Handles on the foosball table have been heating up faster than the air for the Sun Valley portion of the U.S. Paragliding Nationals this week.
The competition that began in Chelan, Wash., earlier this summer is a set of daily cross-country flight tasks in which pilots ride thermals and course through the air tagging aerial checkpoints, columns of air reaching from the surface of the earth to 18,000 feet en route to speedy approaches at each day’s final goal.
The competition runs through September 5. Pilots waited patiently again Tuesday and made it as far as laying out their wings at the launch point atop Bald Mountain before race organizers finally called the race off due to high winds, which could be dangerous for some of the most novice pilots, said Nate Scales, the Idaho long-distance record holder who landed in near Spencer, nearly 150 miles from Baldy about two weeks ago.
The international gaggle of pilots that has descended on the Sun Valley resort to participate in the three-dimensional championship have not been idle, however. Awaiting the starting gun they study maps to better understand the local terrain, share thoughts about gear, weather and navigation and many stories about how they enjoy their sport around the world.
If the official task for the day is cancelled many pilots still fly. At least one pilot flew Tuesday’s course anyway, flying past Griffin Butte to Galena Lodge and back to Durrance Mountain by the headquarters of the Sawtooth National Recreational Area in just over two hours. Other fliers went for a classic Sun Valley mountain bike ride out Adams Gulch. By evening nearly a dozen fliers soared over Baldy as the earth finally released her heat.
One acrobat, Brad Geary of San Diego made a sky dive out of a tandem harness at about 7:14 p.m. He made a 30-second freefall commencing with a series of flips before tracking headfirst about half a mile from above the Big Wood River past Atkinson’s Park where he finally pulled his parachute 800 feet above the deck. After a pair of full stalls on his wing he coasted smoothly to a grassy landing on the soccer field at Atkinson’s Recreation Center, the event headquarters.
Blue holes in the sky this morning promised that the competitors from as far away as South Africa and Russia, in addition to pilots from Colorado and California, would all enjoy the first bit of racing in Sun Valley for this week’s culmination of the 2010 U.S. season in advance of the Super Final of the Paragliding World Cup in Turkey, an event Scales has been invited to attend and will if he wins the lottery, he said. “I have to pay for preschool this year.”