For being ‘not a very fast flier,’ Aspen’s Silvera still gets ahead |

For being ‘not a very fast flier,’ Aspen’s Silvera still gets ahead

Tim Mutrie

Cherie Silvera, the nations top female paraglider pilot, says her sport is not para-sailing, and we dont do it in Cancun with beers and life jackets. Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

After years as second best, Aspen resident Cherie Silvera captured her first women’s U.S. Paragliding National Championship during a weeklong competition at Lake Chelan in central Washington state, July 10-16.Flying routes up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) for speed and accuracy – Silvera calls it an “airborne yacht race” – she had a breakthrough performance to improve on five previous runner-up finishes at the national event. Kari Castle, a multitime world champion who had owned the podium over Silvera, finished third this year.”I’m not a very fast flier. For me, the biggest thing was being consistent. I made the goal three of the four competition days. Whereas other people, they might race really fast sometimes, but other days they’re sitting on the ground,” said Silvera, 38, also an accomplished mountaineer and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker.She has been flying paragliders for 12 years. She’s been a member of the U.S. paragliding team since 2001 and is also the only tandem-rated paragliding pilot in Aspen (with Aspen Paragliding).

Silvera is quick to point out what paragliding is not – “It’s not para-sailing, and we don’t do it in Cancun with beers and life jackets.”So what is it?”A competition is six or seven days, but usually only three or four days are flyable enough to run a cross-country task,” Silvera said, “task” meaning the route pilots will attempt to navigate, coordinate-to-coordinate. “Each task is set based on the day’s conditions, and you accumulate points for each valid task.”Pilots carry global-positioning devices. To determine the scoring after each task, each pilot’s digital flight log is downloaded on a computer.

“Our best task was our fourth one – it was an 83-kilometer (52-mile) triangle. It took the winners about three and a half hours to do it; it took me about four and a half,” Silvera said. “It was a long day. The most technical and most fun of the days.”Mountain-man extraordinare Will Gadd of Canmore, Alberta, won the overall competition and men’s title. About 90 pilots participated, including seven women.”There are not a lot of women out there doing this,” Silvera said.Sharing the sport with women “has been a long-term motivation for me,” she said. “We have a few women here in Aspen who fly, so that’s good. I travel a lot for flying and wherever you go, you try to be supportive of the other women out there.”Fly safe, have fun. The key is keeping it safe and still doing what you want to do, like the task.”

Paragliders can reach speeds up to 40 mph, “with 40 being the absolute top speed on one of the raciest gliders around – which is not what I fly,” Silvera said.”It’s sort of like a bunch of snails racing through the air. It’s probably one of the most undynamic things, but it is very technical. And once you get to the top level, it’s about how fast you go. But the faster you go, the less stable the glider becomes.”So I go really slow.”Out in the open skies, pilots use currents of rising thermals to gain elevation.

“Warm lifting air shaped in a snaking tunnel. We ride those, try to stay in the cone of lifting air, and then once you get to the top of the thermal, you glide toward your goal – or to the next thermal. That’s how you achieve distance,” Silvera said.”When you’ve got a good gaggle going” – think flock of paragliders – “you can almost see the air moving like a great big helix.”For the biggest win of her career to date, Silvera received an unlikely trophy: a big gold cow skull with horns.”I’ve nailed it on a wall for the time being, until I find a better place for it,” she said.Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is

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