Here’s the deal: who wouldn’t want to explore a region known as the “Mad River Valley” and its environs? Yes, I know there’s still enough snow on the ground to keep the region’s ski resort, Sugarbush Mountain’s 110 trails open for business, but already its warming up here, so I’m starting to plan my spring / summer flying adventures, and Sugarbush Soaring, set between tiny Waitsfield and Warren, Vermont, is on my list of destinations.
Why? Well, the mountains of Vermont are beautiful in late Spring. And because the Sugarbush Soaring club at the Warren Sugarbush Airport (0B7), just 45 miles from the state capital, Montpelier, has posted May 17th as its opening day. Spring soaring in the valley can be marvelous, with excellent potential for wave soaring, augmented by ridge soaring and, on a warm, still day, thermals. Yep, you can get it all right there when the weather is right. In summer the soaring school operates everyday with an instruction staff, two Schweizer 2-33s, a PW-6, an ASK-21, Grob 102 and the Schweizer 1-26, plus two Pawnee tow planes to get everyone aloft. There is even a flight examiner on staff for those powerplane pilots looking to add some fun to their certificate.
The runway is paved, 2500 X 30 feet, and gently sloped at both ends, just to make things more interesting. Glider pilots land in the grass at the approach end of the runway most of the time, making it easier to set up for aerotow takeoffs on the paved runway.
Powerplane pilots ought to also remind themselves that gliders have the right-of-way in the sky, and expect that they might need to hold or go around if a glider turns up in the pattern first, or can’t clear the runway after landing quickly enough.
The reward for your pattern etiquette and short-field landing prowess after landing is finding yourself in one of the most bucolic little airfields in all of the northeastern U.S. Warren-Sugarbush Airport feels like it hasn’t seen change in 50 years. The FBO is a farmhouse, where the Sugarbush Soaring club holds its cookouts on the deck. The wide grass fields surrounding the runway are where campers pitch their tents for the Soaring Camps held each summer by the club.
Just down the road are roiling brooks with huge boulders ripe for sliding, and of course, the Mad River, for kayaks. Up the mountain the ski resort turns mountain biker and hiker heaven once the snow is gone.
If you need a “big” city Burlington is just a 20 minute flight over Sugarbush mountain, with excellent FBOs and topnotch maintenance. The town is home to the University of Vermont and has a vibrant downtown pedestrian area chock with shops and restaurants. What’s not to love?
There is something about the “free” ride soaring in a glider offers, and the way it hones all of my other flying skills that makes the sport (and it is a sport—actually, a team sport, since you need a wing runner and a tow pilot) so good for you. Power pilots will come away from a soaring lesson with sharpened precision landing skills and confidence in their ability to judge Lift to Drag ratio, ridge-running skills, wave cloud and rotor identification and overall mountain flying competency.
Besides all that, soaring is fun!