What's the big deal about mountains?
Some of the most beautiful and remote backcountry destinations lie in the mountains, and negotiation of this generalized terrain feature in light aircraft can prove to be a challenge due primarily to the the less dense air of higher elevations, and weather.
Mountains come in all shapes and sizes, but they all represent the same challenge to light aircraft: They are an obstacle that forces pilots to fly higher to avoid flying "within them." Is flying within mountains a bad thing? No! That's where some of the best and most beautiful flying can be had, and where some of the world's most amazing and remote airstrips exist. However, operating within the mountains changes the game in a few ways:
- Flying closer to terrain, and flying closer to terrain is made riskier by any significant wind and weather.
- Operating in mountains goes hand in hand with higher altitudes, which can negatively affect the performance of aircraft engines.
- Mountains often act as a catalyst for precipitative weather events. They stick up into the atmosphere and cause moisture-rich air masses to lift up into the colder altitudes, condensing their water vapor into rain or snow. If ceilings are too low, there's no flyable space between the ground and the ceiling. Mountains sort of eat that available altitude up just by virture of being high elevation.
- Mountains cause drag to winds, causing that wind to become dirty, swirling, rotor-like in nature. This is called mechanical turbulence and can easily overcome the ability of a light aircraft to maneuver with any control.