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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.

Three gravel trails, each about 10 feet wide, run down the south face of the hill. You and your instructor will choose one of the trails, and this is where you’ll begin your training. When you’re first learning, you and your instructor will start toward the bottom of the south face. Your paraglider will be unrolled behind you. You’ll start running down the hill and pull the wing over your head as you go. If you do it properly, your wing will fill with air as you’re running and you’ll fly a short ways — a little Kittyhawk kind of flight — and coast to the ground.

But if it doesn’t work — if your wing fails to inflate and lift you off the ground — you’ll just keep running down the hill until you reach the bottom. No harm, no foul. You’ll live to gather your wing, carry it back up the hill and try again.

When you’re beginning, you will make several such runs down the hill. At the end of each run you’ll meet with your instructor and the two of you will discuss what you did right and what you may need to improve on. After each run you’ll move a little farther up the hill, until by the third or fourth run of the day you’ll be about two-thirds of the way up the mountain.

3. It's the perfect place for experts to soar

In addition to its dependable lift band, the Point of the Mountain also has world-famous afternoon thermals off its north side. As air is warmed it rises, and the Point of the Mountain’s thermals rise miles into the sky and paragliders travel from all over the world to rise with them while performing lazy circles and figure eights in the elevator.

The Point of the Mountain gets about 300 flyable days a year, and paragliders travel there from all over the world to play in its famous, consistent thermals.

4. It’s easier and safer than you might think

As your skill level and confidence increases, you’ll move into the group of paragliders soaring off the north side in the afternoon thermals, and there is no feeling to equal it. You'll be hanging there out in the warm, raw air, and as you cross the unseen threshold into the thermal, you’ll feel as if a cable has been attached to you and it's now reeling you upward.

The first few times this happens to you, it’s natural to get a little freaked out as you watch the Salt Lake Valley diminish below you to the size of a Monopoly board. A normal thought to enter you mind is, “What if my wing fails right now?” No problem. This happens, but it's rare. Most serious paragliders carry a reserve chute on them. Problem solved.

And what about landing? You’re cruising along pretty fast, after all. A paraglider has an airspeed of about 20 miles per hour. But you’re not going to land going 20 miles per hour. When you land, you’ll turn into the wind. Your airspeed may still be about 20 mph, but, moving into the wind, your ground speed will be considerably less. And just before you touch down, you’ll pull down on both brakelines to flare the wingtips, which further slows the wing's momentum.

Most paragliding companies offer introductory lessons for $80 to $95. Beyond that it takes between 10 to 12 lessons to receive your P2, or novice, certification, which will be an additional $1,000 to $1,300. Once you have your P2 rating, you advance at your own pace, teaching yourself.

Companies that can help you are:

Utah Paragliding

801-368-5139

www.utahparagliding.com

Paraglide Utah

801-707-0508

www.paraglideutah.com

Cloud 9

801-576-6460

www.paragliders.com

If you have a Utah adventure you'd like Steven Law to explore in a future article, send him your idea at curious_things@hotmail.com.

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