Lisa Verzella flew hang gliders for over 20 years (many of those competitively), has been flying paragliders also for over 20 years and is a professional meteorologist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She competed on the US World’s team in 1998 and 2008 in hang gliding. This show is in two parts. The first is our typical audio podcast that goes into Lisa’s vast and fascinating history of chasing airtime, and the second is a video tutorial of a deep dive into XCSkies and Lisa’s full weather flow (ie all the stuff she uses before she gets to XCSkies to identify good days to go flying). The learning here is VAST- this is truly an information packed show. Get out your paper and pens and build your weather forecasting knowledge!
Useful links that Lisa mentions in her weather flow:
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Welcome to another episode of the Cloudbase Mayhem my guest on the show is Lisa Verzella. She is a meteorologist out of salt Lake and an expert, obviously in Weather, but US has also been flying since the very beginning days who hang gliders in the late eighties. Maybe US world's team a couple times race with Karrie CASEL and Linda Simona. And as to the great stories with that history. And then she transitioned here about 18 years ago, 20 years ago to paragliders.
We talk about that transition, what that was like coming from the good old days and still chasing it really hard, fascinating, inspiring person and fantastic pilot. And I've been following her for a long time because she's got so much great Weather knowledge. And I reached out to her because I really have been wanting to do a show on XCSkies kinda the, a disease of that whole program. I know it's used widely around the world has probably a little more popular here in North America, but Alex Roby talked about it and it's along the lines of kind of a medio pear.
1 (1m 20s):
Pente where it takes data from all the different models, Nam three 12, GFS, HR, HR, our three, uh, and others, and puts it all into a visual platform that we can use to create much better soaring forecasts, and also be able to forecast weigh out in the distance, certainly with a GFS model. So I I've been trying to get Chris galley to do this for ages and that wasn't happening. It's Chris galley's platform. He's the genius that created it all and made all of our lives much, much easier.
1 (1m 53s):
And so, but Lisa is a total expert on, and her background in meteorology just lined up to make this happen. So thankfully she was willing to do this. It's fantastic. I learned a ton. She talks about the kind of five most important tools within XCSkies that she uses, uh, and why. And then she also takes us also through her Weather flow of the XCSkies is not where she starts. She starts with an upper air and analysis, and then she takes us to the national weather service.
1 (2m 23s):
And within that gives us various places to dive into, you know, the forest forecast discussion, I think is something that most of us use, but she also spent some time with radar and satellite and the surface charts and the soaring forecast, depending on where you live. So a fantastic resource, we got into her history and safety and, uh, her racing and everything. I was just fascinated with a great talk and this one's actually in two parts. So the first part is our typical kind of audio Podcast and then we switch over and she does a screenshare of XCSkies and that's quite long cause its very in depth kind of starts at the very top and goes down through what everything is in all the tools you can use there and things I'm sure you probably didn't even know about.
1 (3m 10s):
So, uh, once we get to the end of the audio, Podcast, you'll switch over to that video. Podcast I'll put it up on Vimeo and YouTube, all the links for that will be in the show notes and yeah, further delay, uh, hope. You're all having fun getting in the back into the sky and sending it and this will help you do so. So enjoy this talk with Lisa Verzella
2 (3m 42s):
Lisa this is really quite a treat for me to get you on the show. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and I'm really excited to have you explain XCSkies to all of us, a lesser skilled, those of us who don't know Weather as well. So I think that's going to be really fun, but it would be a miss of us to just dive right into that without hearing a little bit about you and your amazing history. And I thought maybe a place we'd start is if your at a party and someone asks you what you do and who you are, how do you, how do you respond to that?
2 (4m 17s):
How do you answer that?
3 (4m 19s):
Um, it depends what kind of a party it is.
