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The Hang Gliding Association of Canada (HGAC) was formed in Calgary, Alberta, in August 1977 to create national ratings standards and obtain a national insurance policy. Since that time, the association has grown and evolved.

In 1992 the Association, always known by its French name - Association Canadienne de Vol Libre (ACVL), took on a new English name: the Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC).

Hang Gliding in Western Canada

Hang Gliding in Western Canada started around 1971. Willi Muller, then the manager of a small Calgary ski area, was skiing at Lake Louise and watched an area employee named Les Oitz fly a Jobe tow kite down the ski hill. He measured out the kite with his trusty ski poles, then went back to Calgary to try and build one just like it. Willi found an English sailmaker who was able to make a sail (using nylon) after following rough sketches, and Willi built the frame. Then out to Happy Valley Ski Area to try it out! Happy Valley was a small 250 ft hill overlooking the Bow River. Willi would ski down the hill, but the kite just wouldn't fly! To avoid the nose of the kite d igging into the snow he put a ski tip on the hinge. If the nose went down it would just ski along.

This also was the time when freestyle skiing was in its infancy. The local ski instructors built a jump to try their tricks. Willi decided that he would try the jump to launch his kite. Well, he didn't get as far as the skiers! What was the problem? It seems that when Willi measured out the Jobe Kite with his ski pole, he was one polelength short on his measurements (recorded on the back of Ms Dumaurier cigarette pack). The length of the leading edge ended up ll ft instead of 13 ft 6 in! What to do? Well, Willi made a bigger kite, 15 ft leading edge and weighing 70 lbs (heavier is always better) and added a kingpost as well. Back to the ski hill to try it out. And guess what? It flew!

Next day it was up to Mount Norquay Ski Area in Banff National Park to try it out. On the first flight Willi took off under the ski jump. No problem! So now onto the chairlift and up to the top! Takeoff was 1,000 feet above the bottom of the ski hill, takeoff and landing speed around 40 mph. The flight took about a minute. What a spectacle! The skiers lined the side of the hill waiting for him to take off, those in front of the lodge applauded when he landed. Everybody loved it. In the meantime, Terry Jones of Edmonton had seen a demonstration by Bill Moyes, the Australian Birdman. Terry took a trip to Australia to learn more about the sport. Two months later, having mastered the finer points of flying behind a boat, Terry returned to Edmonton where he gave numerous demonstrations at football games, car races and water shows. The highlight of his career was a trip to England to fly at the British Formula One Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, sponsored by Players Cigarettes.

Terry at this time had done all his flying under tow. His first attempt at ski launching was at Jasper Ski Area, Alberta, where he met Willi Muller. Willi told him, "Nothing to it, just point your skis downhill and up you go!"

The following winter, Terry and Willi flew together constantly. Now the kites were larger, up to 18 feet. They even took a brief trip to California to try out foot launching on the hills that they had heard about.

The following summer at Cochrane, Alberta, Willi found out what ridge soaring was all about. The sport became more popular; any number of people were coming out to watch and many started buiIding their own hang gliders. In California at time, plastic sails were quite popular. However, in California, they had many sand dunes which meant that flying a plastic sail was relatively safe as well as economical. In gusty Alberta, it was a little different. Nevertheless, the plastic sail appeared on the scene at Cochrane. In these early days the flyers soon got to know each other. Cliff Kakish, a law student from Saskatoon, learned to fly on a plastic kite. He made numerous flights from the top of Cochrane even in soaring conditions. One memorable flight was made trying out the prone position. Cliff simply reversed his seat and hung from his seatbelt.

One familiar kite on Cochrane Hill had been entirely built by two university students, John Warden and John Gonzar. They sewed the sail and constructed the kite in their apartment. They lived on the 17th floor and stored the kite in the front room. After each day of flying they hauled the kite up and into the apartment via the balcony. It worked fine!

Glen Cryderman earned his title of Crash during these early days. Glen's first flight was spectacular. His seat belt was too low, and (before the day of the backstrap) he fell upside down and hung from his knees before landing softly on his shoulders. Another flight resulted in the use of a colorcoordinated cushion attached to the seat for extra comfort. Glen's most serious injury occurred during these early flights. He landed downwind with his foot in a gopher hole and pulled ligaments in his leg. Glen eventually changed his technique and made sure that in he case of a hard landing, his kite and not his body took the impact.

In January 1972, Big White Ski Area in Kelowna decided to host the World Snow Kite Championships. The first year only local pilot Bob Jones flew, but the following year most of the flyers from Western Canada were there as were several noted flyers from the United States. The chief judge was Bill Bennett. Bob Wills, Chris Price, Dick Eipper and Dave Cronk were all present. Dave Cronk amazed spectators with flights on his spectacular Cronkite. Dick Eipper discovered that plastic sails and the Canadian winter were not compatible. That year there were twenty seven competitors. It was the first organized competition in Canada and a great success.

The archives contains a number of documents which may be of historical interest:

Jan 7 2005   Top Top