mardi 29 septembre 2015

Canadian Nationals 2015 – Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival

For the third year in a row, balloonists gathered in High River, AB the week before Fiesta in order to compete and enjoy being on a physical version of Alberta’s flag (look it up, it’s basically a map of the Foothills).  This time, pilots were divided into both the Canadian Nationals field and a Fiesta group to fly hare and hounds behind local pilot and event organizer Jamie Kinghorn. The Nationals field was down to 9 competitors as two couldn’t arrive at the last moment and added one in the person of Meg Skelton who wanted to see how Event Director Garry Lockyer called tasks before seeing him again at the Women’s Worlds next summer.
After a beautiful start to the week where competitors arriving early got to see the terrain, the Wednesday evening’s non-competitive media flight was cancelled on the field as the winds were just too strong.
The next morning, the competition began in earnest. The first pibal at 5:30 am was light on the surface, climbing to the left before straightening out towards the ENE over 1000’. At that height, there was over 20 knots which is not an uncommon speed to fly in at height if you expect to get in the air in Alberta.  Two hesitation waltzes were set and a PDG followed. The next pibal revealed that the winds were softer and the right which had existed had disappeared.

As the balloons launched from CLP1, they needed to move quickly as the tasks were timed. The winds were slowing down and so only the first two balloons made it to the first HWZ on time. None of the balloons ended up dropping at either HWZ as they were either late or they weren’t able to get the right, which had disappeared, to make it close enough to the targets. They continued on to their PDGs.
Because it’s the only competitive event of the year in Canada, pilots need to remember how to use the FAI loggers and be confident in flight. This hurt some pilots on flight number one as they made mistakes with pushing buttons or making declarations. Coming back to refuel, each would express their confidence or lack thereof on a specific task. The scores reflected that as the best positioned pilots had either made no technical mistakes or had won a specific task and minimized their mistakes. As with the 2013 championship, Cliff Skocdopole took an early lead.

The afternoon’s flight was winded out with the bar full within minutes of the briefing as friends got together and the new pilots were greeted with some Western hospitality and beer. Friday morning experienced strong winds as well and everyone was able to sleep it off. And to think that the forecast for the weekend had basically been perfect on Wednesday morning.
The wind was still around on Friday afternoon as the pibals started to be thrown but it was starting to drop. Based on the forecast, the question was when not if it would.  This was the big night of the weekend for the town, as the glow was called on and about half of the town of 12 000 people was expected to attend as in the previous two years.

As part of the plans, competition balloons were to launch from the field then the fiesta pilots would set in for the glow. Competitors laid out their balloons expecting a windy launch but an eventual one. With winds still gusty as the sun headed over the mountains, it looked like the window would close. Lockyer consulted with former competitor Del Michaud who was to be the hare for that night and kept looking at the wind. In the end, they didn’t fly but the glow was wonderful.
The next morning, the wind was low and two PDGs were called with the surface winds heading towards the mountains, and fairly rare occurrence. After arriving at the launch site, the pilots were told to hold after laying out. It turned out there was rain coming in from the west and the pilots might fly into it. After trying to wait it out and seeing if the rain might take a turn, which avid readers of these three years of reports would know is a possibility, it didn’t.

Some pilots, seeing that there were only two flight windows left and seeing that they were behind in the standings, were disappointed that either or both of the two flights didn’t go. That afternoon, the circle of pilots interested in the pibal readings grew and they were all pleased to see that surface winds were low and there was no rain in the area after the morning left puddles in the parking lot (also the name of my next album). What only a few people caught on to, especially with the second pibal, was a shear just below 1000’. There was right near the surface, then left before the hard right of the shear which pushed the wind from five knots to 15 in a pretty quick turn.
Pilots launched from north of town and had a HWZ with three targets before two PDGs. At the launch site, the wind was blowing strongly. Fiesta balloons started launching from CLP1 and a few minutes later, Eduardo Martinez was the first off the ground. Oddly, only five fiesta balloons launched, a sign of things to come.  The other competitors, save Richard Clark, eventually popped over the fields a few miles away towards the target areas.

