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Paragliders launch inaugural flight in Jasper

N. Veerman photo Well known Canadian paraglider, Will Gadd shows Oliver and Hillary Noble where he will land the inaugural paraglide in JNP. N.

N. Veerman photo

Well known Canadian paraglider, Will Gadd shows Oliver and Hillary Noble where he will land the inaugural paraglide in JNP. N. Veerman photo

As he ran toward the western edge of Whistlers Mountain, Will Gadd’s bright red wing filled with air, May 9, lifting him into Jasper’s airspace to mark the inaugural paraglide in a Canadian national park.

Gadd is well-known Canadian paraglider and ice climber, as well as a former Jasperite, who previously held the paragliding world record for the longest distance, with a flight of 423 kms.

Prior to taking flight last weekend, he said he was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to fly in Jasper.

“I think I first rode the tram almost 40 years ago, so I have a really long history and involvement with this place,” he said of Whistlers Mountain and Jasper National Park. “I’ve hiked and climbed many of these mountains and now to be able to fly here is pretty special.”

He said it was also pretty “neat” to be the first to launch.

“It’s always good to be first,” he said with a grin.

Gadd was accompanied by numerous members of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC), all of whom took a turn launching off Whistlers.

Until last week, a paraglider had never before launched or landed in a Canadian national park, so the excitement was palpable as each of the paragliders arrived for the inaugural flight.

The day was nearly a decade in the making. It was nine years ago that HPAC first approached Parks Canada, asking that it consider paragliding and hang gliding in Jasper and Banff national parks.

“Had you told us that it was going to take us nearly a decade, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Bruce Busby, vice president of HPAC. “Honestly, the thousands of hours and the trips to Jasper for meetings and the trips to Banff for meetings, all of this, and it was an unknown.”

Over the course of the last nine years, Parks has been considering new recreational activities for national parks. In 2010 it completed a national assessment outlining the activities it deemed appropriate, including paragliding and hang gliding, as well as mountain biking, via ferrata tours and aerial parks.

In September 2010, the minister of environment approved the national guidelines and shortly after, Banff and Yoho national parks conducted the first local assessment for guided via ferrata tours. Based on the feedback from that assessment, each of the mountain national parks (Jasper, Banff, Kootenay, Glacier, Mt. Revelstoke, Waterton Lakes and Yoho) developed its own guidelines for the nationally-approved activities.

Jasper’s guidelines were released for review during the annual public forum in 2011 and were open to feedback until January of 2012.

Since that time, Parks had been working to revise the guidelines, as well as change air access regulations, to allow for paragliding and hang gliding in the park. It took a few years to amend the regulations, allowing Parks to finally approve the guidelines and start a two-year pilot project for paragliding and hang gliding.

Within the guidelines, Parks has provided direction as to where pilots are prohibited from taking off, flying and landing. Those areas include environmentally sensitive sites, the Jasper townsite, Marmot Basin, along roadways and associated right-of-ways, within 30 metres of any watercourses—lakes, rivers, creeks—and their banks, or within 1,000 metres of active raptor nests or mineral licks.

Parks has also asked that those who fly in the park provide details on their flights, so that information can be used to evaluate the pilot project when the two years is up.

It has also limited flights to HPAC members and prohibited commercial flights for the course of the pilot project.

Members of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada gather for a photo op before they launch from Whistlers Mountain, May 9. N. Veerman photo

Although it was a long process getting to this point, Busby said HPAC is over the moon that its members can now explore JNP, searching for the perfect places to launch and land.

“We’re thinking that [Jasper’s] going to be a great destination as a landing point,” he said. “Now that we have Parks approval, I wouldn’t be surprised if before August you’re hearing from us and we’re telling you that someone flew from Golden and landed in Jasper.”

Long distance flights like that aren’t uncommon for paragliders and hang gliders.

Retired park warden, Alan Polster said his longest flight was 120 kms, from Golden to Windermere. It took six hours. In a car it would have been about an hour and a half, but surely the views wouldn’t have been as good.

Polster, who was a Jasper park warden from 1985 to 1993, was among the HPAC members at the inaugural flight—although he did more “para-waiting” than flying, as he sat tight for the perfect winds.

While he waited, he said Jasper is the perfect place for paragliding.

“It’s got the combination of mountains and valleys that are ideal for the sport,” he said, explaining that the combination of the warm valleys and cooler mountain tops creates a temperature difference that moves the air up the mountainside, allowing for ideal flight conditions.

Margit Nance, executive director of HPAC, said there is also a “harmonious connection” between the sport and the park.

“There was no clash, there was no conflict, there was no potential environmental damage that had to be mediated or anything—there was a harmony.

“It seemed to enhance why we’re in the mountains and how beautiful it is. It’s just another way of seeing the park.”

Although commercial flights aren’t being offered during the pilot project, those who are interested in paragliding in the park are encouraged to undergo training and become members of HPAC.

For Nance, all it took was one tandem flight and “game over,” she was on the hunt for an instructor so she could fly on her own.

Polster’s story is similar. After one lesson—a 40th birthday present from Jasperite Hugh Leckie—there was no turning back, and now he’s made it into a living, offering tandem flights in Revelstoke.

To learn more about paragliding and hang gliding, including the rules and regulations around flying in the park, visit

Nicole Veerman
[email protected]

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