By Julie Noyes
Special to the Herald Times
DINOSAUR | Every kid fantasizes about what it might be like to simply jump off his roof with an umbrella and fly…and hang gliders live the dream of little boys everywhere, perfecting an art once thought impossible. By simply running down slope or off a cliff into the wind, professional hang gliders stay aloft for hours and hours thousands of feet in the air for hundreds of miles. Northwestern Colorado offers the perfect conditions to soar.
On June 18-24 the area hosts an entire event centered around hang gliding and other attractions here: the Dinosaur Open SPECTACULAR.
This year’s event is organized by Jamie Shelden, a veteran hang glider herself, who has competed on both the German and United States national teams. “I saw hang gliders for the first time when I was about 10 years old, out on a Sunday hike with my parents and I was amazed by it then. My parents thought the pilots were ‘absolutely crazy’ and I thought to myself, ‘someday, I’m going to do that.
“The draw of hang gliding for me—and I would guess most pilots—is that there is nothing closer to flying like a bird than hang gliding. Most people see it as an extreme sport (which, of course it is), but having done it for 26 years now, I find it to be incredibly peaceful and relaxing much of the time. In addition to being able to fly like a bird, it is very satisfying to be able to do something that takes a great deal of skill and focus, that not many people do,” relates Shelden.
In this National Championship competition, hang gliders from all over the United States and the world launch near Dinosaur and will land in five regional communities: Craig, Hayden, Maybell, Meeker and Rangely. The event is sponsored by Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) and Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties. Hang gliders will compete in Class 1, Class 5 and the Sport Class for National Champion titles.
Look forward to seeing Jonny Durand, the current number one world-ranked pilot from Australia and Christian Ciech from Italy, the reigning world champion, as well as top-ranked pilots from Mexico, Brazil and members of the U.S. National team.
Though Cliff Ridge on Blue Mountain, Northwest of Dinosaur, Colorado, has a long history of United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) sanctioned championship level-competitions for distance and height, speed to goal, and chaser, this is the first year the event happens simultaneously with a variety of activities.
Shelden says, “The area around the Dinosaur flying site is so beautiful and wild and from up in the air, the landscape is incredible. We don’t have many mountain competitions in the U.S. anymore because there are wonderful flatland areas for flying that have become very popular over the last 10 years or so. So, this is the only opportunity for U.S. and international pilots to compete in a big mountain area in the U.S. Foreign pilots (particularly Europeans) love the area because it is surrounded by wide-open space and plentiful places for easy landings. Also, Dinosaur is one part of the country where pilots can get extremely high (often right up to the 18,000 feet ceiling for hang gliders) and fly very long distances— so these are both things that draw many pilots.”
Each day around noon, the competitors will launch and depending on which way the wind blows will land in one of five designated landing areas throughout this corner of the state. Because they never know how long or precisely where the hang gliders will land, the launch site is an ideal spot for spectators. Keep current by checking their website at www.dinosaur17.com.
By Julie Noyes