Paragliding Nationals drop in to Pemberton, August 5-12
On my 30th birthday, I decided to throw myself off a cliff. Luckily, Jim Orava was there to strap in to, and we paraglided over the valley together, to land gently on the playing fields at the old high school. I wrote about it for the Vancouver Sun, and 5 years later, received a note from a long time local, who had kept that newspaper cutting for all that time, and finally, at the age of 78, done the same thing.
Orava has been at the heart of Pemby’s bird-man scene for more than 20 years, and this year, is inviting pilots from all around the world to sample the top-notch conditions that make Pemberton a destination for paragliders, as he hosts the National Championships, August 5-12.
We touched base to find out what to expect when the sky fills with sails.
What inspired you to create/host the Canadian Paragliding Nationals?
I love our mountains. Our home has the most amazing potential for Airsports on the planet, so it was natural for me to want to share it with the world of free flight and hope to bring the top gravity powered air athletes to experience what we experience every flyable day.
Who sanctions the event?
This will be a FAI sanctioned event, which is the International governing body for all world air-sports from Balloons to Jets.
What are your qualifications to host this event? Have you flown competitively before? Much? Where?
At the moment I am rated the number two competitive paragliding pilot in Canada. I have competed from local to international competitions and was National champion two years ago. I have flown in nearly thirty countries around the world and competed in many of them.
Last year, a new World Cup sized launch was constructed, in collaboration with the PWA and PVTA. Tell us how that came about?
For twenty years, we dreamed of having an aspect with greater height above the valley, more protected from the inflow winds which can bully us when they pass the corner over Nairn Falls area.
When substantial trail and infrastructure grants arrived a couple summers ago, braintrusted and spearheaded by Nigel Protter, we combed the mountains searching for access and an aspect that would work for us. And we nailed it. After establishing tenure with the West Coast Soaring Club as management entity, local contractors combined with volunteer work bees, assembled in a sprint against the oncoming snows, to create our beautiful “gateway to the skies” – the upper Mackenzie Launch.
Now in preparation to host the Canadian Nationals we would like to administer a layer of topsoil and hydroseed as soon the snow departs to create an alpine meadow in similar fashion to the beautiful launches in similar alpine valleys around the world. The growing season is as short as our funds, so this is a challenge we could use assistance with.
Is this event just for pilots, or can the entire community get involved and enjoy it?
This is a sport that is all about Community. People believe in something and open doors to create a welcoming environment. Pemberton has the opportunity to share all we stand for locally – clean waters, natural food production, a strong pioneering history (so recent compared to other places), the great pace and persona that we all aspire to living here in the mountain/farming environment.
When an excited girl from Venezuela lands in the corner of your hay field with a big smile on her face after flying over her first glacier, you will see that you have already become an integral part of a bigger picture. She will look at you with awe realizing you and your family LIVE here and helped create this amazing farmland surrounded by all this wilderness and the second you smile back you are as much a participant as is she.
What makes Pemberton a draw for pilots?
This hot little valley creates massive thermal activity – it’s something very special in a Glacial area.
We will have a working maximum altitude for the competition at 12,500′ asl. This gives us 1500′ legal separation from IFR traffic heading predominately north and south to YVR. From this altitude (where from the valley we appear as tiny specks) one sees the beginning of the curve of the earth, glacial ice in all directions and the tiny strip of the verdant Pemberton valley, the great river, green blue lakes and more wilderness than can be found anywhere in Europe.
Imagine coming from Mexico City or a central industrial part of Eastern Europe and arriving here!
What is the size of the flying community here? At any given time, how many paragliders from around the world are hanging out at your place, pitching tents in your yard or sleeping on your couch?
We have a fantastic group of local pilots in the Sea to Sky area, with a very high percentage of women involved. New interest is high as more people realize it is a very precise and established activity everywhere in the world, which has few physical limitations, and can be as sedate or as demanding as one chooses. H
We seem to have a constant stream of mountain monkies of all sports at the house, from skiers and climbers to base/wing suit types, of course paddlers, but when those blue spring days come alive the phone starts to ring and the calls of the paraglider pilots come from far and wide!
What do you like best about paragliding?
There are few physical limitations for the participant, and there are no limitations to what you might achieve. It is a calculated game of dream realization, how high, how far and where you may fly or land.
