If the idea of soaring above Whistler held aloft by a polyester or nylon canopy and a harness appeals to you, paragliding might be just the sport for you.
Described as a cross between hang gliding and parachuting, paragliding evolved through the 1950s and 60s before first being marketed as a sport and recreational activity in 1965 and gaining popularity through the 70s and 80s. Unlike hang gliders, paragliders have no rigid structure, using instead a wing or canopy made of fabric and forming cells which are inflated by the incoming air. Suspension lines from the wing are attached to the harness in which the pilot sits and the pilot steer using brakes attached to each side of the wing.
Though invented by an American, the sport of paragliding was quickly adopted by Europeans while gaining far fewer early converts in North America. Like most sports, however, it was only a matter of time before paragliding was introduced in Whistler.
Janet and Joris Moschard, already accomplished paragliders, moved to Whistler in 1987 and began flying in the valley. A year later Janet and Joris opened Parawest Paragliding and in December of 1988 they began teaching the sport on Blackcomb Mountain, the only mountain resort in North America to offer lessons on this “exciting new aeronautical sport”. If you skied Blackcomb in the late 1980s and 90s, you may have seen the brightly coloured paragliders spread out on a run and watched as beginners and experienced pilots took off on their skis and soared down the mountain above you.
Operating in both the summer and winter months, Parawest Paragliding offered tandem flights for those wishing to simply experience flight and one-day beginner courses for those looking to fly themselves. Students began at base-camp with an introduction to the harness, described by one as sitting in a Jolly Jumper®, before gradually learning the steps to flying on the hill and ending the day having taken two or three short flights.
Janet and Joris recently donated several videotapes of media coverage of Parawest Paragliding and local paragliding events to our archives. Including media interviews with Whistler locals, stunning views of the Whistler valley in the 80s and 90s and coverage of Parawest’s Annual meet and Costume Events, these tapes are currently being digitized and will provide a great visual aid when discussing paragliding in Whistler.
Wednesday, April 19 the Museum will be welcoming Janet and Joris Moschard, as well as other paragliding pioneers in the area, to share tales, knowledge and footage from their thirty years of flying over Whistler as part of our Speaker Series. Doors will open for the event at 6 pm and their talk will begin at 7 pm. Tickets are available at the Whistler Museum.