Aspen’s Welch swoops to national title in Brazil |

Aspen’s Welch swoops to national title in Brazil

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.

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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