2 (4m 23s):
3 (4m 24s):
Invited me, uh, if a flying buddy, uh I'll you know, I'll definitely, maybe mention that I'm involved in Weather maybe mentioned the meteorology. Um, you know, if it's one of my outdoors buddies, um, then I might mention my musician side, um, or just, you know, traveling fun-loving side, but I think the meteorology part has played a much bigger role in my life in the past 10 years. So I'd probably run with that
2 (4m 55s):
And expand on that a little bit. What, what kind of meteorology are you doing? A, this is your work. This is your career, correct?
3 (5m 4s):
Yeah, I um, so I had been a musician for most of my life and uh, nine 11 kind of put a real damper on the whole scene there. So actually since I had already been a pilot for about 15 years, I went back to school and got to meet urology degree, uh, the early two thousands and, um, got a job for a little while working as a hydrologist and then got back into the weather service, uh, where I had done a student internship, um, and became an intermediate urologist for the national weather service in salt Lake city.
3 (5m 39s):
Then, uh, so worked as a meteorologist for about five, six years and another position, um, kind of tapped onto that was a head of a surface observations program, uh, which allowed me to do me in urology still, but then I could get out in the field and a travel basically travel the whole state. So that's kind of what I do now. I do a little bit of the in-office Forecasting and then I get to get out on the road
2 (6m 9s):
And are you, we just did this kind of Weather Ceres. And the last one was with Gavin Morris. Who's a meteorologist and Weather man for channel nine and in Sydney and you know, he has access to the whole super computer thing is Honda. Does, is that what you're looking at? And that is that what you're using to model and or do you have access to all the speedy, fast, massive data
3 (6m 36s):
We do. We do. It's pretty special. And the thing that we have access to at work, which I don't at home or on the internet is the European model, uh, which is fantastic for kind of mid to long range. Um, you know, and then you can plan stuff and as you get closer, then hone in on the more, um, This tighter, um, smaller range model, the higher risk. Definitely. Yeah.
2 (7m 5s):
Uh, so you said early two thousands and you were fine. Were you in salt Lake because the point where you there because of the flying,
3 (7m 13s):
Um, I moved to salt Lake and the mid nineties for both flying and for me, my music career at that time
2 (7m 21s):
In what I got to ask you about your music, what's the, what's the music side of it.
3 (7m 24s):
Um, so I'm a classical trumpet player. Oh wow. Jazz and classical acts.
2 (7m 30s):
Okay. So Gavin, I thought when you were in classical, you do the jazz too, but okay. Wow.
3 (7m 35s):
I do. I do play some jazz, but I have, um, actually my partner is a jazz player and so I would never assume to be called a jazz player. Um, I do get to play in a big band and we'd play in salt Lake and the summers, which is super fun. Um, but I moved out here to play with the ballet and the symphony and because I already had a great flying crew from the point and, um, from some competitions I knew some folks out here. And so it was just kind of a, a perfect blend to come out to salt Lake.
2 (8m 9s):
And so you were, you went out there, you were hanging hang gliding back then, correct?
3 (8m 13s):
2 (8m 14s):
And are you still hang gliding?
3 (8m 17s):
Um, you know, I haven't flown much in the past few years. I sold my competition wing about three years ago. Uh, and I have an older, super sport that I would play around at the point. Um, but I'm getting less and less comfortable on an older piece of equipment. So I've decided to kind of lay it aside. I don't think I flew last year and I haven't blown yet this year, so I hope to get back into it when I have some more time and get a, you know, a newer model, a newer glider, some a little more comfortable on it.
3 (8m 50s):
Did you compete for a while? Yeah, I started competing, I think about three or four years after I started flying. So maybe in the early nineties, uh, and I competed through about 2014 did a couple years on the U S women's World team went to Hungary and 98 and, um, Italy in 2008, which was really fun.
2 (9m 15s):
Oh, cool. And you're, you're now you're flying paragliders
3 (9m 20s):
Yeah, I actually started flying in 98 and uh, so I just would, would play around with it at the point and then ease into a couple of the mountain sites where that I was super familiar with on a hanger. Um, and just kind of did it as a side thing. Um, but hang gliding, especially the landings, they just require a lot of practice and a lot of focus. So I never felt like I had time to do, you know, I kind of had to choose one or the other, and that was definitely in, in hang gliding mode at the time.