Two of the three HWZ targets were a fence-line apart and Martinez had a straight line on the one most to the north. Coming in at under 1000’, he was preparing his drop. Then, the balloon he borrowed from Debbie Young started losing its shape and coming down and going backwards. He put a significant amount of heat into it and it started rising again and he passed through the shear again before rising a few thousand feet, missing the MMA by a few meters.  Each pilot had a different version of the same situation being tossed around as they came into the target area with Meg Skelton wisely staying above the fray (and using the shear to her advantage on her drop as it came back into the target area). Again, Cliff Skocdopole won the task putting him out further ahead. However, technical mistakes and better performances by others on the two PDGs put him back. The competition remained tight and Dale Ritchie ended up ahead despite not having won any of the six tasks over the first two flights.
After landing, every pilot had a story to tell about going through the shear (which ended up disappearing a few minutes after the HWZ as the sun set).  The adrenaline was pumping and no one seemed to mind what they had been through, more concerned about their scores.

The next morning, there was nothing exciting about the pibals in terms of strong winds at any height. Finally, all pilots would be able to enjoy a nice morning of flying. With a HNH flown by Michaud and a FON, pilots would have two opportunities to pick up points before the noon awards ceremony.
As Michaud took off, he headed towards the East and went further South as he rose.  It wasn’t long before the other pilots were off the ground. As he came in for a landing in a large field that had huge hummers about 150 m away, he took a left turn.

The first three competitors to come near him, Martinez, Cooper and Skelton, kept as much right as they could to catch the left and follow him into the target set out. When they got down, they found that the left had disappeared and they were following the hummers in parallel. Dale Lang came in after after having stayed left for longer and flew over the target, winning the task.
The two previous Canadian champions and the leader of the event (Gleed, Adams and Ritchie) then came in having planned for the left to be there and realizing it no longer was. They all missed the MMA. Clark had stayed to the north for longer scored. Skocdopole threw his marker too late and ended up outside of the MMA despite having an excellent line.

Ritchie’s score was middle of the pack, but he won the FON cementing his 5th national title and a ticket to Saga for next year’s worlds. Gleed, who holds the other spot, was non-committal about going to Japan which would put Adams, who finished second and won the 2011title as the next in line. He’s ready to go if called upon and Ritchie has indicated he would like to go as well.
As with the two previous years, the weather was tricky with high and unpredictable winds and rain that came in unannounced from over the mountains. Despite that, the competitors were happy by the end of the event, judging that the eight tasks gave them each a chance to prove their worth. “If only I hadn’t made ____ mistake” was a commonly heard refrain as pilots looked at the Official Notice Board late Sunday morning. Hal Cooper won the Rookie of the Year Award as it was his first national championship participation despite having competed at the Worlds in Austria. Stan Wereschuk won the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival championship as fiesta champion.

The Heritage Inn, the gracious hosts for the event, seemed ready to commit to another and despite some disappointment with the weather from event organizers, the momentum is certainly growing within both the community and balloonists with 26 registered having grown from 15 two years ago.
See you next year!

Check the event's Facebook page for photos, videos of the marker drops on task 7 will be up soon.


lundi 17 août 2015

We'll Weather the Weather - High River 2015

The first two years of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival have been great examples of a community rallying around a fun, competitive balloon event. This year, as the town of High River hosts the Canadian Championship for the second time in three years, everyone deserves something that the first two years didn’t offer: good, stable weather.

The weather will once again have an important effect on the final standings. In 2013, only two competitors were able to launch for the final flight due to winds that rose quite quickly. The next year, tasks were changed quite due to ever-changing wind speed, direction and rain that came in spurts.
With the return of the Nationals and two new competitors seeking a trip to the World’s in Japan in 2016, as well as the retirement of a true veteran and legend of Canadian competitive ballooning, it means that more is at stake this year.  As it is also the only real competition in Canada, it is difficult to assess the competitors based on their performances this year. Still, there are a few favourites heading into the competition.

The two most recent champions, Dave Gleed and Jason Adams must be considered favourites not simply because of that success, but because of excellent careers. Adams, who has been living in High River this summer, has been particularly dedicated to competition and did well at Field of Flight in Battle Creek earlier this year. He’ll also represent Canada the World Air Games later this year and was the only pilot to fly the maple leaf in Brazil last year. Dale Ritchie is also a perennial favourite based on a career of excellence. Meg Skelton, who finished 20th at the Women’s Worlds last year, is coming up to fly a Garry Lockyer event before next year’s Women’s Worlds.
Younger pilots will have something to say about the order of finish. Rookies Eduardo Martinez and Hal Cooper are rookies in name only. They both bring with them international experience with Cooper flying for Canada at the World’s in Austria and Martinez doing well in Mexico. With his permanent residency, he is very happy to be eligible to win the championship. Brant Leatherdale has the backup of Del Michaud who has decided to stop flying competitively and Cliff Skocdopole would have been in Brazil with Adams if he wasn’t such a good businessman.

