Friday, May 30, 2008

PWC Switzerland: Task 2

The task committee set a short 44km course today in order to avoid the predicted afternoon over-development. The first four turn-points were located on the same side of the valley that we launched from, then there was a valley crossing to the base of the Eiger for a final turn-point high on the base of the mountain and goal back in the Grindelwald valley. It was amazing to watch how the top pilots flew the course today, no time to stop and thermal, tucked in close to the terrain, wingtips on the cliffs and pushing the gas; inspiring. Many times before the start we would be in a thermal and have clouds form 100-200 meters below us because of the moisture laden air from the previous days rains, the clouds would build and eventually force us to move on or be swallowed up. This is such beautiful terrain to race in, check out some pictures by Martin Scheel...
(use the vorwarts button at the bottom of the page to view more pictures)

I felt like today was one of my best days of PWC racing so far and I did a good job of keeping the pace throughout the course. I blew it at the end missing the glide to the final (high) turn-point before goal by 250 meters and had to backtrack in order to find a climb and gain enough height to snag the last turn-point and make goal. I was a little angry for a bit when I missed the turn-point, I was low to the ground and probably taught the kids in the town below me a new word or two (sorry). When I settled down I looked around and realized that I was climbing up the base of the famous Eiger mountain, directly over a huge waterfall. I enjoyed this view immensely for the next fifteen minutes while I slowly gained height in the scrappy lift on the shady side of the mountain. When I arrived in goal I was very late and very happy.

It's the last day of PWC Switzerland tomorrow, I hope they give us a massive task so that we can really see this place!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

PWC Switzerland: task 1

A short 38k task was called in an attempt to get pilots around the course before the approaching weather front moved into the area. Predicted foehn winds had pilots nervous on launch but were not that strong on course, a little turbulent at times but not too bad. The racing was fast and furious, soaring in tight to big cliffs, at times if you stopped to thermal you only lost places as people would just fly straight and pass you. The last two turnpoints and goal were located in Interlaken, many pilots got stuck there in the weak conditions. Michael Von Wachter wins the day, American Matt Dadam kicks ass placing 10th, I think I might be in the top 20. Scores should be posted soon. I will try to post a better task report later.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


The last few weeks have been a blur. Jamie and I traveled through Italy, Germany, Austria and france... here are a few pictures from the journey.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Italy PWC: Task 2/3/4

Sorry for not posting lately, our days have been filled with flying and evenings with nice dinners and parties provided by the organization. Here is the rundown on the last few days. Thanks to everyone who sent me emails lately, it means a lot to me.

Day two was cancelled due to rain. We were at launch when the day was called off, most pilots chose to fly down in the benign conditions before the storm came instead of driving down. I was on a leisurely sled ride glide for the LZ with about thirty other pilots when everyone started mashing full bar, so just for kicks I did to. These pilots will take every opportunity possible to compare equipment and skills, good fun!

Day three / task two
Due to predictions of late afternoon overdevelopment a short 52k race to goal task was called. Conditions on course were perfect for fast racing, strong climbs and a minimum of half speed-bar on every glide was the pace. I was with the leaders up until the last two turn points, but so was everyone else, with such a short course and so many great pilots at least 50 of them were in the area I was in near the end. About halfway between the last two turn points a small group of 10 pilots were making a push for the last turn point and goal out in the valley but were clearly going to need another climb to make it, meanwhile a gaggle containing about 30 pilots was climbing high on the mountains beside me in preparation for their final glide. I was by myself and feeling like I was on a pretty good line, my Fytec 6030 was saying that I had a 12 to 1 glide to goal. I thought that if I could keep making my way to goal through lifting lines and not stop and thermal I might have a chance of staying in front of everyone and get the added height I was going to need to make my final glide. Without turning, using a combination of brakes in lift and ¼ speed-bar in sink I managed to get the 9 to 1 glide ratio I was looking for, snag the last turn point and punch full bar on my IcepeakXP for the last 6k to goal. It wasn’t until I heard Andy’s scream of excitement as we crossed the goal line than I noticed any other pilots were with me. Apparently Andy was on the top of the stack of the high gaggle I mentioned earlier, he managed to catch me on his Advance Prototype, I had him by at least a half kilometer at the start of my final glide, that glider must be fast! It was so close that no one knew who won, when the scores came out both Andy and I received 1000 points, STOKED!

My wing

Day 4
According to the weather reports the day was going to overdevelop in the afternoon. The task committee was trying hard to set task that would work with conditions. They changed the task several times before finally deciding on an individual start elapsed time race. We were ¼ of the way through the course when the organizers called off the day due to overdevelopment. Like most competition organizers these guys are doing what they can to get as many valid days as possible, but they are very safety conscious as well, cancelling days when it needs to be done and keeping pilots safe.

Day 5 / task 3
Learning from the previous day the task committee decided to call a 68.2k task early to get pilots around the course before the afternoon overdevelopment. A small group of about ten pilots established their dominance early, managing to stay way higher and just behind the leaders, it was clear to me right from the start that these pilots would be the days winners. I got a good start but quickly lost the pace and was in the third gaggle. After some good moves mid course I managed to catch the tail end of the second gaggle near the second to last turn point, we were in the mountains and headed for the valley for the final turn point and goal. I tried to push on by myself again, this time it didn’t work, I got stuck in the valley and had to make a low save just before goal. From 2k out I had a 7 to 1 glide to goal; I got this no problem I thought. I did my best impression of a lawn-dart as I did a downwind landing 200 meters short of goal! I really want to learn to race. There is a lesson in here somewhere.