3 (9m 54s):
So, so that was really my focus until I started until basically I sold my comp wing and then I just kinda threw myself and more into paragliding trying to fly again on the same sites that I follow in my hang glider. So I was familiar with them and my now I knew the weather a lot more intensively, so I could really kind of pick and choose the days that I knew there were going to be light winds and kind of the lowest risk factors for me.
2 (10m 23s):
So I'm reading this book Eagles in the flesh. You read that by Eric K.
3 (10m 28s):
I used to fly over there. I guess
2 (10m 30s):
The story's in this book
3 (10m 32s):
I came in like right when those stories were on the crazy years are waning. Um, Jim, Diane Green and gosh, uh Jim's. That was the leader of the team. And, um, I think I flew with those guys in Tennessee in 93 and they kind of took me under their wing and, and all kinds of equipment problems that I would go to JZ and he would fix my radio's and everything. And so I got to know the guys and it was, it was a pretty incredible era.
2 (11m 2s):
Yeah. It just sounded this isn't the right term, but it just sounded so cowboy that she sounded so cowgirl in your, in your, but I mean, it was just wild what these guys were, this the whole gang was doing is just crazy. Is that is so absurd.
3 (11m 20s):
It wasn't, you know, there were a couple of microcosm in areas like that, like at Ellison or the team and places like that, but it, it definitely wasn't representative of the community as a whole.
2 (11m 35s):
Yeah. That's probably a good thing. Yeah. Um, how was that transition going from hang gliding? Did the paragliding
3 (11m 47s):
Well, you know, it was, it was great. I, the biggest transition was a, when I took lessons with Ken has been Jorgensen at the time in, in salt Lake, I think. So I'd been flying my hang glider for almost 10 years and he started me off maybe halfway up the Hill. And then within the first day I was going off the top of the South side at that point of the mountain. And I thought, this is crazy. Ken don't advance me just because, you know, I'm a, Halan a pilot. He said, no, no, this is what we do with everybody.
3 (12m 18s):
And it took me months to get up there with the hang glider, you know, like probably so I just recognize how advanced it was. And then I noticed that it seemed because of the ease of paragliding that people got into it a lot quicker and gotten into the mechanics and didn't spend as much time out there observing the weather, observing everything that happened around them, because it was just so much quicker to get in paragliding.
2 (12m 47s):
Yeah, I imagine that's, uh, and gosh, it seems like it's even another big jump when you talk about speed flying, you know, that they're, they're even easier to fly and, and maybe is you don't spend, you spend even less time learning about all that. How much is your love and passion for meteorology? How much has that impacted your flying?
3 (13m 12s):
Well, that's, that's
2 (13m 13s):
Pretty general question, isn't it?
3 (13m 14s):
Yeah. I may get that question a lie. And the biggest impact it had for me was learning the big picture. Cause back in the day when we would look for Weather and especially when I got into, like in the mid nineties, I was shooting for a hundred mile flights and, and buy that 2000, is that looking for 200 mile flights? And so you'd look obviously tried to get that forecast for a huge area in, and again, your forecast would be like stuff that you live or die by, but as a, just a pilot, I was really focused on like looking at the answers, trying to find, okay, what are the wins and what are the, what are the outcomes?
3 (13m 57s):
Is it going to rain? Um, surface winds, like I didn't have a lot of tools at my access with the biggest thing was that I wasn't looking at the big picture, like the weather systems and what's happening ahead, you know, upstream and learning about all that stuff and in school and on the job has given me a different perspective, um, which has, I think increased and the possibilities for me with cross country, but essentially has helped me to lower my risk and flying.