Three other former champions, Dan Balisky, Dale Lang and Marvin Schultz will also be competing along with Calgary Balloon Club Vice-President Richard Clark who enjoys the spirit of competition without the expectation of winning.
Yes, the name of every competitor has been listed. Part of the challenge is what the weather will do.  The more tasks that are flown and the more technical they are, the more likely those with more experience in high level competitions will be advantaged. Another question mark is crews. The event is looking for a lot more volunteers on the ground. Without a team known to the pilots, their routines might change. The lesson is to sign up and volunteer!

See you in High River!

lundi 4 mai 2015

6 year anniversary of leaving Iceland

This year was all about building on the successes of the first year in Alberta. I didn’t add any new responsibilities or titles, but tried to make right with my existing activities.  It was the year that I worked the hardest in all my life; I’m exhausted but have seen the rewards of my hard work.
The biggest of which is the opening, on this 1st of May, of the Clinique francophone de Calgary.  I try to stay humble, but I truly feel like I deserve some credit for its opening: funding, staffing, leasing the space, marketing, etc. I’m quite attached to it.  Now the real work of ensuring its success begins.

I’ve tried staying in better touch with friends this year. I was happy to have Carl and Phil over for a week last summer during which we went to Montana (I’d never imagined that but there we were) and enjoyed my bachelor party with some of my best friends in Las Vegas in January.
I assumed the Presidency of the Calgary Balloon Club in November and have made small but consistent efforts to try and encourage young people to get involved in ballooning.  I only got to go to High River for the Western Canadian/Heritage Inn event last fall but this year is already looking much more promising. I discovered more of Alberta through the Calgary Canucks Jr. A team as we failed to make the playoffs once again. I recently emceed the awards banquet where Dennis Hull spoke, maybe that can lead somewhere.

Catie and I are all set to get married in August.  This yearly blog falls on our anniversary and today its 4 years together.  Re-reading the previous editions of this blog and following the evolution of our relationship through them is just as enjoyable as spending new time with the person who will be with me for my entire life.
Emelie visited twice since the last writing, and of course it snowed both times.  It also snowed in September which was annoying, but I golfed both the weekend before and after.  Emelie’s visits are a great opportunity to visit the tourist sites and museums we never give ourselves the chance to see otherwise, but we also spend time doing puzzles.

While the memories of Iceland are now further and further away, I still get to spend time with the friends I’ve made, including spending a few hours with Joel while on a whirlwind trip with work that saw me hit Cornwall, Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and Saint-Boniface over a three day span.  I’ve yet to catch my breath.
This is the first time in seven years that I’m not moving, not changing bedrooms and not writing this blog from a different room than the year before.  In re-reading my previous posts, I see a person whose life is constantly changing.  Now things have been the same for a little while.  Still trying to catch my breath.

lundi 15 septembre 2014

Round Two Brings Together Twenty-Two - Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival

After last year’s successful first event in a long time in High River, Alberta, a number of balloonists will once again descend on the Southern Alberta town for a fun and competitive event in late September.  This time, there are 22 balloons registered (with the possibility of a 23rd) for the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival - a huge increase over last year.  With balloonists coming from Belgium, Alaska, Colorado, Ontario and across the West, this event is gathering momentum and this year is hosting the Western Canadian Championships (to compete, pilots must be members of the Alberta Free Balloon Society).
It is growing on the strength of a few good reasons: the town welcomed balloonists with opened arms last year even though it was in the early stages of recovering from a devastating flood, the event was well organized and timely (pilots can head to Albuquerque right afterwards – even though it’s 26 hours away, most crops have been cut and the potential for wild thunderstorms and hail in the evening is diminished permitting evening flights), and it is put on by a sharp and experienced team who are dedicated to building an excellent event…hopefully for the long term.

