25th Annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous
Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2015 - Chateau Montebello
A quarter century ago, on a frigid winter weekend, one handful of Challenger owners flew and another handful drove to a small cabin in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. The agenda called for socializing, spaghetti and sleepover. The Challenger Winter Rendezvous was born!
From that modest beginning in 1991 the Challenger Winter Rendezvous has been held, sunshine or snowstorm, every year for twenty-five years. It quickly outgrew the modest cabin and for many years now the venue has been Chateau Montebello, mid way between Ottawa and Montreal. Chateau Montebello is, literally, the world's largest log cabin, and a five star log cabin at that!
The Challenger Winter Rendezvous has long since evolved from a simple fly-in to a major happening which attracts people from all across Canada and the United States as well as from points as far away as Sri Lanka. Attendees range from those with tens of thousands of hours logged in everything imaginable to those still in the hopefully someday soon stage. This diversity is part of the appeal of the Challenger community – the common thread tying all these people together is their shared passion.
The 25th Annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous was frigid like the first but fabulous nevertheless! Outside the sky was a blue only a winter sky can be! The sun shone strong. Winds were calm. The fresh white snow squeaked underfoot. The cold dense air was like breathing pure oxygen. Merveilleux!
The previous record of a hundred skiplanes remained intact as the -20C daytime and -30C nighttime temperatures incented many attendees to rush directly from their cabins to their cars to the chateau instead of flying! The hardy forty aircraft which flew in rewarded their pilots with picture perfect conditions!
Inside the Chateau some 150 or so Challenger fans enjoyed the amazing ambiance. Everything worked without a hitch - seminars, exhibits, banquet, ... fireplace and bar, pool and hot tub, ... Read on for details!
What sets the Challenger Winter Rendezvous apart from other winter aviation events in northern climes?
For starters it takes place at a world famous five star resort with everything imaginable from fine dining to a magnificent three-story six-sided stone fireplace in the lobby. Indoors there is an Olympic size pool and a full service spa. Outdoors there is cross-country skiing, dog sledding and rides in horse drawn sleighs.
Another differentiator from fly-ins is that the Challenger Rendezvous is a multi-day event running from Friday to Sunday, not a small feat in the depths of winter! Overnight stays are possible in Challengers because their engines were designed from the outset for winter operation so they do not require preheating before starting. Typical airplane engines must have the oil preheated before starting which is not practical for recreational aviators away from home base. Bush pilots in the olden days actually drained the oil from their planes and slept with it in the tent overnight!
Yet another distinctive feature of the Challenger Winter Rendezvous is the full slate of activities indoors. There are five seminars on the Saturday. This year topics included digital flight planning and management, the care and feeding of Rotax engines, assembling the new Challenger Light Sport XL-65, documentation requirements for advanced ultralights, and tips for survival in the bush. During the breaks between seminars attendees enjoy coffee and juice on the mezzanine. There an exhibit area allows purveyors of products and services for the Challenger community to showcase their offerings.
The banquet on Saturday evening takes place in a private function room where attendees partake of the Chateau's fabulous buffet fare. During the meal a slide show plays on the giant screen. This year it was only fitting that the show consisted of images of Montebellos past. After the meal introductions are made, those who flew in are lauded and awards are presented.
The Maurice Vinet Award was presented to John Baker and John Sutherland in recognition of their outstanding passion for flight. The Dave Allan Award was earned by Frank Hofmann for many years of service to the challenger community and to aviation at large. Randy Shipclark received a special award given to Challenger maintainers who help keep planes in the air and thereby cure pilots of their fear of not flying! This year the Farthest Flown award was won by Bob Kovacs and the Best Showplane was won by Mike Prescott.
To cap off the evening there is always an entertaining presentation, often of a long distance Challenger adventure. The 2015 piece de resistance was a music video by Kevin Brown, his third, recounting last summer's 3,500 km Challenger Float Tour of the Gaspe Peninsula and the Maritime provinces. Kevin has become a master of stitching together photos, videos, maps and music to entertain and inspire others to undertake their own aerial adventures. During the showing no one moved except to laugh or gasp!
Throughout the weekend much aviating takes place on the frozen Ottawa River outside the Chateau. On frigid days the faint of heart can watch through the Chateau's large picture windows as those of sturdier stock fly or mingle outside.
Three of the area's finest aviation photographers spent hours out on the river's ice runway capturing the action for posterity. Rendezvous regulars Jean-Pierre Bonin and Bill Fawcett were joined by first timer Helene Lavigne. Where mere mortals would quickly have had their shutter fingers frozen these three fine photogs captured an amazing number of truly superb images!
Their photos attest to the comings and goings of the attending Challengers as well as the visiting classic aircraft. Each year there is at least one rare and unusual aircraft. This year it was a huge yellow beast from the east. See if you can spot it in the pictures!
With as many as a hundred skiplanes outside, as many as two hundred people at the banquet, plus countless day trippers, we feel it is fair to say the Challenger Winter Rendezvous has earned its place as THE premier aviation event of the Canadian winter! It's not to be missed!
Join us next year at the 26th Annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous to be held January 29 to 31, 2016. Everyone is welcome - Challenger owners and fans as well as all aviation enthusiasts. Bring your family and friends too!
For more pictures from the 2015 Winter Rendezvous click the image below to browse to the Challenger Canada Photo Albums on Flickr. Flickr is to photos what YouTube is to videos!
The albums on Flickr also include images from the 2014 Winter Rendezvous and the Western Challenger Rendezvous as well as from the Challenger 30th Anniversary Float Tour.
Speaking of YouTube, if a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth a million!