Paraglider pilots launch off Chelan Butte and fly south to find lift.
by Richard Uhlhorn
The U.S. Open Paragliding Competition ended on Saturday with another cancellation because of heavy winds across the top of the Butte. “The weather skunked us,” said Teague, a local organizer of the competition. “A lot of pilots had a great time (free) flying later in the day.”
Out if the seven day completion, only four days were scored. “Everybody had an amazing time and want to come back… skunked and still having a good time.”
This year’s competition was also a Pre-World competition which is required before a World competition can be held at any location. The World Cup Tour has a World event being held in Chelan next year from Saturday, July 20 to Saturday July 27. More information can be found at http://pwca.org/node/43033. “We are online for next year, but it hasn’t even been approved,” said Teague. “We have the choice of bumping it another year.”
Chelan has hosted World Cup flying competitions in the past. The first completion was the 1994 Women’s World Hang Gliding Championship which was repeated in 2000.
In 1994, Joe Gluzinski tried to bring a U.S. Open to Chelan, but the DNR shut it all down because of the TYEE Complex Fire. In 1995, Joe was able to bring the U.S./Canadian Open to Chelan which was the precursor to the World Cup Paragliding Championships held here in 2010.
Paraglider pilots form up in a gaggle and wait for that day’s start time.
Chelan Butte is known as a world class flying site, but during the middle of the day when the thermals are raging and dust devils are playing, the Butte is not a place for the inexperienced pilot.
This year’s weather was iffy. The more experienced pilots used their skills to complete tasks.
Every day, pilots gather for a pilots meeting that includes that day’s task, weather conditions and an opportunity to ask questions of the event organizers.
Loopy, a Swiss native who lives in Colorado, came in 11th overall said that the task on the 11th was horrible. “ A lot of guys grounded out. I was able to make my way back to the Butte where I found lift and got out front.” A fellow pilot said he had made it back also. “It was perfect… I hit 8,000 feet before heading across.”
One of the volunteer drivers, Todd, who tows paragliders for a living said that many of the less experienced pilots shouldn’t even be in the competition. “They are too inexperienced.”
Thai Verzone, a Physician’s Assistant from Anchorage and his four year old daughter, Maia, were in Chelan for the competition.
Thai Verzone, Physicians Assistant in Anchorage, said he finally got some lift off a ridge line over by Stormy. “I thought I was going down, but I got back to the Butte, climbed out and got across.” He ended up quitting the competition of that day and just went free flying. “I did make it to goal, but I missed one turnpoint.” At one time Thai attained an altitude of 11,000 feet.
Years ago, World Champion Hang Glider Pilot, Kari Castle, told me that these competitions was like playing three dimensional chess in the sky. Pilots have to find lift to get enough elevation to cross the river. Once on the other side they have to find and use thermals to gain altitude and then glide to the next thermal, usually marked by a dusty (dust devil) rising from the wheat fields. The idea is to use these thermals and glide patterns to be first to each turn point and goal.
Joe Stone from Missoula, Montana got some help getting off launch. Joe is confined to a wheel chair, but that doesn’t stop him for enjoying the sport of paragliding.
On the ground, the pilots have retrievers who follow them across the state, sometimes into Canada or Idaho. Back in the day hang gliders would have to hitchhike back to Chelan to get some sleep before going at it the next day.
It may be upwards of 100 degrees on the top of Chelan Butte, but the pilots are bundled up for the much colder air at 10,000 feet.
Chelan is appreciated by the pilots and their spouses because it offers plenty of options and amenities when the flying isn’t good, or when the husband or wife is in the air, the other half can go to the lake and relax until it is time to pick up the pilot.
Pilots from around the world will continue to fly Chelan air throughout the summer. And, when Chelan hosts a World Event again in 2019 or 2020, the best pilots from around the world will arrive to test their skill set against each other.
Paragliders spread out across the top of the Butte in preparation of that day’s task.
Top 10 results:
1st – Donizete Lemus, Brazil
2nd – Nicholas Greece, USA
3rd – Brad Gunnuscio, USA
4th – Josh Cohn, USA
5th – Michael Sigel, Switzerland
6th – Matt Henri, USA
7th – J.P.Robert Vandenbegine, Canada
8th – Francisco Monteros, USA
9th – Bill Belcourt, USA
10th Nate Scales, USA
Fly, fly away. Paragliders leave the Butte in a never ending stream as 125 pilots try to get off launch and climb the thermal staircase to 6,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level for the push across the Columbia River to the Waterville Plateau.