It is so exciting that Jason Adams and three other Ontarians are bringing their equipment across the country to be involved in addition to a few international pilots.  Adams will want retribution after not being able to get off the ground in last year’s last flight.  Still, he had qualified for the World Championships and in Brazil improved greatly over the 2012 result in Battle Creek.  Last year’s winner and Canadian champion, David Gleed, won’t be participating in High River this year meaning that whoever wins will be a new winner at this event.
There are a number of good candidates for that crown, including Adams, but also including pilots from across the West.  Young stars Cliff Skocdopole and Brant Leatherdale proved they were in it to win it last year while the familiar cast of previous Canadian champions including Dale Ritchie, Del Michaud, Dale Lang, Marvin Schultz, Glenn Penner and Bill Whelan can all find glory on September 28 if things go their way.  In fact, with local conditions playing such a huge factor, everyone has a shot at winning it all if they can figure out the mystery weather and understand the loggers.

Last year, one flight had winds heading from the Northeast to the Southwest, directly towards the High River Airport.  At flight time, winds could be found to go in any direction, except the Southwest, with Marvin Schultz winning one of the tasks simply by landing back where he took off.  Another flight saw winds increase from almost nil to over 30 kts meaning that only three balloons flew in the competition, yet the fiesta pilots enjoyed a safe, normal flight.
With the Rocky Mountains in the background, this year’s Western Canadians at the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival should be another great showcase for ballooning for fans of intense competition and pretty shapes and colours* in the sky.

*Note – colours takes a “u”, I swear!

jeudi 1 mai 2014

5 Year Anniversary of Leaving Iceland

These posts were initially just about the anniversary of leaving Iceland at this time of the year in 2009, but since then additional anniversaries have added themselves: I’ve now been with Catie for three years and in Alberta for one.  Each of these changes has brought all sorts of great opportunities and a tinge of sadness (not being with Catie of course).

Last year’s post ended with a mention of my friendship with Joel that was reconfirmed with his visit this February capped by watching the gold medal game at 5 am.  But we’ve made new friends too and part of my goal was, even though I didn’t know how long I would be in Alberta, to get as engaged as possible in the community.
I joined the Rotary Club of Calgary Crowchild and immediately became the Secretary.  I volunteered to be the Public Relations Director for the Calgary Canucks Jr. A Team moving me from the broadcast booth to the bus where I travel Alberta with the team to share the news.  I joined the Calgary Balloon Club after the Rimbey event, enjoyed helping at the Canadian balloon championships in High River and drove to Albuquerque to celebrate ballooning with Marvin and the gang.  Upon my return, I was acclaimed President-Elect of the Club and will take up my post with honour this fall.

Of course, I’ve also worked most of the time.  From a strategic review of the ACFA (Francophone Association) of Calgary’s activities, I’ve moved on to tackle the biggest issue that was identified: getting health access for Francophones.  And while I have no medical experience, I think I’ve pushed things in the right direction and have brought us closer to our goal.
We went home twice during the year: to Memère and Pepère’s 60th anniversary party shortly after the major floods only a few blocks from our Calgary apartment and at Christmas time.  Those were oddly peaceful trips and reminded us of what we miss most from home: our friends and family.  While some have made the trip out here (Emelie arrived today on her second trip), we will be too far from them until we eventually return.

But before then, there is so much to enjoy in Alberta.  A few weeks ago, we moved into the house we bought in the North end of the city: a bungalow that will give us the chance to grow.  The same day we moved in, I proposed to Catie and she said yes meaning we will be married in the fall of 2015. Golf season and the Okotoks Dawgs baseball team will be starting just as soon as the winter ends (more snow in the forecast).
I don’t know if I would have recognized myself describing my life like this 5 years ago.  To be fair, I’m not sure I fully recognize myself as the person I was 5 years ago.  But if there is one thing to take from re-reading these annual posts, it’s that I haven’t wasted too much time reflecting on what could be or should be, but passing directly to action.  Here’s to another year, more adventures, but with memories of Iceland still in my heart.

mercredi 6 novembre 2013

Gloucester Rangers' Top Junior-Eligible Players - If Only

In building his teams, former Pembroke Lumber Kings Head Coach Sheldon Keefe was known to convince players to stay an extra year to make a run, especially in the 2011-2012 season when they pushed and won the RBC Cup Junior A national championship.  The Gloucester Rangers, now in year three of their rebuild, haven’t been able to convince players to stay behind as many have bolted for the ‘O’ or wanted out.  The team below is my compilation of the best junior-aged players that have donned the Rangers crest over the past few seasons.  Note how few of them are still with the club.

