It’s been a tough summer for paragliders and hang gliders, as an unusually large number of rainy days has wreaked havoc on the adventure sport.
Organizers for the annual Willi Muller XC Challenge are hoping that the weather will clear up just in time for the 20th edition of the event, which routinely draws pilots from all over North America and Europe.
“We’re hoping it’ll improve. Last year we had four days of bad weather. It’s hard so we try to keep them entertained. We’ll bring in a keg, organize a pizza party, go to the bowling alley,” said Randy Parkin, who competes and helps organize the event.
The event will bring in excess of 120 pilots to town across the seven days, and the pilots will be here to fly from one of the world’s most renowned sites atop Mt. 7. Pilots will earn points based on distance and flight routes and some of the top competitors will have a chance to fly all the way to the U.S. border if the conditions are right.
“One of the things I tell people about flying in Golden, is that if you can fly this valley…you can fly almost anywhere in the world, because of the dynamics of the weather,” said Dale Osmond, a pilot and organizer of the competition.
“It really trains you to be a good, safe pilot.”
Last year, Salt Lake City’s Cody Mittanck made it all the way down the valley before finally landing at the U.S. border. Altogether, it was a nine hour flight.
“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 after that flight.
Combined, pilots competing in last year’s Willi flew over 16,000 kms during the week.
Organizers Parkin, Osmond and John McIsaac all live elsewhere but spend a good portion of their summers in Golden and have been competing in and organizing the Willi for many years. Parkin was one of a small number of pilots to take part in the first event twenty years ago.
“Basically it started with 10 of us throwing in 20 bucks and agreeing that whoever flew the farthest over the course of the week would get the money,” Parkin said.
From the beginning, the Willi has always been about learning, as it gives those who are new at the sport a safe environment in which to improve their skills. That philosophy falls in line with how the event’s namesake operated throughout his life. Willi Muller died in a paragliding crash in 1998, but not before making a lasting impact on the community of pilots in the area.
“The primary purpose and the spirit of the Willi is to develop the younger pilots,” said McIsaac.
“A competition is flying a course, so you’ve got to learn how to program your GPS, when to fly, how to fly, and how do you get that experience? The Wily is that stepping stone,” said Osmund, adding that the amount a young pilot can learn while talking to some of the competition’s veterans is invaluable.
The three have worked hard to make sure that the event is fully connected to the town, and have organized discounts for pilots at certain Golden businesses. They’re also hoping that locals will take part by watching the action from the launch area on Mt. 7 or from the Eco Adventure Ranch in Nicholson, where many pilots will be landing during the week-long affair.
The last way that locals can get involved is by picking up the pilots themselves. Often, gliders will be forced to land wherever the conditions take them, making it possible for them to get stranded down the valley. Organizers are hoping that locals will be willing to pick up stranded pilots, and there could be a prize involved for those who do.
“Drivers shouldn’t be worried if the pilot they pick up asks for their name and phone number…they go into a draw and we draw for dinner at a local restaurant,” Parkin said.
The Willi will take place from July 22 to August 1.