4 reasons why you need to paraglide at Point of the Mountain

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 7:10 a.m. MDT

Chelsea Higgins rides a friendly wind.

Jonathon Jefferies

There are four main reasons why you should try paragliding at the Point of the Mountain:

1. Nothing feels so amazing as flying

I check the windsock fluttering down near the landing zone among the sunflowers and ironweeds. It resembles a large-mouth bass, holding itself in place in a slow, lazy river. My paraglider is spread out behind, a sort of Superman cape.

I run downhill, leaning into the harness, and feel the drag of the paraglider as it crosses through the power zone, a feeling like pulling a heavy sled. Then the retro-gravity force weakens as the wing lifts overhead and, Wile E. Coyote-like, I'm running across nothing but a smooth pavement of air molecules. Hey! I'm flying. Hey! I'm Flying!

The lift band exhales, soft as a sigh, and I ease into it like I would a hot bath. The texture of the air this morning is rich and smooth — downright slippery, like sliding across freshly zambinoed ice on leather-soled shoes. My altitude increases with each pass in the lift band. Dawn caresses the hills' feminine contours below me, shadows stretch the curvatures like golden chalk rubbed over dark, unpressed paper. I watch my shadow scything through the sunflowers, grass and sagebrush below me. I pull down on my left handbrake and my wing ramps to the left, and I pendulate beneath it and steer my wing deeper into the thermal and let it carry me higher.

Eat your heart out, Icarus!

2. It’s the perfect place for beginners to learn

How does it work anyway? A paraglider flies because, when it’s inflated, it’s shaped like an airfoil. The bottom surface of an airfoil is flat while the top surface is rounded. The air striking the wing’s leading edge divides into two streams. The air passing over the top surface of the airfoil must follow a longer path as it's forced over the top surface, which creates a low pressure area and an upward lifting force on the wing.

Four sets of lines, called risers, run from the wing down to a harness that the paraglider sits in. You slow down and steer by changing the airfoil shape of the wing above you, and you do that by pulling on the brake lines that you hold in your hands. Pull on the right brake line and it pulls down some of the risers on the wing’s right side, causing drag. Make it drag on the right side and you turn right. Make it drag on the left side and you turn left. Pull down on them both at the same time and the entire wing drags, causing you to slow down.

There are two factors that make the Point of the Mountain the perfect place to learn to paraglide. First, the winds at the Point of the Mountain are very consistent. In the mornings the wind usually blows from the south so that paragliders fly off the south face of the mountain.

Air flowing over the landscape behaves like water. Any obstacle that the air flows over creates a disturbance. Wind tries to flow in a straight line but where it encounters a hill or a mountain it must rise to get over it. Meanwhile, the air above the mountain continues to flow in a straight course. The air pressure increases at the point where the air that’s forced over the mountain gets pinched against the air that’s flowing straight. It's like how pinching the end of a hose increases the water pressure. This ridge of increased wind pressure is known as the lift band.

The Point of the Mountain is a unique peninsula protruding west from the Wasatch Mountains and it sticks out right into the windstream. So just like a submerged boulder in a river can create a perpetual wave that a kayaker can endlessly surf, the Point of the Mountain extending into the windstream creates a perpetual wave of air that paragliders and hang-gliders can endlessly surf.

The second benefit of paragliding at the Point of the Mountain is that its south-facing slope has a very mild grade. The main benefit of this is that beginners don't have to step off a cliff while they're still learning the fundamentals of the sport.

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