only five, but I will try.

Europe_20131001_0955 – Dolomites, Italy
A site normally riddled with pilots and huge crowds in the sky (not my favorite).  However, with the bad weather everyone had cleared out so when the storm broke revealing perfect conditions there were only a few of us.  Climbing to cloud base above the Dolomites, then flying the whole range west ranks high on my list of soul enriching flights.

PG_20130326_104 – Soboba Mountain, California
You ever had one of those flights where the air was thermic, no base wind, but super smooth?  It was one of those days.  Just me and a couple friends, and a local or two found our way to the upper launch.  Usually a ridge soaring site, but with no wind we launched in a cycle and found our way 6 thousand feet above the valley floor to enjoy an amazing afternoon of lift.  Nearly 3 hours in the smooth air over the mountain range, across the valleys and then just making it back again before dark….yeah, it was just one of those good days.

Europe_20131003_1223 – Stubital Valley – Tyrol, Austria
Not the best thermal day, but the sky was blue, the mountains warm, good friends, all in an amazing place.  Spent the day doing low altitude XC circuits up the range and across the valley which required about a dozen LOW saves every single flight.  Flying from one cable car to another cable car miles away is just an amazing experience.  So often Austria gets shadowed by the glamor of Switzerland.  Sure, Switzerland is great….but the flying, terrain and scenery in Austria is not to be rivaled!

Flying over my home in the Wasatch (~12,000 ft)2 – The Milk Run – SLC, Utah
My home site, literally my back yard.  Hard to lump this one into a single flight, but the spirit of them all reside in a special compartment of my soul.  Probably flew this route from The B to….well…beyond 25+ times this year and never once had to land at the bottom of the hill.  I am reminded of the friends that I watched make their goal to cross the Wasatch for the first time this year.  That alone is why this is such a special place to me.  I had many days and hours high above the peaks, staring down on “my” Wasatch, where I have spent nearly all 40 years of my life.  I was born in Little Cottonwood Canyon and have never strayed far from it, so this place has special meaning to me.  With another year high above the Wasatch skies I still feel very lucky enough to call this place home.

Paul soaring over the landscapes of Monroe1 – Monroe Peak – Monroe, Utah
July 25th at the close of an eventful Pioneer Day fly-in event I woke early and journeyed to the 11,000+ foot summit of Monroe Peak.  We arrived early as the sun was just beginning to cover the valley.  Not another human soul on the summit, just us and a few elk grazing.  No thermals, no wind, just a 6,000 foot flight over beautiful mountains and groves of aspen trees.  That morning as Paul, Clark, Matt and I all punched off within about 4 seconds I couldn’t help but just look around and be inspired.  I just had a feeling that morning of utter joy, watching us fly above the wild lands.  Those few minutes in the sky wingtip to wingtip with some of my best friends, laughing, watching the ground fall beneath our feet in pure awe of this magnificent earth, was for me, a moment that encompassed every reason why I fly.

Looking back on the year there are many things to be grateful for; a supportive wife so willing to go anywhere, my sponsors who have been so kind in lending support to help me live this dream.  As I look around, I see great friends who continue to make this journey so inspiring….you know who you are and I thank you!

So as I walk to the edge of the New Year, there is nothing left to do but leap, and look up.  It is going to be another great year in the sky!

Wasatch Reflections

I stare out the window to see the pine trees violently dancing in the wind, and succumb to the reality of yet another un-flyable day.  It has been nearly two weeks since my feet have been off the ground, and they are starting to bruise.  In fact, over the last few years I am not sure I have ever gone two weeks without flying…and my soul is feeling it.  As I reflect on the last several weeks as I browse through some footage I now realize, the last week of October clearly marked the official end of the autumn flying season….and what a week it was as we spent every day flying across the Wasatch in those light thermal bubbles.

Wasatch Reflections from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

Although sad to see the warm XC days come to an end, I know that winter offers its own gems to be found in the sky.  There is nothing quite like the calm, smooth days of winter mountain air that can make you smile.  As the cold, dirty inversions of the Salt Lake winter set in I look skyward in hopes of new memories yet to be had amidst these wintery Wasatch skies.  I hope to see you above the inversion line.

Polar Bear SIV

When you first learn to paraglide, and throughout your career you are taught to always make sure your wing is perfectly inflated, pressurized and properly flying above your head.  However, in the real world things can sometimes go wrong.  More often than not it is pilot error from either a bad decision to fly, or not actively piloting your wing like you are suppose to….and believe me I have made plenty of errors through the years!  I am sure every pilot at one point in time has looked up to see a part of his or her wing collapsing.  The first time is usually followed by a ‘yikes’, hands up, and the wing often takes care of itself.  However, what do you do when things go REALLY wrong?  How you truly react in such a moment can mean the difference between a scary experience and a life threatening one.  That is why SIV (simulation en vol….yeah, its French), or ‘Simulations In Flight’ is so important, fun, and scary all rolled into one because you get to force yourself and your wing to do everything it is not suppose to. Here you learn to understand not only the limits of your wing, but the threshold between calm collective action, and the need to change your underwear.


It is 8:00 a.m. as I stand along the windy shores of Bear Lake dressed like I am taking on Everest or something, but looking more like the stay puff marshmallow man.  Four layers of clothes and a life jacket all tucked under my coat.  The lack of body fat can often be a curse when it is cold, so I shiver away.  “Are we nuts” mentions Clark as we watch the sun rise as the snow lightly falls. Yeah, I am questioning that right now too.  The reality is I have been trying to get in a course for some advanced SIV training for nearly 3 years now, but either nobody wants to do it in Utah, or nobody has room.  So when a slot opened up with Cade from the Jackson Hole area…..I took it.  I couldn’t be happier to be sharing this experience with my good friends, Clark, Howie, and Carolyn.  Time to begin as the tow rope gets handed to the group and everyone looks my way.  Let the madness begin!

Polar Bear SIV from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

This video is not normally the kind of video I like to put out there as it has very few camera angles, is very shaky, and not that creative.  Besides everybody loves to point out everything I did wrong….but hey, all in the spirit of learning right?  So, I made it as more of a record for myself of lessons learned today and a testament to how awesome paragliders can recover if flown right.

In the end it has been a good day forcing my wing and myself to better understand each other.  I appreciate Cade for his expertise and for allowing me to push myself to new limits.  From dialing in and sharpening some rapid descent techniques, to letting me induce some really hard situations, like a stall spin that required a mandatory full stall recovery (for real).  Sure I was in free fall for nearly 30 seconds, but it worked!  I walk away with some new tricks up my sleeves, some sharper skills, and no new underwear needed.  Even when I went up and over the top of my wing….calm and collective!  Already looking forward to next time….perhaps a little warmer would be nice.