We glanced on the subject of paragliding the other day, when talking about bungee jumping in Nepal. Paragliding there gives you views of surpassing splendour, a real one-off experience. However, there are many places a little closer to home where you can paraglide in stunningly beautiful areas.
And if you’re asking why you would want to paraglide anyway – just check out this video and see if it doesn’t tempt you change your mind about it…
Speed flying in Moab
A whole lot safer than wingsuit flying, you too can skim the mountain slopes when paragliding, albeit more leisurely, and certainly a lot more safely!
However, I should probably note here that the Moab is not the best place in the States to paraglide. It is far too hot which makes it dangerous and most days winds circle from all directions. Good landings are limited and good launchings even more so – witness the above video. But having said that, if the conditions are right, and you know what you are doing, paragliding here will leave you with stunning memories.
The West of America has ideal conditions for paragliding. Mountains, flat spaces and dry seasons. Colorado has it all really and Villa Grove is an ideal launch site. The 3,700m high Sangre De Cristos mountain range runs for nearly 100kms south of Villa Grove and has plenty of thermals to offer a wide range of variety. Light winds generally prevail in the morning though from May to August there can be strong, and often rough, thermal conditions during the middle of the day. Local pilots know to watch out for the gust fronts that prevail in the region. You can see them coming and it is important to be on ground before they hit. Listen to what your instructors or other experienced pilots say about the local weather and don’t fly when conditions are suspect. 90% of the time its totally safe, so there’s no need to take chances during the other 10%.
Then for a truly golden experience you needn’t go much further than Golden, Colorado, just west of Denver:
Paragliding at Golden, Colorado
Glenwood Springs is another launch site. Here you can fly over the stunning Rocky Mountains. Boulder of course has paragliding as have Breckenridge, Aspen and Telluride. In fact, Colorado has such a good reputation for quality paragliding that it annually hosts paragliding competitions.
California has so many paragliding sites that you are spoiled for choice. Santa Barbara generally has reliable weather conditions and beautiful sites. The beautiful coastal cliffs of Malibu are another possibility, just a 15-minute drive from Santa Monica. Santa Ynez, San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore, and San Diego all have launch sites, as does the San Francisco Bay area which has launch sites in San Mateo, Santa Clara as well as flying sites in the nearby mountains – still in the Bay Area.
That’s just a few…
How about Arizona? Shaw Butte and South Mountain seems to be the place where you can soar like an eagle.
Paragliding in Arizona
Head to America’s least populous state, Wyoming, and paraglide at Jackson Hole – beautiful.
Paragliding at Jackson Hole, Wyoming
It gives one the effortless sense of floating doesn’t it. Leonardo da Vinci sums it up in a nutshell: “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.”
The Ouachita Mountains, spanning Arkansas and Oklahoma, are the only east to west mountains in the United States. Both Mt. Nebo State Park and Mt. Magazine State Park in Arkansas have launch sites whilst in Oklahoma you have the choice of Buffalo Mountain, Talimena Scenic Drive at the Panorama Vista, or Heavener Mountain near the Runestone State Park.
And then of course there’s Utah. The Moab we’ve already glossed over, but Utah prides itself on being one of the best paragliding states in the country. Point of the Mountain is a well known site and a good place to learn. Within driving distance of Salt Lake City, Point of the Mountain is well known for its consistent and predictable weather. So predictable that you can say with some certainty that there will be a southerly airstream in the mornings, which generally switches to a northerly airstream in the afternoons. However, during the middle of the day, particularly in Summer, conditions often become ‘unstable’ and cumulus clouds pop up all over the place. For experienced fliers this means thermals and they will be tempted to fly cross country from thermal to thermal. Flying on the south side of the mountain is great for beginners, the north side is a bit more spicy. It has a 2 tiered slope system, with a launch site on the lower slope, but if northerly wind strengths are good, it’s possible to get a bit of height which will enable you to fly back onto the 300m ridge behind your launch, and ride it to the top.
Albuquerque and Alamogordo are the places to head in New Mexico.
Paragliding in New Mexico
Who wouldn’t want to paraglide? and a spin-off of paragliding…
Paraskiing or Speed Riding. Just another delectable aspect of the sport – right up there in the danger zone with wingsuit flying and BASEjumping, but it looks so EASY doesn’t it? So easy, and so seductive.
And remember this sage word of advice when paragliding: “Eliminate ‘maybe’ and ‘probably’ from your paragliding vocabulary and also from your way of thinking!”
The sites I have mentioned are just a few of the many paragliding sites dotted around western America. “Seek and ye shall find”…
feature photo courtesy of Daniele Sartori