Gliding in the Mountain Parks
Many people have watched birds flying above the majestic Rocky Mountains and wondered what it would be like to have the opportunity to see the Rockies from a bird’s-eye view. With a paraglider or hang glider, you can do just that.
“Hang gliding and paragliding are two sports that provide unparalleled freedom and recreation,” reads the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC) website. “Hang gliding & paragliding are the most accessible & affordable ways for people to achieve man’s oldest dream – flying with the birds.”
By visiting the mountain parks, you are also visiting the birthplace of hang gliding in western Canada. With a 70 pound homemade wing attached to his back, Willi Muller first introduced the sport to the mountain parks in 1971 by launching himself on skis from 1,000 feet above the base of Mt. Norquay ski resort in Banff National Park. The flight took approximately one minute, and
the spectators were thrilled.
Both hang gliding and paragliding in western Canada have steadily grown in popularity since then.
Max Fanderl has been paragliding and hang gliding since 1986 and became one of the first certified paragliding instructors in Germany in 1987. He started his career as a test pilot for wing manufacturers before moving from Germany to Canada in 1991.
Fanderl now owns a paragliding school in Invermere, B.C., and has represented Canada four times in the Red Bull X-Alps, a roughly 1,000 km flying adventure race from Salzburg to Monaco. Athletes participate by invitation, and complete the course with a paraglider and a pair of hiking boots.
Fanderl says paragliding & handgliding is as safe as any other sport, but participants need to be prepared to put in the time to learn it.
“Just putting out the money doesn’t mean you can fly. You have to do the work,” says Fanderl. “It’s not a one-time bucket list thing; it takes at least one or two seasons of flying to learn the sport.”
For those who want to experience the sport, tandem flights are a good option and safe for anyone – kids included. Fanderl and his wife Penny Powers, also a paragliding pilot, started taking their children on tandem flights at the age of three, and still regularly fly tandem with them.
“It is a very safe sport,” says Fanderl. “Some people think we’re daredevils, but it’s not like bungee jumping. It’s about patience, and it’s very relaxing.”
Frank Kernick, a close friend of Fanderl’s, has been a paragliding pilot since 1991. He became hooked after watching paragliders land right in Canmore. In his 22 years as a pilot, Kernick has flown in countries around the world but still says that the Canadian Rockies offer some of the best flying conditions anywhere.
For the past 13 years, Kernick has organized the competitive Lakeside Event in Invermere, B.C., showcasing both paragliding and hang gliding. Entering its 38th year in 2014, the Lakeside Event has glider pilots launching from Mt. Swansea as they try to reach specific targets on the beach and in the water of Lake Windermere. Although many pilots strive to impress the large audience with acrobatics, Kernick says the true sport is about flying long distances.
This family-friendly aviation meet attracts pilots from across the Bow Valley while bringing awareness to both sports: “The Lakeside Event is a great opportunity to showcase the sport,” says Kernick. “It allows us to introduce the sport of paragliding and hang gliding to more people.”
In the future, Kernick hopes to see hang gliding and paragliding become more accessible in the national parks. Currently, pilots can fly over parks but are not allowed to land in them. Given the minimal impact that hang gliding and paragliding have on the environment, Kernick hopes this will change.
For anyone wanting to get involved in the sport, both Kernick and Fanderl say tandem flights are the best way to experience the relaxation of flying in the mountain parks. To find out more about hang gliding and paragliding activities, visit HPAC’s website at hpac.ca to find a list of local associations, clubs, and schools.
By: Jen Marren
Mount 7, one of Golden’s most spectacular mountains, was host to the Canadian Paragliding and Hang Gliding Nationals in 2011 and the launch site of the first world record set in 1986 by Randy Haney who flew a hang glider an impressive 325km from Mount 7 to Whitefish Montana.
One of the most popular flights from here heads south to the small community of Canal Flats. The extraordinary 145 km flight has been described by the prominent glider magazine Cross Country as one of the “top, classic cross-country flights of all time.”
Eight world records for distance and speed have been set from the launch at Mount 7.
To learn more go to: tourismgolden.com/paragliding