3 (14m 28s):
I, I think, I like to think,
2 (14m 30s):
Um, you know, I've, I've been working on the book from the show, the first a hundred shows. And so I've gone back through all of them. And a w we took a lot of time on Han's is because he was talking about, you know, that you have these incredibly powerful and, and actually Gavin Morris was just talking about this and, and show that we just released last week, that you have these incredible supercomputers and you have this, you know, long, you know, pretty decent amount of historical data now. And you can see it in all these different resolutions with the different models.
2 (15m 4s):
And yet where we're operating is still so much micro being influenced by the morning sun and the afternoon sun and the thermals and Valley winds and all the stuff that can go to some extent is picked up by the models. But a lot of it really isn't that. So you're still, they were both just talking about that. They're still pretty regularly surprised.
3 (15m 29s):
Sure. Yeah. Um, and really there's no substitute for locals knowledge. Like it's almost crazy these days to go to a new site and not connect with the locals at least, you know, to get the beta, um, because that micro terrain and, and, uh, meteorology just from Hilda, HIL is so different and so important, but you can make, you can make interpolations with a given forecast that if you've flown on a site long enough, I've been flying in the Wasatch now for 20 years.
3 (16m 5s):
So been able to make a few interpolations with what I see on the map and what I'm going to get, and then you, and then you give it all up and you just go fly. Just don't know what you're gonna get for sure.
2 (16m 16s):
Yeah. When we're, when I'm out, I've been training and the last couple of years out in Santa Barbra in March for the, for the race, which I, cause, you know, it's, you can get a lot more hours out there than you can in sun Valley and March. And the, all the locals always has to have this thing got to go to know and do, do you think which I love and, you know, you got to just go out there and put your finger under the, when and why, and see if it, if it's close to what you think it's going to be. And if it's, you know, maybe doable when you thought it wasn't, do you think your, all your knowledge with meteorology gets you in the air more or less?
3 (16m 49s):
I think it definitely allows me to actually get more airtime. Uh, I may be going out there less because I'm actually working a 40 hour a week job, which, you know, uh, a lot of us didn't do in the beginning years for many years, but yeah, I definitely feel like I look, I can kind of tell plus flying for so long in a while so that she kind of no, the good days versus a not so good days. Um, and since my time is limited, as I'm sure you understand having a kid and you want to be a little more choosy, not just if you can get off the ground, but maybe if you can have a 50 K flight or, or a greater, um, and then it also depends on who your flying buddies are, you know, what I'm a driver, you know, have any way to fly with that might influence things too.
3 (17m 42s):
Um, but especially like in the spring, those are, the windows are kind of narrow with these windy conditions like seeing today. So you got great tools like XCSkies, and then the stuff I have at work, or you can look ahead and kind of get an idea. And then as you get closer, you can hone in on it. So I'd say, yeah, for sure. It's maybe getting me less time out in the field, but more results in the air. Great.
2 (18m 10s):
And we're going to get into your Weather flow and This is going to be super fun to work through XCSkies and just how you tackle finding those really good days. And we're going to do that is a, is a video portion of this talk, but before we get to their, just a few questions more, I just want to learn more about your history. How has flying changed your life?
3 (18m 33s):
Well, um, well I think like most obsessed pilots flying kind of becomes your life. Uh, and then when you take on other responsibilities, like going back to school, adding a second career, then you have to start juggling, you know, adding a kid, which I have cats. I don't have a kid, but there's things that, uh, that kind of make you start to get picky, but I'd still say in my mind, uh, flying is, is a very, very big component of my life of who I am and of the passion in the things I enjoy.
2 (19m 12s):
Take me through the arc a is I I've been thinking about this a lot lately. You know, I just turned 48. I'll be 49. If I do the X helps again, if I'm silly enough to do that again and win that race is next year, you said, you know, you were chasing a hundred milers in the nineties, early two thousands, you were chasing 200 milers. What gets you excited now? Is it still, are you still trying to chase big distance or is it time in the sky? How does, how can you prepare me for, well,
3 (19m 46s):
It's kind of like when I made the transition from skiing to snowboarding, it's a new way to enjoy the same medium. You know, even though I've technically been doing it 22 years on the paraglider now, you know, I've just gotten into recently the last couple of years' time to fly the lines that I did on my hangie, but, um, it's a new ball game cause you need different parameters. You know, you have different folks you're flying with, you have different weather models.
