Paragliding in Vail: Beginners Welcome
Get "big air" with few risks in this Colorado adventure.
“Catching big air” in the Vail Valley generally is associated with winter snow sports. But summertime may actually be the best time to grab more than 1,000 feet of air—and you can stay up there for about a half an hour, too.
The way to do it, of course, is during a surprisingly safe, secure and stress-free paragliding flight off of Bellyache Ridge between Edwards and Wolcott, which is just 25 miles west of Vail along Interstate 70.
Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail concierges call paragliding one of the best recreational adventures you can experience in the region this time of year. A close cousin of hang gliding, paragliding involves (basically) running off the side of a hill while attached by Kevlar lines to a nylon glider that’s shaped like an oblong parachute. If you’re a novice (most to try this in Vail are), you’ll fly tandem with an instructor certified by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
Unlike skydiving, or the traditional Vail Valley method of getting airborne—jumping off a cliff on skis or a snowboard—there is no real sensation of freefall. The glider is spread out behind the pilot on a hillside, and you simply run into the wind as the paraglider inflates behind you. Then the pilot controls direction, speed and the rate of ascent and descent using a line in each hand while you’re both slung beneath the canopy in a harness.
“You’d be surprised how much the fear factor diminishes,” says Greg Kelley, a certified master pilot with Vail Valley Paragliding who has been soaring over the Vail Valley for more than 20 years. “Most people will be afraid before we start, but once they’re in the air they say, ‘This is kind of nice; it’s tranquil.’”
Vail Valley Paragliding offers morning tandem flights off Bellyache Ridge (about 1,500 feet above the landing zone along the Eagle River) year-round because the access to the launch site is a paved and plowed road. The cost is $175 and includes extensive instruction followed by a flight that lasts anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Spectators are welcome.
Longer Wolcott tandem flights in the evenings cost $225 and are only available in the summer because the access road is an unplowed four-wheel-drive road. The sunset flights last longer because heat thermals (used to ascend) build up in the afternoon. (Stormy weather creates unstable air and makes paragliding impossible.)
Reaching speeds in excess of 25 mph, paraglider pilots stall the glider about six feet above the landing zone to check that speed and come in for as smooth of a landing as possible. But wear sturdy shoes and be ready to run when you touch down.
Otherwise, brace yourself for a surprisingly serene and scenic soaring expedition and yet another incredible outdoor adventure to experience in the Vail Valley.