Remy Giftopolous (OHL)
Alexandre Boivin (QMJHL)
Nathan Pancel (OHL)
Patrick White (OHL)
Adam Lloyd (OHL/CCHL)
Jacob Jammes (OHL)
Matthew Foget
Eric Clitsome (CCHL)
Andrew Abou-Assali (OHL)
Matthew Rosebrook
Mason Nowak (OJHL)
Keegan Rowe

Scratches: Daniele Disipio (CCHL), Chad Millett (CCHL)
Zack Leslie (OHL)
Owen Stewart (OHL)
Andrew Rossy (CCHL)
Colton Keuhl
Liam Murray (OHL)
Riley Bruce (OHL)
Douglas Johnston
Gunner Rivers (CCHL)

While the players aren’t in their own particular positions (left wing or centre, for example), the team assembled above, from either Rangers picks or players who have played for them, would be a decent OHL team or an absolutely stellar CCHL team.  With a lineup like this, a serious run could be made for a national championship.

There are two points to this article, the first is that junior hockey is difficult because players personalities and pressure from parents and others (OHL teams, for example) make them want to press further and abandon the teams that put so much into them like Coach Favreau and his staff.  This isn’t helped when team management makes counterintuitive decisions and there has been a certain amount of that within the Rangers organization.

The other point, the main one, is that the organization is an excellent judge of talent.  Among their scouts is the unique Frank Barrette who found a lot of these players and pushed for their selection.  On top of that, he is greatly entertaining in the role of play-by-play man for the Rangers and someone I would consider a mentor in my learning about hockey.

Cheers to the team and players that gave me so much over the two years I was there!  Feel free to discuss my selections.

jeudi 31 octobre 2013

Canada's Big Sort

Though I haven’t delved too far into the Canadian literature on this topic, my recent read, ‘The Big Sort’ by Bill Bishop, leads me to think that there are some Canadian equivalencies to this American phenomenon.   He identified that ‘Americans could move to places that reinforced their identities, where they could find comfort among others like themselves.  These weren’t political choices, but had political consequences.’[1]  The question becomes: does this happen in Canada and if is so does it happen only within cities or across provincial lines?

Canada is like the United States in that both countries were formed by various waves of migration that settled further and further west.  An important difference finds itself in the fact that the Canadian migrations took place along a narrow band defined by two railroads with few people venturing into the fields between them.  The political identities of these places, I’ve seen argued by David Smith and others (though I wish I could find the ‘other’ articles), did not exist before the boundaries were created but came after; the only initial difference between Alberta and Saskatchewan was a line.  Since then, these places have differed considerably in economic, social and political aspects.

Now, as thousands move west, the question returns to the top: are Canadians moving to specific neighbourhoods or provinces for purely economic or also social reasons.  After all, Charles Tiebout’s seminal 1954 article ‘A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures’ argued that economic reasons would be the main reasons people would select one sub-federal jurisdiction over another.

These Canadian-movers, at least the ones I have met, have moved to new provinces for almost exclusively economic reasons: there are no jobs back home so they head West. Still, do their values influence their choice of location?  Or at the very least influence where they live in a city? “The Big Sort has been a national manifestation of the economist’s theory – a post-materialist Tiebout migration based on these non-economic goods, as people have sought out places that best fit their ways of life, their values, and their politics.’[2]

I would argue, with no data to back me up, that the Big Sort is happening to a smaller degree in Canada and it does not cross provincial lines.  People are just as likely to move into communities that are self-designated as a gathering place for their ethnocultural communities as they are to divide around values such as ‘safe streets and space’ or ‘vitality and culture’ which are my polished ways of saying the suburbs and downtowns respectively.

But people do not choose Saskatchewan over Alberta because they prefer Saskatchewan’s culture.  That day might come, but now they choose the economic opportunity that brings them there first.  At least, that is my initial thought.  People who move to Alberta for the ‘blue skies and free mountain air’ might truly be doing so because of the freedom it represents; naturally, socially and economically. And people might to B.C. for its attitude and take the cost of living as the price to pay.

The main argument emanating from Bishop’s understanding of the Big Sort is that it has had a perverse effect on democratic debate and therefore elections in the US. That is something we haven’t seen as much in Canada as there is still a high degree of volatility in the Canadian electorate, Canadians are truly less attached to their parties than they are in the US and a lot of the overwhelming majorities in certain ridings stem from such a long-time ago that they couldn’t be chalked up to these moves.  And 2011’s Liberal collapse shows that even the strongest local majorities are not set in stone.

[1] Bill Bishop, ‘The Big Sort’, Houghton Mifflin Company : Boston, 2008, p.42
[2] Bishop, p.199