3 (20m 17s):
It's a very different, and gosh, every single time you fly even the same site on what you think are similar conditions, it's always like weight for a different, so it's just exciting for me. I haven't done it for so many years and so long that I can't go back and go to junction and try and fly the same route. Now I actually tried, uh, for the a hundred mile or at this site and Utah, we have junction four for 20 years and I never got the a hundred mile on my hang glider.
3 (20m 48s):
I just got it last summer on my paragliders.
2 (20m 53s):
Wow. And junction that you're flying out over the swell. Correct?
3 (20m 58s):
Um, you're actually just to the West of the swell, if you, if you headed it, basically we'll go to junction. If it's a South day and you'll wanna either head up towards Salt Lake or go toward price, kinda went in that direction on the other day. Yeah. The swell is more for westerly sites, but again, it's like, you can just fly the same site over and over and on a paraglider, especially, I just feel like I'm feeling the air so much more, which is a good thing and a bad thing.
3 (21m 31s):
Um, so it's just different. It really changes things up and a lot more landing options are available to me on a paraglider, especially if I keep my Winslow then on the hang glider. And so its maybe a little more touchy in the air, but it's definitely my heart rate. Once I get through those, you know, 800 foot per minute sharp edge thermals and I keep my wing over my head, the rest is cake. My heart rate comes down and cause I know I can land in a lot more places than when a hang glider.
2 (22m 4s):
What do you miss about hang gliding?
3 (22m 7s):
Oh, well I missed the community I had, there was a really good group of folks, but I also missed, uh, the conditions like definitely had when we were going for the 200, you know, you'd have a certain wind, uh, threshold and thermal in intensity. And the prefrontal days we actually looked forward to prefrontal days, even the, even the monsoonal days we knew kind of where it was going to overdevelop, just, just from experience.
3 (22m 41s):
And, and I was really lucky to get in with a group of very experienced cross country hang glider pilots. It was I think maybe at the end of the, of the heyday of cross country gliding here in salt Lake, like in the eighties and early nineties was huge. So I was really fortunate to come when I did and just kind of catch the tail end of it. And I just got so much information from these guys, but we were definitely fly in bigger stuff and it was fun.
3 (23m 11s):
And I'm glad I got that out of the way when I was young.
2 (23m 14s):
Is it because you can fly because your air speeds are so much higher, I'm assuming you can fly in stronger conditions. I'm not assuming I know that. Does that mean it's also scarier or is it just the wing takes, gives you that buffer and, and in other words, are you, were you more scared hang gliding or are you more scared? Cause you got 22 years paragliding to see you've got a pretty good sample of both.
3 (23m 40s):
Yeah, that's the, that's a good question. Um, I'd say in the air, you know, I, most of my friends have tumbled at least once I was fortunate enough to knock on something and not have tumbled. I know Carrie castle tumbled twice. So there's, there's definitely always that element in the back of your mind, but then you tell yourself, Oh, I've got a parachute just in case I'll hold onto the bar or whatever. I'd say the biggest unknown with hang gliding was the landing field.
3 (24m 12s):
Cause you knew it was going to be tough if you got out and a big field and you have a lot of wind, then it was usually pretty laminar, not a problem. But if there was a lot of turbulence around, that was the game on for sure. And the paraglider, the biggest challenge and in heart rate rise there for me is definitely the turbulent conditions while I'm in the air. But again, it's like the SIV clinics having to shoot on you and easing into it in the spring time, especially like right now, it just helps me a lot.
3 (24m 44s):
So that there's differences in both sports and there's definitely high intensity in different areas.
2 (24m 51s):
Would you change anything if you could go back and rewrite history to an extent?
