Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jackson Paragliding Part 2

My second day of paragliding went better - we got in two flights and both my launches and landings were reasonable. I was all ready to write a much more positive blog post. But the third day wasn't quite so good.

Grand Teton
Grand Teton from the top of the tram

It's often hard to spot other gliders when you're in the air, especially if they are below you and you're trying to pick them out of the scenery. I knew Shelley was ahead of me but I lost track of her until I was coming in to land and I saw her carrying her glider from the next field over!? When I landed one of the local pilots, "Bones", said "Someone landed in the golf course. I was going to land beside them to make sure they were ok, but they did a perfect landing." I said, "That would be my wife." He reassured us that people screw up all the time, and that one time he'd landed right beside one of the houses. It turned out she actually landed in the construction site next door, and a truck had to stop to let her land!

I thought my landing had been ok, but we both got chewed out by one of the tandem pilots - me for turning too close to the ground. There is a wide range of "bedside manners" amongst instructors and tandem pilots. I certainly realize we're not doing things the best way, but the misjudgements are not intentional and I'm not sure getting chewed out really helps. Some advice or tips would be a lot more useful. Did I mention it's hard being a beginner again? I can see why a lot of people stop tackling new things as they get older. Especially physical skills, which I think are like languages - a lot easier to learn when you're younger. 

After two flights we thought we were done for the day, but earlier we had inquired about the possibility of a tandem "cross country" flight. When we checked they said we could go right now. So we changed back into our flying clothes and jumped back on the tram. Unfortunately, conditions didn't turn out to be very good and we got only a slightly longer flight than our solo ones. Nevertheless we got some good tips and instruction, and it was interesting to see how an experienced pilot flew. (And I got a chance to take more photos since someone else was piloting.)

Shelley on tandem flight
Shelley on tandem flight

Shelley on tandem flight
Shelley on tandem flight, launch is the peak to the right

Our third morning when we got up I was pretty sure we wouldn't by flying. There was heavy cloud and it was sprinkling rain. But we got ready and headed up to Teton Village. You never know what the weather is going to do. The tourist tandems were going up and the theory was that the weather would improve. It then proceeded to rain on the tram ride and continued up top. There was a brief lull and several of the tandems launched, but then the rain returned and everyone scurried to shelter with their gliders. 
Even the tandem pilots were grumbling.

But finally it cleared for long enough to fly. There was pretty much no wind but we did forward launches and got away successfully.

flying over the golf course

It stayed cloudy but the rain stayed away so we headed back up for a second flight. When we are with an instructor or guide Shelley likes me to go first to see what conditions are like. But when we're on our own she prefers to go first so I can make sure she gets away ok. So Shelley took off first, no wind, so a forward launch which she did nicely. I went to follow right behind her, but made a classic newbie mistake. I ran down the hill, thought I was launched, sat back in the harness (too soon) and then dipped down. The bottom of my harness dragged on the ground and I ended up back on my feet. I had a split second to decide whether to try to run or to abort. I was getting close to the drop off and I didn't know what my glider was doing so I pulled the brakes and aborted. Better safe than sorry.

It took awhile to get my glider and all the lines disentangled from the rocky ground and trudge back up the slope kicking myself all the way. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I know better than that! I tried another forward launch but didn’t even get the glider up. Then I realized the nearby tandem pilots weren't even attempting to take off. A glance at the windsock told me why - the wind was blowing pretty much straight sideways across the slope. (You need to launch into the wind.) I sat down and waited. Eventually there was a lull and the tandems got away. I waited for another lull and tried to follow but as soon as I did the wind blew across again and my wing went down. There was another solo pilot trying to launch and he also failed a couple of times. I waited a bit but it wasn’t getting any better. Frustrated, I packed up and rode the tram down, kicking myself even more because I'd had a chance to launch with Shelley and I'd screwed it up.

Later, Shelley said, “At least you don't have a bunch of scrapes and bruises like me.” Which is true, despite my screw ups I've managed to escape without a scratch, so far always landing on my feet, without face planting or being dragged. But as I told her, I did have bruises, they were just on my ego! Which is probably good for me - at work I'm the most experienced programmer, the boss, and the owner. Needless to say, I don't get chewed out much and it's pretty much within my comfort zone.

Jackson Hole Paragliding does a steady tandem business. The first tram at 8:15 would often hold 14 tandem pilots and their passengers. (Plus a handful of solo pilots.) After that it slowed down, but if conditions were good they might give 70 flights in a day. The quick tram ride up to the top and the landing zone near the base of the tram makes for quick turnaround. Most of the tandem pilots were quite welcoming and helpful, but they were doing their job, and to a certain extent solo pilots were a nuisance, especially novices like us. We tried not to get in their way.

tandems prep to launch
tandems prep to launch

Our last day was calm and clear skies. I thought for sure we'd get in a flight or two before we hit the road. But it turned out the wind was blowing the wrong direction and only P4's could launch off the back side. (We're P2's.) So that was the end of our Jackson Hole paragliding. We enjoyed flying here and the tram certainly made it easy. But because we could only fly first thing in the morning, we didn't get any thermals and all the flights were short and simple. At the stage we're at, it's all good experience, but not quite as satisfying as the longer flights we got in BC.

See all 16 photos as a slideshow or overview

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