The judge declares a Mistral, the pilots appeal to St.Vincent.

Wake up to a full on northerly gale a blowin’.

Wind blades a whippin’, trees a bendin’, and lenticulars a formin’.

The Mistral is paying us a visit.

You can guess what that means…

No task.

Chabre 2014 – the comp that never was?

But the organizers have a plan to salvage the day – St.Vincent des Fort.

St.Vincent – a miraculous combination of geology and geography an hour to the northeast that allows it to become the only flyable site in the region when the Mistral rains a roaring rage upon the Hautes Alps.

The organizers ask for a show of hands as to who is interested – 100 hands go up. Then a show of who is not – 10. These numbers will overwhelm the shuttle buses – its clear it will be first come, first serve.

A quick discussion of the challenges the site has for those not familiar:

1) being the only flyable site in the region during a Mistral means it will be crowded (even before our mass of pilots show up).

2) the launch is a glider and half wide cliff with strong winds.

3) the main LZ is 5 meters below launch height (yes 5 m) a few km’s away and separated by a perpendicular running ridge a few hundred meters above launch height.

4) the bailout, while 400 below launch height, is a slope framed by tall trees on three sides, power lines on one and prone to significant rotor.

Basically, its an advanced site.

Fast forward to 1130hrs – the 100 prospective pilots has been cut nearly in half. Guess the ‘talk’ had the desired effect.

In the time between the morning briefing and upload to the buses, I was able to pick the brains of both Alex and another experienced pilot, both of whom had flow St.V, for particulars as to where to fly, where not to fly and why the bailout is a definite no go.

On our way to launch, the buses drop by first the bailout (now I see why I don’t want to land here – the deathtrap LZ) and the main lz (much, much nicer, through a declining slope into wind).

At launch we get a walk through how to approach the top landing area given that the site is effectively a flat top hill with significant rotor a hundred meters or so behind launch (did I mention advanced site?), repeated hints to go over the site guide sign, and a strong suggestion that out landings are to be avoided immediately below launch and leading to the bailout (a lot of angry farmers).

That all done, everyone kits up and begins a queue to the launch area. The tandems have priority and occupy the space to the right, while the solo pilots lay out to the left.

It doesn’t take long to see which pilots have been making contributions into their pilotage investment via kiting. These would be the folk with quick, confident launches as opposed to those who need multiple resets and/or are getting plucked+dropped.

Eventually my go at it. Jocky has been helping to get pilots away quickly by laying out wings and giving some quick pointers to those struggling with the metrological/psychological aspects of the site. Jocky kindly lends a hand laying out my wing as a cycle comes through. Quick on the C’s to keep it ground bound, I glance to my left to check the status of the tandem laid out. They were ready and waiting for the next cycle.

Letting them go first is not simply a matter of politeness. The local tandem operators rely on top landing to be able to swap over passengers, and to be able to top land, one needs to climb. Following the line taken by a local tandem along the ridge will give me the best chance of finding the ever critical first climb. Without it, they might as well bury me in the LZ of death.

The tandem launches and I wait ten seconds or so for them to clear and decide on a direction, then follow suit. The tandems line takes us for a scenic tour to the end of the eastern ridge and back. Following the tandem proves to be a wise choice as many others are starting to sink out in a flush. As another cycle breathes to life and lifts everyone back up to launch height, more pilots launch and add to the melee.

Dodging and weaving becomes the order of the day, with two dozen wings of varying skill all trying to soar the short ridge. It doesn’t take long to test my patience and I make my way to the bowl to the west.

The bowl is wonderful collector of thermals being driven up the slope from the lake, but multiple sources means mixing and mixing means a little rock and roll. Most pilots don’t wander over here until they are decently above launch height.

The aspiring scratch master decides to dive in low and kick a few tree tops and show folk how its done.

A few bell ringing incidents and employment of colourful metaphors follow as I climb out to above launch and try my hand at top landing. The lift band beside launch is getting stronger and the approach the tandems are employing is little more aggressive than I like.

Back to the bowl.

Kick tree tops.

Ring the bells.

Employ colourful metaphors.

Climb out, again.

At this point I make my way up and over the ridge separating launch from the main lz. From there, over and past the lz to entertain myself in the seemingly endless lift being driven up from the lake valley. A call on the radio hints that those on the ground have the option of being driven down to the lakeshore for food and beer.

I beeline for the lz and land in time to hitch a ride to the lakeside bar.

A glorious day at a gorgeous site. Mistral who?

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