File photo / Mail Tribune A paraglider launches off Woodrat Mountain in 2012 during the Rat Race.

Applegate Open: It's the new Rat Race

Up to 140 competitors from across the nation and overseas will participate in the inaugural Applegate Open paragliding competition June 9-16 to ride the renowned thermals offered by launching from Woodrat Mountain.

Rogue Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association has taken over the event, formerly called the Rat Race. Mike and Gail Haley, Rat Race organizers for 14 years, announced that 2017 would be their last race.

The event had been hosted on their property but will shift to LongSword Vineyards.

“Woodrat is a world-class site. We get pilots from all over the U.S. who will spend a week flying here,” said Dan Wells, event organizer. “It’s the first year for us. Hopefully it gets easier. It’s been a learning experience.”

LongSword has been a favorite landing spot for paragliders over the years and will be the end point for competitors on both Saturdays. Other landing sites will be determined on the days of the events based on weather and thermal conditions. Sites near Talent and Emigrant Lake may be used. Competitors might also fly to Grants Pass, but then would return to the Applegate for touchdown.

A majority of the pilots hail from Washington, Oregon or California, with a number of entries from Utah and one from Brooklyn, said Wells. The British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Argentina and Japan also will be represented.

Typical races have four or five legs, and pilots must pass through waypoints on the course that can be as small as 400 meters or as large as five kilometers in diameter. Onboard tracking devices will show whether they have flown through a waypoint. The fastest pilot to reach the landing each day gets 1,000 points if they have gone through each waypoint. Points are awarded in descending order for other finishers. Points are tallied at the end of seven days to determine winners in two classes.

“If we didn’t have computers, we couldn’t figure it out,” said Wells. “There’s a GPS unit recording positions every 10 seconds to make sure you hit the waypoints.”

The event includes open and sprint classes. The former has longer events lasting up to two hours, while the latter are generally under 90 minutes. About one-third of sprint-class pilots are women. A clinic for future pilots also will be offered.

A wing costs about $3,500 to $4,000, while a harness with reserve parachutes is about $1,000. Flight instruments cost another $1,000.

Once airborne, pilots must figure out where the thermal updrafts are occurring to gain elevation.

“Depending on the day, it’s not so physically demanding as it is mentally demanding,” said Wells. “You steer with your hands. A pull can change pitch and direction. If the air is relatively rough, you can be busy keeping the glider over your head and in an optimal position. Thermal flying takes a lot more inputs.”

Pilots have a reserve parachute attached to their harness that can be deployed in the event a wing collapses and doesn’t reform. There are usually a couple of pilots each year who end up landing in a tree, said Wells.

The open is one of just two national events that lead to rankings by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and international organizations. The other will be held in Chelan, Washington, July 8-14.

“The local people in the Applegate Valley are generally very supportive,” said Wells. Some residents don’t want paragliders landing in their fields, so competitors are penalized if they end up in an area shown as a no-landing zone. Over the years pilots have used other vineyards for landings.

LongSword Vineyard, 8555 Highway 238, will serve as the event headquarters. Landings will take place there June 9 and June 16. The public is invited to attend. Launches are usually around noon, but times can vary based on conditions.

“This is the biggest event we have produced,” said Kate Vangeloff of LongSword. “We are pairing with the local club. They are doing the race part. We are doing the social part of it.”

For details, see http://wingsoverapplegate.org/

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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