By Andrea Arnold
Maxx Bouillon is taking advantage of the sunny and more importantly, lightly windy days in McBride. He has made the flight from the halfway point on McBride Peak to Koeneman Park several times over the last few days.
Bouillon started paragliding almost exactly two years ago. He was drawn to it through the desire to see his home, Hudson’s Hope, from the sky, and the ability to do so without a motor. He says he didn’t start out the smartest way, ordering a glider/wing on ebay and trying to figure it out using youtube.
“I couldn’t figure it out,” he said. “I needed help. Probably a good thing. I might not be here if I had kept trying on my own.”
Bouillon got instruction from a fellow paraglider. The first time he launched successfully he was surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was in the air. Then I realized I had to figure out how to land.”
After 50 flights he earned his license from the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada. Paragliding is the more portable of the two. Hang gliders use a stiff triangular glider with a rigid frame where the paraglider is suspended from a wing made of parachute-like material by a harness.
“When paragliders started to come into the picture, hang gliders looked at them the same way skiers looked at snowboarders at first,” he said.
Prior to venturing into paragliding, Bouillon had experienced smoke jumping, which is parachuting into wildfire situations.
In comparison to those experiences, paragliding is a mostly quiet and peaceful experience.
“It is the most freeing feeling I know how to get,” said Bouillon. “I feel like a bird.”
He enjoys the freedom to climb to a spot and launch, no matter where he is. He has completed flights in many locations but his favorite spot so far is Tumbler Ridge.
“It is beautiful and I can really fly,” he said. “But it is often so windy you can’t fly.”
On one flight in Tumbler Ridge, he spotted a caribou, which made the journey extra special.
As he increases his flight count, currently at 120, Bouillon is enjoying the different things that he can see and experience from the air. He has seen several bears and has had to alter landing plans at least once due to a sighting. Usually he has a planned landing area, but sometimes, due to wind or other elements out of his control he has to make adjustments.
“Once, as I was circling in the air, I had an eagle circling next to me,” he said. “I think that was my favourite in-flight experience.”
Bouillon does not limit his flights to sunny warm days. He will even take to the air in the winter. Sometimes, that means the air currents are less predictable.
“I took off from the lookout (on McBride Peak) and there was no wind,” he said. “But in the valley there was 60km gusts. I ended up getting pushed back down the valley and landed in a farmer’s field.”
He uses skis with skins to climb to elevation then lanches with the skis on. Then, when he lands, he glides across the top of the snow for a smooth landing.
Bouillon hopes that the paragliding community continues to grow as it is a unique way of seeing and appreciating one’s surroundings.