Canmore Paragliding--the brief version.
Photos from Canmore, June 26 2006. Base at 15,000 feet, great flight with Frank Kernick and Doug.
The flying in Canmore is sometimes really good. It's also often windy, and we walk to all our sites. Sometimes the flying is incredible, among the best in the world. There's nothing like flying in the big mountains! The following is a quick overview of flying in the Canmore area.
Before you fly check the following links:
Nakiska Ridgetop Winds: This is our best indicator of what is going on at ridge-top level around Canmore. Nakiska is only about 30K southeast of Canmore, and from what I can gather this site is high on the ridge above the ski area. If it's blowing more than 10K with gusts around 20 in the morning don't bother walking.
Nakiksa Ridgetop 24 Hour History: This is especially useful when pondering an after-work flight. If the winds have been under about 20K with gusts below about 40K and are generally dropping then do walk.
Winds Aloft: Click on below FL 180, Praries, Get the FDS. This will show you a bunch of "soundings," or wind measurements all over the Praries. Calgary is the most useful, down near the bottom of the page. Look at the UTC time at the top of the page (Request generated at XX UTC) time, and then look down at the "for use sub-head in the table. The chart is organized by UTC time and altitude in feet; if you're looking for winds aloft in two hours and checked at 15:00 UTM (you know this 'cause the page just told you...) then look for whatever time period has 17:00 UTM, that's two hours from when you're looking at it. Next look at the numbers for 6,000 through 18,000. On a good day you can hit 16,000 feet, so it's worth knowing. Each space in the table will have something like, "2710" in it. That means the wind is blowing from 270 degrees (due west) at 10 knots. The first two numbers are the direction the wind is coming from, the second the speed in knots. A knot is a little more than a mile an hour, so 10 knots is about 20K. If it says 9900 that's code for light and variable. If the wind in Calgary is over about 10 knots at 6,000 then start being concerned and check Nakiksa. If it's over 20K there then don't bother walking.
Also LOOK UP: What are the clouds doing? If they are hauling ass across the sky then don't walk. If they are barely moving then do walk. If the pine trees in town are blowing hard and there are no clouds don't bother walking.
Lady MacDonald: This is our primary site. Look toward the south-facing side of the valley, the mountain to the left of the big gash (Cougar Creek) is Lady "Mac." We launch from where the someone with bad business sense tried to build a "teahouse," the remnants of which are still mouldering away. The "teahouse" is located on the shoulder of Lady Mac that leads down into Cougar creek, above a big gully that faces town. This is a super popular local hike as well. Note that if you fly west you're in the National Park relatively soon. No big deal unless you land in it, which is unlikely on a good day. The "classic" flight is to head west along the range to Lake Minnewanka, then back to launch, followed by a tour east over Grotto, around the valley, whatever.
Directions: Park at the Cougar Creek trailhead, have a look at the sign, head on up. The record is about an hour with a light glider setup, most people will take around two with a fat bag and one or two quick stops for water. The gain is around 900M or 3,000 feet.
Launch: There's a heli platform for the teahouse, we launch just below it. You'll notice that all the rocks below the teahouse are the size of walnuts, with all the big rocks mysteriously missing. That's because local pilots have taken a lot of time to move the big rocks, do the locals a favour and remove some of the rocks to the sides, who knows, maybe in another 30 years we'll be able to fit two gliders in there at once. There are normally some wind streamers and such, add more if they are missing.
LZ: Beside the Trans Can, just "west" of the Sheraton, huge field where the RC guys fly their plans. A nice place to land. Lots of other options.
Winds: Best in a straight south or southwest. Be careful if it's blowing North or Northwest, the launch is in the lee with this wind direction, I've been screwed by this a few times. If the clouds are blowing along the ridgeline toward Calgary then you're probably in the lee and may have an adventure once you get out into the air.
Ha Ling, AKA Chinamen's.
An interesting site with two launch directions. Look toward the south side of the valley, the peak to the left with the huge black rock face is Ha Ling. Launch is in the saddle to the east of the westernmost summit block overlooking Whiteman's Gap ( I have no idea what's up with all the ethnic names). It's often a really good place to launch in the morning facing Canmore, the east-facing cliffs work surprisingly well.
Directions: Follow the signs to the Nordic Centre, keep going as the road turns to dirt, drive past the small lake for about a half K, park at the Goat Creek trailhead on the right, walk across the road up toward the canal, past the little wooden shack, grunt to the top. About 1.5 hours to launch with a fat glider bag.
Launch: Anywhere in the saddle to hiker's right of the peak everybody hikes too. Or, just over the saddle facing the town of Canmore. Both launches are best in the spring when there is still snow, it's a bit mangy for comp-lined gliders at other times of year. The launch facing Canmore is a bit nicer.
LZ: If you launch to the west then pick one of the big fields. If you launch towards Canmore people land either at Quarry Lake (the little lake on the right before the big reservoir near the Nordic Center) or someplace else.
Winds: There's enough thermal action in the morning to make this site our only morning site. If it's blowing hard in the gap with the lake as you drive through there keep driving and go for a hike. There's occasionally some weird valley winds blowing on the Spray Lakes, be aware that landing in the gap can be sporting--if you fly off the west-facing side and don't immediately hook it up it's likely best to fly through the gap and out over town, that usually works well.
Grotto, EEOR (East End Of Rundle).
Have both been flown a fair amount. For Rundle park at the goat Creek lot, hike about 200M back up toward the reservoir lake, follow the trail up. Some nice meadows to launch from, but often a bit swirly. Grotto: Take the trail above the Alpine Club, most people launch just above treeline. A serious grunt.
Good luck! Bring a cell phone, 911 works.