Tell us about where you can access, the kind of terrain you get to, the distances you have flown from here?
A paraglider is like a magic carpet.
You inflate this incredible wing, sitting in what is more comfortable than your favourite lazy boy recliner you are carried gently off the hill as if you are a bird.
We have had flights as far as Lillooet, Squamish, Meager Hot Springs and back, Goldbridge, and Harrison! In the Owens Valley in California we have flown to just under 18,000’asl, had flights from the Pakistan border across the north side of the Himmishel Pradesh towards Nepal on multi day fly/bivy missions. We have soared the dunes of the Atacama desert, the jungle areas of Colombia and Venezuela, the beaches of active volcanos in the Indian Ocean, the deserts of Morocco and of course the top of Mount Currie!
A favourite summer mission is to fly to the meadows above the Tenquille area and have mid summer topland camping fiestas to get out of the summer heat… and fly back to do tandems by the next midday!
Is this a ridiculously dangerous sport?
No, not in the least. Like all games we play it is dependent on information and training, a responsible approach to the game, and good equipment which (in paragliding) has improved immensely in the last decades. Modern paragliders are extremely predictable flying machines, the modern harness incorporates dependable protection for an accidental downwind landing on your butt for example. We have accumulated decades of teaching techniques and information to make the sport viable.
Is addiction the biggest danger? I’ve heard of hard core rockclimbing devotees who hang up their climbing shoes forever once they’ve flown? What makes it so addictive?
High end athletes realize that this is a game that can go beyond the bounds of what one can experience in one’s body under normal circumstances. It is more like living a dream of what you could possibly do with your mind, than something you could expect to do while still encased in your skin. The sport can make you weightless, or under the strongest aerobatic manouvers you can weigh over 8G’s! (That takes a bit of conditioning, to say the least) I think because it is something that is always different, always creative and such an incredible free motion that it bites the mountain athlete especially hard. Also with the Advent of Light Alpine wings (20 liters volume packed, 2.5kgs) it is a viable way to finish the last 1000 meters of trees and crud while ski touring, or a knee friendly way to get down after fishing at an alpine lake, or climbing a big peak.
You already have 40 pilots signed up for the contest, including pilots from Ecuador, France, Australia, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Mexico. What kind of numbers will you deem a success?
We have capacity for 125 competition Pilots.
Where are these events typically held? Will this event put Pemberton on the map?
Equivalent Euro mountain countries are the principal venue, also southern hemisphere Australia, NZ, South American locations. This will be a great Buzz for the Paragliding world and we will be finally noticed. Similar towns in the alps have 400 people plus families visiting every day of the summer for equal flying conditions common here in the summer.
What will the race involve?
Participants launch and exit a virtual gps cylinder at a prescribed time en mass. They then proceed to attempt to fly a predetermined (that day) task touching more virtual turn points before returning to the day’s goal field. The goal is to have as many competitors flying in equal conditions at the same time. 100 km, 4 hour tasks will not be impossible here.
People are encouraged to witness the energy as a hundred or more people take to the air like a flock of technicolor birds, or be at the goal field as the first slivers appear on the horizon soon to spiral down to land after perhaps several hours and a hundred kms of task flying.
Where can people find out more about the National Championships?
What’s the next big step for you, in preparing to bring the National Championships here?
In order to accommodate this event, I am proposing to the Village of Pemberton to base this national/International event HQ’s at the picnic ground at the Pemberton Airport. For the duration of this event I would like to have Pemberton accommodate the world with the option to have those who would like to camp either in tent or vehicle in the the airport area as it would safely and practically be done in other countries worldwide. At this location we would have the computers set up for scoring each day, communications, camp/cooking setup, portable facilities, space to organize gear, and create a great presence in what is a highly under-utilized and under appreciated location here in town. (Of course the majority are the B&B, restaurant crowd anyway.) I also need to raise public awareness especially with Pemberton Meadows landowners to help us create a series of viable landing fields which we can install in the participants GPS’s to use as landings, or potential Goalfields depending on the conditions of each day. Finally I would like to create the opportunity for locals to experience this sport, give local business opportunity to get involved with incentives to promote their businesses and have everyone crack a big Pemberton smile when they look up into the sky full of wings and know they helped pave the way for such a special event.