Whitehorse Daily Star

Could Yukon be paragliders' dream destination?

With a resume that rivals Wayne Gretzky's in terms of the sports world, one could say Will Gadd is to adventure sports in Canada what The Great One is to hockey.

By Whitehorse Star on June 12, 2006

With a resume that rivals Wayne Gretzky's in terms of the sports world, one could say Will Gadd is to adventure sports in Canada what The Great One is to hockey.

Currently the distance world-record holder in paragliding, the 38-year-old Gadd has also won every major ice-climbing competition including the X-Games title is the three-time Canadian national sport climbing (rock climbing) champion, posted the first one-day ascent of Mt. Robson, and finished first in the 2002 Fulda Challenge (along with his partner, Kim Csizmazia).

He also takes up kayaking, alpine skiing, caving and flying he's hoping to get his pilot's license in the near future and writes freelance for numerous magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, in his spare time.

He's worked on at least 25 adventure-oriented TV shows and does stunt work.

But while fanfare follows Gretzky everywhere he goes, regardless of whether or not it involves hockey, Gadd is lesser-known outside of the extreme sports circle. And when he sat down to do an interview at a local coffee shop late last week, he was so laid back and humble it was almost unnerving.

'My parents were climbers and they always took me to the mountains when I was young,' he explains, when asked how he got involved in the high-adrenaline world of extreme sports.

Later on, Gadd would work at a local magazine which covered adventure sports, but 'I just thought it would be more fun to do them.'

That passion has taken Gadd all over the globe, to places such as Austria, Switzerland and the Grand Canyon.

'This is what I do. I travel around and check out sites. It's a rough job, but somebody's got to do it.'

His favourite expedition however, remains one he completed closer to home.

'Climbing icebergs off the coast of Labrador, that was a neat trip,' he smiled. 'I travel all over the world, but I always love coming back to Canada.'

It was the Fulda Challenge that first brought Gadd to the Yukon four years ago, and even though the winter conditions were frigid and the terrain was challenging, the athlete decided he would one day like to come back.

Enter the Association of Yukon Paragliders and Hang Gliders (AYPH). With the support of the Yukon Convention Bureau, AYPH arranged for Gadd to make his return to Whitehorse this month to paraglide at local sites, including Grey Mountain, White Mountain, Haeckel Hill and along Annie Lake Road.

Gadd also made a video and photo presentation on paragliding at the Yukon Transportation Museum Thursday evening.

'I think the Yukon has something it can sell, in terms of hosting a major event,' said Stanley Noel, the event organizer and member of AYPH. 'Will's going to spend seven days with us and then give us feedback, help promote us. Word of mouth from Will alone would give us enough participants if we were to host an event.

'The worst-case scenario is he walks away and says, 'Yukon's a great place, I had a great time. That's good enough.'

At the time of the interview, Gadd had only experienced Haeckel Hill in the wee morning hours, without much light, and had yet to venture to all the local sites. But he was already confident the territory would be very capable of hosting a world-class competition.

'There's not many places in the world where you can still fly at 2 a.m.,' he stated, adding there are very few places that actually have remote paragliding.

'If the flying is good here, you have a very unique place, I think.'

There are about 15 pilots in the Yukon enjoying the sport of paragliding. Three of them also fly hand gliders.

Noel said it's at the point where the sport needs community support, pointing out that right now, there are an isolated number of people who actually get to see it in action. Most people might not be exposed to it at all, he said.

Paragliders can fly for hours and reach heights of 10,000 feet or more. Gadd's current world record for distance is 430-kilometres. The Yukon club flys all months of the year, recording distances of over 50-kilometres. The local record is, or should we say, was, 52-km, held by Shaun Kitchen.

When Gadd arrived last week, he playfully laid down a promise.

'I'm aiming to break (the record). I'm taking it down.'

That mission was accomplished on the weekend, as Gadd flew 53-km from a site on the Annie Lake Road into Whitehorse.

'He kicks ass,' said Noel. 'That guy is a really good pilot.'

With role models like Gadd to look up to, the sport of paragliding may indeed see an increase in participation in the near future. While the majority of local paragliders are adults, youth are also invited to try the sport. Gadd said he has paraglided with athletes as young as their mid-teens.

Asked if his long-term goal is to make paragliding the next big sport, Gadd thought about it for a moment prior to answering.

'If it is, great. But I don't think there's any need to really push it,' he concluded. 'I would just like to see more people get a chance to try it.

'It's the world's smallest airplane, a plane in a pack. You can't beat that.'

There are several paragliding schools in B.C. and Alberta and flight training in the Yukon is available in Dawson City.

For more information, you can contact Stephen Kurth at 867-993-6865.

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