HUMANS OF THE U: CHRIS GALLI

“I landed at the U through my love of paragliding. In 2001, I was sitting on the side of Mt. Olympus, ready to launch one afternoon and I met a professor in atmospheric science who was also flying paragliders. He said ‘I heard you’re into programming. Are you interested in working at a university?’ I said sure.

My love for boundary layer meteorology just exploded when I started paragliding. The boundary layer is the closest layer where air processes are interconnected with the surface. I’m interested in the formation of thermals, which are columns of air rising, often resulting in a little puffy cumulus cloud. I’m interested in how those processes work in order to exploit long flights.

I’m actually not very fond of heights. But if I put myself in a harness and trust my gear and equipment, then I have no problem launching off a hillside in a paraglider. To fly cross-country you’ve got to think multiple steps ahead. Is there a cloud forming? Is the cloud dying? Are there birds still climbing beneath it? Are you over a valley? Or ridges? It’s reading all the small details.

A lot of my expertise with surface meteorology and paragliding has gone into our research group. The more data we have, the higher quality it is. That lends well to risk management to people like me who want to get out and fly. We want recent data and we want to trust it.

It’s a way for me to leave behind the science and technology that I work with every day. As soon as my feet leave the ground it’s more of an artistic experience for me. You have to forget most of the numbers in the weather forecast. It’s a lesson in being present. You have to fly the day for what it is.”

— Chris Galli, research associate, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Utah paragliding distance record holder since 2012, North American foot launch distance record, 2012, U.S. Paragliding National Champion – Open Distance, 2011, 2013

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.