I love this game.

Day 6 / task 4
The big day, 113k task. Finally conditions that allow the organization to set a big task out of the valley. Stable air has produced challenging conditions for the start of the race, small bullet thermals that many pilots found hard to get up in. I had a great start and was with the leaders, but then quickly lost the pace because I was finding it challenging to stay on a lot of speedbar in such rough air. The course took us through some beautiful snow capped mountains that reminded me of the Boulder Mountains in Idaho. I was sitting in about 30th place 30k from goal when a crucial decision had to be made. The last 30k of the course took us out over large flat valley full of farm fields. The leaders had followed the terrain off course line in order to get a better position for final glide. I was with a small group of pilots that thought we might have a chance of beating the leaders if we flew straight from our position to goal. We had goal on a 12 to 1 glide and would need one more climb to make it in. Our plan fell short 6k from goal after a 25k glide without a beep from the vario. Most pilots landed short of goal this day due to the strong headwind we were all battling into. Only 6 pilot in goal.

Day 7
Strong winds prevented us from flying a task the last day. The only thing that flew this day was a gin glider bag that got picked up in a dust devil on launch and propelled clear to cloud base, proving my theory that most things fly better than a paraglider. A fun closing party in Poggio Bustone capped off the event. Final results are posted on the PWC website.

The talented photographer Martin Scheel was at the event and took some beautiful pictures.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

This is me over the city of Poggio Bustone, thanks for the beautiful picture Jamie

Italy PWC: task 1

Conditions for the official practice day on Saturday couldn’t have been any nicer, booming thermals (5-7 meters a second) smooth climbs and the highest cloud base we have experienced since arriving. The other Americans (Matt Dadam and Todd Weigand) along with Jamie and a few other pilots and I decided to do a triangle around the main valley and try to learn the area a little. It was a fantastic day of flying that ended with a little chaos. A Swiss pilot hit some turbulence and had to throw his reserve parachute. Jamie and I witnessed the incident and decided to spiral down, land in a clearing near him and start a search for him to see if the pilot was ok. Long story short… the Pilot was just fine but we didn’t get home until midnight after hiking lots of miles in the mountains.

Task one found me tired and frazzled. PWC tasks take place fast, from the pilots meeting to the racing. There isn’t as much time between the meeting and the start of the task as I am used to, I was struggling to make sure that my instruments were set up right and my gear prepared, I got off the hill a little late. A 73 km race to goal task was called. A weather front was pushing in that produced very mixed conditions. Once on course we had everything, strong thermals (but once the clouds shaded the ground half way through the course, very weak) lots of wind, corn snow at cloud-base, and “the canyon of despair”. At one point on the course conditions got weak and we were forced to fly into a steep canyon with very limited landing options in pursuit of a turn-point, most managed to climb out and continue. I was excited and exhausted to make goal after 4.5 hours of challenging flying. About 50 pilots made goal, official results should be posted on the PWC website.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Italy: Poggio Bustone / Rieti

After a long sleepless flight across the great pond I have finally arrived in the beautiful countryside between the cities of Rieti and Poggio Bustone. I successfully hooked up with Jamie Messenger and his girlfriend Bella after a wicked good game of charades with the locals after arriving in Rieti (I need to learn some Italian, but it is always a funny game to try and express yourself with no common language). Thus far the Italians couldn’t be more accommodating, we’ve only been greeted by people offering nothing more than kindness and a helping hand. We are camping for free at the landing zone of the main flying site, the LZ stinks of sheep piss from the critters that mow the field and this smell reminds me of home (growing up on the farm in Walla Walla).

Jamie took a nice picture of me on our first flight.

We arrived to rainy weather and hardly a pilot to be found but the closer we get to the start of the PWC the nicer the weather gets and more pilots arrive by the hour. People from every corner of the earth are converging on this place for the event, all very outgoing and go out of their way to make introductions. I expected to be intimidated at an event at this level but have found the opposite, just a bunch of nice folks that love paragliding as much as I do. One of the first people I met was a guy named Yassen from Bulgaria, surprisingly he knew a lot about US pilots. Rob Sporrer from Eagle paragliding did such a fantastic job of reporting each day’s task on the Internet while we were competing in Mexico that the Eagle team now has an international following. Yassen thought that all the Eagle pilots lived in Santa Barbara California (where Eagle is based), he figured that this place must be incredible for flying to produce so many talented pilots and actually considered moving there. Keep up the good competition reporting Rob, everyone really appreciates it.

Jamie and Bella

The past three days have been great for flying, a little windy so I haven’t been doing much in the way of huge cross-county flights, (some pilots have) just boating around for a few hours and enjoying the view of a new place from the air. I had a great flight yesterday; the best part was climbing 250 meters above cloud-base up the side of the cloud. First impressions are that the site will offer some technical flying, a mix of mountains, flats and signs of convergence. From a flying perspective the place looks to be a cross between Valle De Bravo Mexico and Woodrat Oregon with some proper mountains thrown into the mix.

I will do my best to give updates during the contest but make no promises because computer time is tough to come by. I’m looking forward to a week of racing, should be lots of fun to learn how to play this game from the best in the world.

If you click on the images you can view a larger version.