Seeing the world just as the birds do
Up, up and away!
Cruising above Golden's beautiful landscapes
How would you describe paragliding to those who aren’t familiar with the activity?
Paragliding is a way to experience flying through the air and seeing the world just as the birds do. I describe the flying experience to the uninitiated as being a lot like riding a bicycle, except in three dimensions. In some respects, flying a paraglider is no more difficult than riding a bicycle. Steering your paraglider is as simple as leaning in the direction you want to go — just like a bike. You’re never traveling through the air any faster than a downhill bicycle ride.
What kind of equipment do you need?
The aircraft itself is an assembly of beautifully engineered fabric and string that doesn’t look like it should be able to fly with a person, but does. It’s magic. It’s an aircraft in a bag. The image that comes to mind is of a parachute, but it’s so much more than that (not to be confused with a hang glider, which is comprised of a rigid aluminum airframe and looks more like an airplane).
The gear is super-portable. It folds up and fits into a good-size backpack. You can take it with you almost anywhere. With proper training and knowledge, it really is the most accessible and affordable form of aviation ever invented.
Where can you do it?
With the right weather and wind conditions, a person can easily launch from just about any hill just by running a few steps forward and sitting back in a comfortable harness after the wing achieves flight. If lucky enough to find a thermal (warm air rising from the ground), you can ascend upward thousands of feet and fly some great distances.
Golden has been the starting point of some pretty remarkable cross-country flights to places all up and down the Front Range. It’s not at all uncommon to hear of someone flying to Boulder, Lyons, Longmont, Fort Collins, even Laramie, or south to Colorado Springs and beyond.
How did you get into the sport?
I love this question. It’s usually the second question I get right after “Is it safe?” To answer this question, I always ask another question, “Remember that dream you had when you were a child? The one where you could fly? I had it too.” That dream has been with me my whole life.
Well, is it safe?
Every form of aviation has inherent risks associated with it. We do all we can to mitigate those risks through constant and continual education, proficiency training and skills improvement. We're lucky to belong to national and international agencies that support and promote safety and safe practices through their training, ratings and certifications programs. In short, we do everything humanly possible to provide as safe, fun and educational experience as possible for our students.
One of the greatest paraglider pilots that ever lived shared these real-world analogies with me today: We all spend part of our day driving in a 2-ton, 70-mile-per-hour projectile while another projectile, driven by someone you've never met, is coming right at you at the same speed from the opposite direction and with only a couple feet of clearance. When we are flying, the tolerances are much greater. When we are flying, we are laserbeam focused on the moment — but we can't say that about other moments during the day.
What makes paragliding experiences with Colorado Paragliding unique?
Colorado Paragliding has offered tandem instruction from Windy Saddle Open Space Park at the top of Mount Zion for the past 10 years or so. Our pilots are among the most experienced and skilled tandem instructors in the state. We’ve been flying paragliders longer than just about anyone else in Colorado and are proud of our excellent safety record.
We treat each and every one of our new student passengers with respect and no small measure of excitement. We consider each and every flight an opportunity to teach the basics of flying while sharing the excitement and inspiration of flying like birds.
Why did you decide to establish your paragliding business in Golden?
Golden is a truly magical place — one of the coolest, most lovable towns in the world. The town is situated at the base of the hill and has a paved road that takes you most of the way up to where we launch at the top of Mount Zion. Our local flying club has enjoyed a productive and supportive relationship with the City of Golden and Jefferson County for decades and consider ourselves good neighbors and land-use partners.
Foot-launched ultralight flight in the form of hang gliding has been taking place from the top of Mount Zion for over 40 years. Paragliding has been around for about 30 years. I’m proud to say that I’ve been flying there regularly for almost all of those 30 years.
Tell us about your craziest or most memorable experience paragliding in Colorado.
Some of my most memorable flights aren’t necessarily “personal best” flights of altitude and distance, but rather the unique, poetic, memorable and inspiring experiences like:
- Flying high above Golden (or Boulder) on a summer evening while the sun is setting and the shadows stretch long across ground. This kind of flight happens fairly regularly over Golden.
- Circling in thermals with birds of prey. Golden is home to several families of red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and once even a black cormorant (until then I had never seen a cormorant soaring in a thermal — I had to look it up when I got home that day).
- Landing in long sunset shadows at the base of Aspen Mountain, bathed in the colored light shining through the stained-glass windows of the church at the end of the landing field.
- Flying with my mother on her 66th birthday.
What advice do you have for those who’d like to try paragliding?
The absolute best advice I can share with anyone wanting to learn about flying paragliders (and/or hang gliders) is to seek competent, credible, certified instruction from experienced professionals. And of course, to enjoy every single moment. There’s a local chapter of the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association in Golden: the Rocky Mountain Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
Is there anything else you’d like share that you think readers might find interesting?
One of my favorite things about paragliding is the amazing community of pilots you meet all over the world. As you can imagine, it’s a fairly small community with some very committed and enthusiastic participants worldwide. No matter where you go, there is likely a small community of pilots there who are anxious to hear about flying sites where you live and tell you more about theirs.