Ridge lift is awesome because it’s a nearly continuous lift source, so long as you have wind blowing and a mountain beneath you to push the wind up. When this happens, the lift sets up in a particular “lift band”. The best part of the band is called the “sweet spot”. This perfect position is very narrow; sometimes only one or two wingspans wide.
The sweet spot is simple to find down “on the crest”. The crest is defined abeam the top of the mountain and somewhat in front of the steep part. When you’re “down on the trees”, it’s fairly easy to find that sweet spot.
If you drift just a little bit downwind, the lift tapers off VERY rapidly. Drifting downwind is VERY bad.
Upwind of the ridge, the lift slowly weakens, but you still have good air quite a ways farther down the slope.
As a result, always err upwind rather than downwind. You can do little wrong being a little too far upwind. A little too far downwind, the lift goes away and you’re in a very bad place.
If you want to “float” higher up the ridge and get into the higher part of the lift band, you must push away from the mountain. This is because the sweet spot in the lift band moves further and further upwind as you get higher. If you get 1000ft above the mountain, the sweet spot may be as far as 1/2 mile upwind!
- Failing to crab correctly- We always fly with a crosswind on ridge days. This requires crabbing upwind to maintain our position. As you slow down, swing the nose further upwind. Maintain wings perfectly level with the horizon.
- Holding steady pressure on rudder/ailerons- Pay attention to your controls. If you are consistently holding pressure to one side or another, the sweet spot is probably in that direction. Conversely, if you are unable to position the controls exactly neutral, you will have a much harder time finding the best part of the band.
- Aiming the nose down along the mountain- This is very common; pilots have a tendency to aim their eyes down along the mountain and try to align the glider accordingly. But as they do this, they end up flying at a minimum in a continuous slip. Other times, they end up drifting out of position relative to the mountain immediately beneath them.
- Drifting downwind- When you position yourself just a hair downwind of the lift band, the upwind wing gets pushed up because the lift is stronger upwind. This pushes you even further downwind. Pilots that get on the downwind side will then often “hunt” back and forth, tick tocking off the sweet spot and then bouncing back downwind. As we learned, the lift band is sharply defined on the downwind side and you really don’t want to be there. Instead, always err slightly to the upwind side.
- Gusts pushing upwind wing up- Never, ever let your wing get pushed above level with the horizon. If a gust pushes your upwind wing up, immediately correct for it and push back upwind. Don’t drift downwind!!