A total of 117 hang gliders and paragliders took part in the 19th annual Willi Muller XC Challenge in Golden over the past week. The turnout was the largest in the event’s history.

American sets record at largest Willi Muller in event’s 19 years

Nearly 120 hang gliders and paragliders took part in the week-long event, including Cody Mittanck, who set a new record.

A nine-hour flight from this area could get you as far as Europe. An hour or two more and you could be in Japan. If you decide to paraglide, however, you’d be lucky to make it to the U.S. border.

But, as Salt Lake City’s Cody Mittanck proved, under the right conditions, it is possible to cover that kind of distance.

Mittanck was competing in the Willi Muller Cross Country Challenge last week, the 19 year-old competition that draws some of the top hang gliding and paragliding pilots to the Columbia Valley and the launch site on Mt. Seven. On Thursday, Mittanck set a new, unofficial Canadian record, landing in the same field where Chris Muller (Willi’s late son) had when he set the previous record in 2000.

The next day  Mittanck went one better, travelling a total distance of 285 kilometres and ending up right near the Canada-U.S. border.

“I knew it was possible (to go further)…I knew the terrain a little bit better so I pushed a little harder,” Mittanck said.

Flying well into the evening, Mittanck benefited from a few aspects that help make Golden and the Columbia Valley such an attractive part of the world for pilots.

“The flying here is amazing because it’s a continuous ridge…when you stay in the air and you continue moving down the range you can make long distances,” Mittanck said, while adding that the longer days also benefit pilots seeking  those lengthy flights.

Understandably, given the length and distance of the flight, Mittanck had to force himself to remain focused, while also making sure to keep hydrated.

“You have to eat and drink and stay focussed when you need to and relax when you can…just work it piece by piece, take each section as it comes,” he said.

This was Mittanck’s first year participating in the Willi but the American says he’ll definitely be back for another go next year, commending the event’s organizers for a fantastic week.

His record-setting flight was just one of the highlights of an event that had many.

This was the largest Muller event to date, and organizer Randy Parkin believes that it might be the largest such event  ever hosted in Canada.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Mt. Seven launch site was abuzz with activity, with dozens of paragliders and hang gliders queuing up, waiting for their turn to launch off the mountain on their way to destinations as close as Nicholson and as far away as Canal Flats, and in some cases, far beyond that.

Next year, for the event’s 20 year anniversary, Parkin expects to have about 120 pilots, which is as much as they can reasonably host given the limited space at launch.

Not bad for an event that started with just 10 pilots back in the 1990s.

“We love Golden. We spend a lot of time here and if we can do something to get more business here and get people enjoying it…people show up and want to stay,” Parkin said.