Revelstoke paraglider Dave Sproule has become the second person (and first Revelstokian) to pilot his aircraft from Revelstoke to Golden, taking advantage of good conditions last month to make the 100-kilometre, 4.5-hour, daring flight.
Sproule departed from the Mount Mackenzie alpine along with local riders Jeff Bellis, Chris Delworth, Dave Edgar and Alan Polster on Aug. 11. The men form the core of a small local paragliding scene who are most often seen “bobbing” down from the ski hill to the R/C field landing site.
Sproule said the five took advantage of a tailwind above Mt. Mackenzie to glide over Twin Butte towards Albert Canyon. Polster and Delworth were forced to drop out early, but Bellis, Edgar and Sproule made it over Rogers Pass, with Edgar dropping out shortly after.
Sproule described flying past alpine peaks at elevations reaching 3,900 meters (13,000 feet). “It’s a pretty committing crossing,” he said, noting unlike routes over developed areas, there’s few places to touch down. “You get pretty deep in there.”
Temperatures drop well below zero, and gliders wear their heaviest winter gear to deal with the chill and the winds.
“We both surfed up the side of Sir Donald,” Sproule said. “It got pretty gnarly at one point. I was just getting these bullet thermals.”
Sproule described several hairy moments as he scraped past summits. Sudden wind changes caused his wings to collapse a few times, sending him into a controlled fall from as little as 1,000 feet above the alpine. It was a “bit of a rodeo … It can get kind of rough,” he said.
“There are times when you’re definitely on edge, you’re getting rocked around.”
Bellis almost made it all the way to Golden, landing in a remote area just north of the town.
Gliders use knowledge and experience to read conditions in order to string together updrafts to keep them in the air. Picture the sky as a lava lamp; you’re trying to spiral around in the blobs floating to the top, while avoiding the surrounding fluid heading down. You’re reading the weather and terrain, searching for features to exploit – such as sun-exposed rock – that will produce the updrafts.
Cross-country paragliders use a small battery of electronic devices that forecast weather, plot their location, communicate with fellow paragliders and ground support, and plot their speed and elevation.
Sproule, 36, is a family man. On weekdays, he’s employed in the comparatively more mundane fields of heli-ski guiding in the winter and tree falling in summers. Years spent in helicopters above the Revelstoke area have given him an intimate knowledge of the terrain from the sky.
Sproule said many of the Revelstoke paragliders have been honing their skills together for several years. They worked up from descents down Mt. Mackenzie to rides up and down the Columbia Valley to Shelter Bay or Mica.
Sproule is the second to do the trip. Golden paragliding instructor Peter MacLaren did it first in 2000.
MacLaren actually saw Sproule approaching Golden on Aug. 11. “He’s come from the ski hill,” MacLaren thought. “Or he’s made it across.”
He added it was “great to see somebody else do it.”
MacLaren is a tandem pilot who’s opening his own paragliding business in Golden next year. He likened paragliding to pioneer mountaineering. “For me the thrill of flying those remote places is knowing nobody else has gone into it,” he said.
Golden paraglider Scott Watwood made the first crossing in the other direction earlier this year.
The accomplishment has them looking for their next challenge. “Now we’re just talking upping the ante even more,” Sproule said. Long-distance treks combining summit climbs are one possibility. “Now that’s the dream now that we’ve accomplished some good cross-countries.”
Red Bull hosts the X-Alps race in Austria. Gliders race the length of the European Alps from Austria to Monaco, travelling on foot if they have to.
Sproule said all significant alpine crossings from coastal B.C. to the Alberta border have now been achieved – with the exception of the Kamloops to Revelstoke leg. He wondered if a similar race could find its wings in B.C.
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