by Chris MacIntyre
We used to do it, and it was great -- added a new dimension to our love affair with the wild blue -- difficult, but worth it. One trainer was kept, hangared and rigged, at Wurtsboro, NY or North Adams,MA ready for anyone hearty or crazy enough to trade off a good book and a cozy fire for the expectation of freezing to death at altitude.
Winter soaring is different, one obvious factor being the shorter day. This has little effect on ridge or wave, however, and watching the snow curl over the top of a wintery ridge can bring on a real rush. Wave can be great if you are dressed for it. I remember starting with long-johns, wool trousers and down-filled warm-up pants, an Icelandic sweater under a wind- breaker jacket, wool socks reinforced by electrically-heated stockings under felt-lined snow- mobile boots, wool mittens under poplin covers, and a knitted wool cap with ear flaps. I still froze.
A high-time glider pilot once gave me a good lesson in winter thermaling, which in many cases is the reverse of that in summer. Plowed fields and sand pits are not good generators when snow covered. Ditto, unused parking lots. Pine groves, on the other hand, do very well. Mrs. Nature knows where the sun produces heat.
One Saturday two of us took a 2-33 up into the North Adams wave. The temperature at ground level was 26 F. At 10,000 feet, where we spent a good part of the day, it must have been at least 35 degrees lower; like minus ten! The Schweitzer brothers, who have yet to build a good cabin heater, made up for it by providing excellent ventilation.
After about four hours of cavorting in the wave and observing the races at White Mountain Raceway, we elected to descend to mother earth, contrary to the wishes, we soon found out, of mother nature. We flew away from the mountain, pulled brakes, took turns at dives, wing- overs, chandelles, and clumsy mixtures of all the above, to which the altimeter paid little attention. In desperation we set out across the valley, found sink, and spiralled down.
There we were, frozen in a seated position in a contrivance the ingress and egress of which presents a significant challenge even to lithe, warm athletic bodies. It was like sardines exiting a can without any outside help. We hobbled to the john all bent over, and it was several minutes before we really straightened up. We still haven't risen to our full heights.
Winter soaring is fun.