Many of us waste too much time aloft looking nowhere in particular, and then going there. You should always be looking intently somewhere, for lots of reasons. And by this we don’t mean eyeballing your avionix, flight director or other trifles you’ve cluttered the cockpit with to distract yourself from reality. In a glider, if you’re not looking outside, you’re not looking.

Of course we must always watch for traffic. To find it, experts say gaze continually a few seconds at a time in one sector and then shift your sight line to an adjacent one, rather than sweeping across. It’s bogies’ movements against a still background that give them away.

Most traffic that’s not at your level is irrelevant anyway, except for implications about soaring potential, and focusing on trivial detail preempts other things that are important. Traffic at your altitude however, camouflaged by the horizon, remains a perpetual menace in every situation whether you see it or not. Any time you aren’t looking somewhere else for a better reason, study the horizon closely — the entire horizon, including behind on both sides. Someone may be back there, coming faster than you’re going. And never forget that your bird’s profile on that same horizon is also the hardest for others to see…

Once you do spot traffic, DON’T quit searching and fearfully watch it like an enemy about to attack. The challenge is to monitor known bogie(s) mentally while continuing to search elsewhere, for other traffic as well as vital info of all kinds.

Thankfully, soaring is about more than collision avoidance. It’s about everything. Situational awareness demands continually refreshing where you actually are, where you’re really going, and what the air ahead might or might not do — all essential to making smart, creative decisions instead of hapless ones. Confirming ground position, dodging shadows, anticipating the day’s evolution; there’s always more to see than you have time and eyes for.

And while we’re at it, visual acuity is not only a question of optics. I’ve known pilots who claim they don’t need glasses yet fail to see traffic in plain sight, or birds soaring nearby. That info’s not being missed by their eyes, it’s being ignored somewhere downstream, inside the skull. Between cornea and conscious mind swirls a multiverse of variables, physiological, psychological, metaphysical, you name it. Whatever data is fed through the optic nerves, it’s mind’s alone to utilize, misinterpret or never even notice. Given the choice, why not utilize everything your eyes make available? For our art to become more than just vapid entertainment, willfully gleaning all you can from what they provide is at once motivation, means and reward.


So much for generalities. Next time we’ll discuss more specifically where to find the very richest info.


This most recent northerly/easterly spell will conclude with a breezy Friday and Saturday, followed by the inevitable calming Sunday and beyond.  We’ll be dedicating or whole fleet for a passel of rides with Boy Scouts on the weekend itself, and resuming normal operations on Monday.



We all know that wind must flow downward before it rebounds to form a soarable wave, right? And beneath every wave’s crest there’s rotor… Yes well, for every atmospheric phenomenon that obeys a textbook drawing there are more that stray from it or defy it outright. I’ve soared in wave with no apparent rotor beneath it, and gone two miles up in rotor that seemed to have no wave above it. Such anomalies should not be ignored or discarded as junk data, but valued as the scent of fuller understanding yet to be gained.

Diagrams of wave usually show an initial downward flow hugging the hill like a blanket before curving back up from the bottom, with rotor churning a mile or more downwind, directly below the ‘primary’ wave’s crest. That’s not always how it works though. Living ten years on a mountain that regularly generates classic wave, but flying daily only spring, summer and fall, I experienced more wave days from the source itself than from any cockpit, and am very sure of this uncertainty.

The ridge is a mile and a half long on top, standing quite perpendicular to frontal westerlies. Ski trails run more than 2000 vertical feet down the lee slope, which I might yoyo ten to twenty times every day of winter, always observing weather on the ride back up. Often as not on wave days, surface wind flowed up that slope, meaning primary rotor in direct contact with the hill.

So what’s the difference? Or is there a difference?

In my expert opinion, maybe. When surface wind flowed uphill the wave’s first crest would sit directly over the base parking lot, but when wind flowed downslope it followed the standard schematic, feeding a ‘primary’ wave (generally larger) where it’s supposed to be some distance downwind.

Of course there were also many wave days with no wind at all near the surface. About them I have, quite confidently, no opinion. Swear to Gaia.

Ultimately, the wave itself has no reason to care where its rotor is, or even if it exists. Like all wild creatures, wave simply does what it’s impelled to. Perhaps that’s the main lesson it has to teach us…


That is the question for this coming week here at Crystal.  One of our optimum ‘winter’ soaring conditions is the clear, usually light northeast wind that generates those infamous Santa Anas down in the LA basin.  Up in the Mojave, north wind is okay and northeast can be ideal, but wind straight from the east is typically of little use for us, even in the mountains.  If the forecast is accurate, we can expect a strong easterly on Friday, a very light northerly on Saturday, and after that – hopefully – several days of brisk northeast feeding autumn thermals, ridge lift and/or bow wave.   How much north and how little east, that’s what we’ll be waiting till Sunday to find out…