Three decades ago, Chris Santacroce taught himself to do somersaults a few thousand feet in the air. He ran off a mountain ridge here, taking flight against the backdrop of Utah Lake and the Wasatch mountains.
Today, Santacroce, known as the Yoda of the sport, holds international titles and a Red Bull sponsorship. And that spot is among the worlds most treasured paragliding sites.
But paragliders contend the spot now is in jeopardy. In March, a cement company that owns part of the mountain started to plow off a southern corner of the ridge.
For us, its disbelief, Santacroce said of the bulldozing. Its like ... could this be the end of an era?
The hill south of Salt Lake City, known as Steep Mountain or Point of the Mountain, touts an ideal bundle of geographic factors. That wind affords daredevils the rare fortune of soaring on a smooth, constant breeze from dawn till dusk and on most days of the year. And it helped shape the sport, giving paragliders more time to practice and try out acrobatic stunts in the air.
Its to paragliders and hang gliders what Waimea Bay is to surfers, or Yosemite is to hikers, said paraglider Kristjan Morgan, adding, There isnt a next-best place.
The company has mined the area for decades but steered bulldozers clear of the paragliding spot until last month.
Now, the missing chunk of ridge worries the flying community that the company will lop off other, more vital pieces of the mountain. That, they say, would deflate the areas singular, sturdy wind flow and put the ideal flying spot in jeopardy.
And that could drain thousands of visitors from the points half-dozen pilot schools and paragliding outfitters, hurting the tight-knit community atop the mountain. There, a development houses about two dozen enthusiasts.
Those Point rats acknowledge that the current missing chunk of ridge has not affected their flying, for the most part.
Its not absolutely the end of the world for us so far, Santacroce said. But boy, would we like to make a deal and cinch it up to safeguard the rest of the ridge.
Paragliders and hang gliders say trekking up and flying at the point is a pilgrimage.
Bruce Busby, vice president of Canadas Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, has visited the site about 10 times in the last two decades from his home in Calgary, Alberta.
Its relaxed, its easy, its fun, Busby said, and its absolutely fantastic flying.
Paragliders are working to raise the mountains profile through an online campaign called Save Point of the Mountain. Now, they are urging the county to buy the land and hope the attention will secure the mountain. But that could be a long shot.
Geneva Rock Co., which owns the mountain, plans to continue pushing that gravel off the ridge. Thats because it contains lucrative, high-quality rocks that help build Utah highways, said David Przybyla, spokesman for the company.
This isnt something where we can pick up operations and go to someone elses backyard, Przybyla said.
Theres still a huge mountain there, he said. Were not trying to stop that sport at all.
Paragliders characterize Geneva Rock as a good and thoughtful neighbor. A few years ago, it agreed to sell a chunk of the mountain to the county. Paragliders now use that place as a launch park where they can drive up, have a family picnic and take flight.
The issue highlights two sides of Utahs identity. One is an adrenaline-fueled culture celebrating adventure and the outdoors. The other is a long history of mining as an economic driver.
There, winds squeeze into a tunnel, play tug of war, then shoot up over the hill, creating the constant and sturdy lift of air.
Torrey Pines near San Diego, and another launch site in Jackson Hole, Wyo., also rank among the most popular paragliding spots in the nation.
Salt Lake County officials are seeking a group to do a study of the wind and mining, said county spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend.
Were really at the front end of trying to understand the issues and trying to understand the problem, Heyrend said.
Lori Fitzgerald holds a 1983 world title for hang gliding. She has flown at the point for more than 30 years and moved to the neighborhood to fly when shes not working as a real-estate broker.
Fitzgerald worries about the health threats bulldozers pose as they rake up silica near her home.
But Ill never quit flying, she said, adding, If they take away half, Ill fly the other half. Im never going to quit.