Math teachers always reminded us, “Be sure to check your work.”  I never thought it necessary but usually obeyed just to say so, and was surprised anew each time by my countless careless oversights.  Rarely did I bother with a second check – that would only expose even more dumbbooboos…  Yes I was not a star in school, but only because I didn’t try.  There were so many other things to think about!

I spent whole weeks of teenage class time contemplating one question that still seems, in any context, more worthy than all others:  ‘What matters most ?’  (You must admit it carries a lot of freight.)  These days, beyond pondering the question, we negotiate it, like traffic.  Like traffic it’s nearly everywhere.  Ultimately of course there’s no unifying answer, but that does nothing to diminish the question’s pervading relevancy.

When time came to settle on a line of work, nothing mattered more to me than showing folks how to float in the sky.  It’s easy and fun, so being lazy as a buzzard I sank right into it.  This is also where I finally learned that sometimes you really do have to try.  Okay that’s fair, some things are worth it.

Knowing far from enough about too much of everything, I cooked ‘What matters most?’ into all the paltry foods I fed my poor dear students through year after year of learning more and more how to soar and teach.  Turns out the answer (r)evolves like all else from one stage to the next.  In soaring as in life, for there is no difference, a big part of the answer at every stage is to never abandon your hallowed status of Pupil.

Now well across a fourth decade of learning to correct, critique, cajole and eventually cheer student pilots toward our shared desire, what matters most seems not so much operations done properly or well – those are mostly prescribed and allow scant uncertainty regarding standards.  What it shakes out to is two kinds of mistakes:  those few we resolve and the unknown legions we don’t.  My own flying and instructing have amounted to hardly more than bundles of mistakes like clumps of prickly sand grass ever woven by time into grounded cables of error.  Unraveling these, like all God’s work, is a truly endless process. That’s much of why soaring compels such deep fascination.  So many ways to do the wrong thing and so few ways not to!

Students signal collaborative success when they correct mistakes on their own before I tire of biting my tongue and plead for relief.  I have only one tongue, you know.

So here’s the point.  Anytime you’re up there, alone or otherwise, imagine every pilot you admire is with you and try to fly so they won’t need to bite their tongues…  After all, if you’d like them to admire you too, that’s part of what matters most.


This will be our last week of operations for 2018. Light winds and balmy is the forecast for Saturday and Sunday, with a beautiful dusting of new snow on the mountains that will likely stay from now till spring.
We thank all our staff and friends, volunteers, contributors, and of course regular flyers, for another year of everything. It is a team sport after all, and you’re who make us who we are.
All the best of Festivus to ye (or whichever holiday’s your choice), we’ll be back on Friday, January 11 to do it again. And guess what? By then the days will be, well, measurably longer than they are now…


We were gliding toward a big mountain in strong crosswind, expecting dependable ridge lift when we got there. A smaller hill lay a couple miles upwind, certain to undercut lift somewhere below, but we intended to remain safely above any of that.

Well below the crest we watched loaves of newly fallen snow tumble from pine boughs in random gusts and wander up-slope. Up on top, spindrift was wafting off the ridge in giant banners that diffused in the wind. Then … I did a blink-your-eyes double take. Exactly where we were headed, acres of wind-borne snow were going the wrong way, an airborne avalanche flowing rapidly down into a narrowing defile!


Entirely unseen but quickly becoming obvious, something was dumping big sink onto the windward flank of our mountain… We could actually see a descending curve bottom out in the flowing snow.  Not what we were looking for, so we pulled a quick one-eighty and vamoosed.

What happened later I don’t remember, lots of normal stuff probably. But the question lingered, if that was rotor sink hundreds of feet higher than its source terrain far upwind, how’d it get there?

Recognition came ten years later via the ‘radical symbol’ for square root:  .  No mathematical significance mind you, just the figure itself as if a prehistoric hieroglyph.  Keep this shape in mind (only a whole lot bigger) as a geographical profile.

For those familiar with Crystal’s locale, we’re looking east through Vincent Gap. The little spike at left is Blue Ridge and Baden Powell is on the right, 1800 feet higher. Wind is 20+ from stage left, tumbling over the low peak, across the gap and up the bigger slope like a tide of lottery balls.

Here’s the thing. Each ball is an individual rotor tripped into motion by Blue Ridge, so from this perspective they’re all rolling clockwise, left to right. Therefore, even as all the rotors are pushed upslope, every one that contacts the hill does so with its down side first… Hence the airvalanche.

Without that flocking of loose snow on the pines we’d have flown straight into nasty sink and nowhere to go but down…  One more reason, if you’re counting, to look out the front when you fly.


Kudos to Mark McCurley, who passed his commercial glider check ride last week!

Now we move into the month-long period of shortest days and longest nights.  Two days of occasional rain will come to an end by Friday, and it’s always so beautiful after a storm!  Expect fair skies and very light wind the next few days (warming to all the way up to 60 degrees F on Sunday!) with soarable lift definitely in the ‘character building’ category…