Miller ekes out win in Golden 

Paraglider tops field at Willi XC Challenge

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEFAN MILLER - THE AIR UP THERE In addition to competing in the Willi XC Challenge, Stefan Miller took some photos of his paragliding route, including this one.
  • Photo by Stefan Miller
  • THE AIR UP THERE In addition to competing in the Willi XC Challenge, Stefan Miller took some photos of his paragliding route, including this one.

Pemberton's Stefan Miller overcame some weather challenges in Golden to take a win at the Willi XC Challenge from July 23 to 31.

Miller posted a score of 479.11 to edge out Peter Spear by just over a point to win the paraglider advanced division at the event. Though Spear had the best single run with a 193.7 top score, Miller was more consistent, putting up three similar flights.

In order to get those strong scores, Miller left as early in the day as possible to try to avoid the worst of the weather.

"I managed to read the conditions well. I'm fortunate. We had some big storms, which made a lot of people very nervous," he said. "We had two problems: one, that the air was very rough. We had a north wind down the range, which meant that the wind was hitting us quite hard. Those were tricky conditions."

Points are awarded based on distance flown, with multipliers being added for there-and-back (multiply by 1.2) or triangle-shaped (multiply by 1.4) routes. Bonus points are also available for various feats. Pilots can take as many flights as they like on the competition days, with some taking as many as 10 or 11, though only the top three are counted. Competitors carry GPS devices — often two, in case the batteries die in one — as well as a separate spot device that sends officials a location every few minutes to ensure they have a handle where all competitors are gliding.

Miller explained gliders attempt to map out their day as much as possible, but the long flights — some journeys last seven hours — mean they must be flexible.

"You usually try to meticulously plan, but then everything changes according to clouds or winds," he said.

As well, Miller praised the conditions in the Sea to Sky as being "world-class," while noting it's fairly similar to Golden in many ways. Still, the competition site is more remote and can be a little less restrictive for competitors.

"Here, you can't really do very long cross-country. You're going from range-to-range and from valley-to-valley and it's all quite broken up. We generally try to do triangles," he said. "In Golden, it's actually quite straightforward."

Miller set a Canadian distance record last year, at 250 kilometres, but the result was wiped out because he flew into airspace.

This year's event was marred by tragedy, as James Pfrunder of Invermere died on the second day of competition. A GoFundMe page set up by his fellow gliders to support his wife Zara and young daughter Odessa has already surpassed its original $10,000 goal. The site is online at www.gofundme.com/4JamesPfrunder.

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