July/August, May/June, North America, September/October, Travel Guide

Guide to Golden, Canada

Friday 7 February, 2014
Spring flying from Golden, BC. Photo: Jérôme Maupoint

Spring flying from Golden, BC. Photo: Jérôme Maupoint

Fly the Rocky Mountain Trench, which stretches 1,000 uninterrupted miles from north of here, south as far as Montana, or go off the beaten track with ‘Heli-paragliding’.


The main launch is accessible by 2WD, 14km up a forestry road from Golden and there are two lower launches used in the spring when the top ones are unreachable. The landing zone is in Nicholson, 10 minutes drive from Golden.

The LZ is privately owned and has a full service campground. There is no regular shuttle but most pilots will give you a ride. In the summer the launch is popular with visitors and mountain bikers so there’s scope to hitch-hike to launch with a paraglider.

For some remote flying, the team at www.heliparagliding.com will shuttle you to some inaccessible launchable peaks by helicopter.

There’s a lively social scene and you can meet up with many of the local pilots in the restaurants and bars at the end of the day.

Conditions here can be strong in summer with 8-12m/s thermals. Base is regularly at 4,000m with the peaks below ranging from 2,600-2,900m in height. There are no airspace restrictions up to 5,500m.

In early summer the long days mean more flying time, great for big XCs, but also good for pilots of all abilities. With a big variation in conditions during the course of the day lower airtime pilots can enjoy mornings and late afternoon flights while XC hounds head off.

Typically, cross country flights take you through the terrain at around 2,500-3,000m above the valley floor. The site is largely shut down over the winter.

The flying season starts in May and lasts through to October. July, August and September are peak season.

Launch: 1,960m
Landing: 800m
Average cloudbase: 4,000m

There are three HG launches very close to the small parking space, one ramp and two ground launches. Pilots usually meet up in the LZ and share rides.

Flights to the south are the most common. It is generally easy to hitch back because there are lots of local drivers on the secondary highway that follows the valley. You’ll often see hang glider pilots’ trucks stopping to pick up paragliders.

A common flight here is the 146km south to Canal Flats. Many first-timers clock up 60-80km along this route. More experienced pilots might consider the challenging route across the Rockies, over Lake Louise, Banff and into Camore, Alberta, achieved by only four pilots so far.

The Willi Classic is the longest running XC comp in Canada, open to both PG and HG, and geared to all levels of pilot. Organisers say it is the best opportunity to fly and learn to fly Golden as safely as possible, and offers “ideal summer conditions, lots of pilots around, and a comp infrastructure to take care of some of the important matters for you”. Beside the flying, there are lots of other social and adventure activities to keep the whole family happy.

The gust fronts associated with thunderstorms are epic. They can come as a giant shockwave with gusts of 70km/h and travel far along the valley. Fly downwind as far as possible to land safely. Strong south winds may make the normal LZ hard to reach for paragliders so use alternatives. The back country is remote: landing out in a neighbouring valley can mean a two-day walk out.

Choose from free camping in beautiful natural settings, to campsites, to B&B to ski condos, to five-star hotels. The LZ in Nicholson has a campsite called the Golden Eco-Adventure Ranch, which is popular with pilots. The Tschurtschenthaler Lodge is only a kilometre from the landing zone and is on the way to launch.

There are no schools here, but the three local tandem paragliding outfits including Scott Watwood are a good resource for briefings.
www.mt7.ca is up to date and a must read. Also seek out bi-wingual and bilingual local record holder Serge Lamarche.

Golden is a popular tourist town and the ski hill is home to a grizzly bear refuge open to visitors. Even wilder is the Wolf Centre 30 minutes away. In an hour you can be in Glacier National Park or Banff National Park. Other sports options include skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, hiking, climbing, fishing, and more.

The mountains here create a microclimate that’s hard to predict. The regular weather news is good for telling you what’s happening now but the forecasts should be treated sceptically. Most used locally are www.goo.gl/CIMZvC and the graphical aeronautical forecast.

Wind at take-off in season

Golden is at the junction of Highway 95 and the TransCanada highway. Rent a car or take the Greyhound for the 260km road trip from Calgary International Airport.


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