Aspen’s Welch swoops to national title in Brazil
April 5, 2002
In mid-March, Aspen resident Pete Welch traveled to Brazil for a cross-country hang gliding competition. He came back the Brazilian speed-gliding national champion.
“I had no idea they were having the speed event,” said Welch, 33, “but that’s how it goes.”
A two-time Wings Over Aspen speed-gliding competitor, Welch flew to Brazil – in an airplane, of course – with three friends for the cross-country competition in Governador Valladares, a Latin American gliding mecca located about nine hours by car northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s really big there,” Welch said. “It’s a little more mainstream than it is in America, and in this city it’s huge. They’ve hosted a world championship and they have big events every year. It’s a destination for pilots.
“My Brazilian friends knew about the [cross-country event], but when I arrived there, we were talking to other pilots and they told me I ought to get in the speed-gliding event,” Welch continued. “And it turned out I beat ’em all.”
As the only American in the field with nine other Brazilian-based pilots, Welch posted the fastest time down the course over two competition runs. “It was supposed to be four days, but two days were unflyable,” he said.
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In hang gliding’s version of a downhill ski race, pilots launch up in the mountains and race down the course, which includes height-control gates that pilots must fly beneath, coming dangerously close to the earth.
“It was a lot longer than the Aspen [Mountain] course. The Aspen course is really steep; this is more of a gliding course. And you really had to administrate your speed. You had a couple really long glides you had to make, otherwise you’d be landing in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
The Governador Valladares course finished at a downtown soccer field. “For the afternoon run we made, everyone in the city came out to watch,” he said. “It was pretty neat.”
In the cross-country event, where pilots soar for distance, not speed, Welch didn’t fare as well, finishing 40th out of 65 pilots.
“The speed-gliding finished the day before cross-country started, so I didn’t get much training in,” he said. “But that’s OK. It turned out to be a great trip.”
Welch, a 10-year Aspen resident, started hang gliding in 1994.
“I learned it here,” he said. “I was working at Sabatini’s [a former ski shop in Aspen] with guys who flew hang gliders, and they brought me into it. They got me into the sport without having to spend a whole lot of money to begin with. That’s how it all started.”
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