SLOPE THERMALS

Slopes can be dominant factors for thermal production in lots of ways, even when they’re not facing the sun.  Wind-facing slopes often act as ‘triggers’ for incipient thermals that have yet to leave the ground, and tend also to detain those that have already done so, allowing them more time to gather strength.  As a result, large slopes – whether high or wide – tend to organize convection into predictable patterns.  This can be useful even if the prediction is sink, for recognizing and avoiding sink sources is every bit as important as finding lift!

The endless variety of landforms generates many different kinds of slope-related thermals.  In the most general terms we can distinguish between those spawned by bowls, isolated peaks, or continuous ridges.

Bowl thermals are often large and consistent, and though their lift at any given moment may not be as strong as on some surrounding hills, it might be more reliable.  If a bowl is large enough it may gather together nearly continuous clusters of thermals that are easier to locate and work than individual ones.  By carefully using only the best lift in such a cluster, it may be possible to climb higher than elsewhere nearby.  (In  flat  country  a  quarry  or  other  large  hole  in  the  ground with steep sides facing the sun can be the best thermal source of all, regardless of wind direction.)

Peak thermals are easy to find and they can be extremely powerful.  A large, isolated cone like our Mt. Lewis can pull strong thermals together from all sides to meet at the summit where, either right above the peak (or just downwind of it) the energy of all those thermals combine into certifiable boomers.  However, if they rise only a short distance into stronger winds aloft and drift downwind of the crest, peak thermals tend to be short-lived.  When they break off they might leave you in the strongest of sink, very near and downwind of unlandable high terrain.

Long, continuous ridges may offer a beneficial compromise between the types of thermal sources mentioned above.  Their thermals may be smaller and short-lived, but many more exist, often occurring with convenient regularity.  Also, they’re aligned such that each one leads on to another with relatively little sink between.  In conditions where the flat valley is entirely unsoarable, a uniform slope of only 600 feet can provide thermals with amazing regularity.