3 (24m 57s):
Well, that's a great question. You know, I just feel so fortunate to have had all the experiences I have. So where I am right now is a result of all of those experiences. And I'm really happy where I am right now. So I'd say, no,
2 (25m 16s):
You mentioned your partner, your musical partner. Does he also fly?
3 (25m 22s):
He doesn't, he has flown tandem, I thought in the tan of flight. And so he knows kind of what it feels like to just be briefly up in the air. I think it was at the point of the mountain. Um, but he has driven, chased him from me a couple of times, even just driving up to some of the local sites when I wasn't planning on going anywhere and he'd say, okay, I said just, you know, come up, drop me off, drive back down, go do your thing. You know, I know the one of the car is everything will be fine and he would just sit up there for hours watching me.
3 (25m 54s):
She was so fascinating. It's great. And he, he really likes to do that. So I hope to have 'em on a couple of times more of the summer,
2 (26m 3s):
Any close call calls in your long career?
3 (26m 8s):
Uh, yeah, I'd say some of the landings and the competitions, you know, you always tend to push yourself, push your limits a little more. And the meat's a I'd say, uh, and it was a learning process because a, you know, you, you always test yourself in your limits and your risk factors in the beginning, and then you get to know yourself and the risks a little better, and then you can decide if you want to take them. So I think I had, I've had some hard landings over the years, I'd say some repeated landings that, that led to needing a shoulder surgery.
3 (26m 50s):
And then of course, you know, some carnage on the glider, on landing, things like that. But fortunately, you know, I haven't bashed myself up enough on landings that, uh, and never really had any, um, you know, hospitalizations. I think I dislocated a pinky once on landing in, had to go to the hospital and of course I was running and I fell.
2 (27m 12s):
That'd be that hardly counts on the couch.
3 (27m 16s):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, we'll have to say that though. Pretty lucky with that, I'd say most of the, uh, the, the, the dark side moves that we make, that we fool ourselves with getting away with, I've been able to get away with, and I've been fortunate to be around the community of people. So we could talk about these things. And I started to realize more and more what I was getting away with. And I think that helped me. Yeah, I'm still susceptible to it like we all are, but I think it helped me stay a little more away from the dark side.
3 (27m 48s):
And now my biggest concerns are really just keeping the wing over my head and always making sure I have a glide out on that paraglider. I just assume a, a one to one glide that helps me
2 (28m 2s):
That does, do you have any other kind of advice for those listening who want to have, you know, want to have a life of flight and not get all banged up? If you had any kind of, you know, are there any kind of rituals you have or best practices things you've learned over the years that This, this is how I do it. This is how I approach flying. And that keeps me safe. Cause that's a pretty good record you've had.
3 (28m 30s):
Yeah, I haven't been lucky. I'd say the two biggest things that have helped me are learning the Weather coz that's a huge risk factor that's out there. Um, one that, you know, you can kind of control yourself in your equipment, but the weather you can't control, you can just try to divine. That's been a big thing for me. And the other one is his, the community, the people that you fly with and have a really fantastic community here in salt Lake and across Utah in several there's a central Utah is a great club as well.
3 (29m 2s):
So, you know, but you have to pick your crew if your you're a newbie. You know, you really want to recognize that in, go with the crew, that's going to ease you into this stuff and not jump in with the folks that are trying for the 102 hundred K flights really need to ease into the stuff. And so I think a lot of folks have been doing that. Um, I just really want to encourage all the female pilots out there to really just get out and do it cause I want to fly.
2 (29m 32s):
Awesome. Hey man. Yes, absolutely. Yes please. Yes, please. That's a good transition. So those of you listening, we're kind of doing this audio slash
1 (29m 42s):
Video. We're going to switch over here to video and Lisa is going to record her screen and take us through XCSkies kinda the, a to Z of XCSkies and how she identifies good days and what she uses. What's important, maybe what isn't. And we will learn this in from the visual platform, which we don't often do. So here we go. We'll switch over.
1 (30m 19s):
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1 (30m 58s):
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1 (31m 33s):
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1 (32m 6s):
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