Paragliding Day 68

I spent a pleasant afternoon skiing at Alta, kept an eye on the wind during my subsequent drive down, and opted to head by FPS to see if I might catch some end-of-day flying. I arrived ~20 minutes before sunset, found fairly dead wind, and decided I would at least attempt a forward inflation to launch with a possible hike afterward.

I had Ariel spot my inflation to ensure I did not launch in a bad configuration, heaved against the lines, felt the wing come up, dumped the As, continued my sprint toward the lip, and… I felt excessive drag, thought “this is a bad idea”, heard Ariel shout affirmation of the moment’s folly, spun around, and collapsed my wing. I reckon that I released the As too soon, an overcompensation for unpleasant earlier situations where I had held them too long and risked a deflation-and-face-plant moment.

I rosetted the wing, carried it back up the field, plopped it down, and… found that the wind had gone subtly north. I didn’t feel good about this and so boxed up my hopes of flying for the evening. Hoping to squeeze some training juice from the circumstances, though, I laid out my wing perpendicular to the usual run/wind line, set up for a forward inflation, and took another practice go. This time I managed the lines well and executed in a way that would have been a fine preamble to a flight. Just as I was about to declare success and deflate, however, my wing dumped substantively leftward toward the hill’s lip.

At first I figured this messiness was the result of some sloppiness. I put some tension in the lines in preparation to re-rosette the wing and… it wanted to launch. Creeped out by this I released the tension, approached the wing by running askew to it, smooshed a bunch of cells together, put a knee on the wing, and then worked at unclipping my carabiners and speed system.

As I got things under control for my purposes I noticed some drama playing out in my peripheral vision. To my horror I saw Joe pancaked on the ground, his wing in the gully with a mind to drag him southward with it, and a couple of other pilots helping him get circumstances under control. He had been reverse-normal kiting when the wind had pulsed on and caused him to lose control. Whereas I had been practicing perpendicular to the surprise wind’s direction, he was square to it and got overpowered, rescued with small margins by an attentive nearby pilot who jumped on his brake lines.

We talked about the scary occurrence afterwards and, apart from being grateful that he was uninjured, the high-level lesson was that in unusual circumstances you want much larger margins than he was tolerating, or to just pack it up and GTFO. Sometimes the wind turning off is just the wind turning off, but on some occasions it is prelude to something scary happening not much later, and so best you gird your loins for shenanigans.

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