For flight’s sake: Glenwood Springs paragliding adventure company continues to float and fly those who are wing-free
Imagine you’re in an airplane preparing to land.
Then, instead of getting a fraction of the view through your neighbor’s window, you take in a 360-degree perspective of the miniature-looking houses, roads and cars gradually growing as your legs dangle, awaiting the return of the ground beneath them.
This was my experience while tandem paragliding on a recent bluebird day in Glenwood Springs. Insead of craning my neck to look up at the mountains, I was peering down at them from above while my instructor was telling me to look out for wildlife — especially bears — that are often spotted in the springtime during the descent.
Pine Pienaar is originally from South Africa, but he moved to Aspen in 1993 and has been sharing the experience of flight since 2003 with those brave enough to take the jump with the help of his team in Glenwood Springs.
“I think just sharing it with people and seeing that nervousness transform into pure enjoyment once they realize how it is,” Pienaar said. “It’s not as bad as they thought it would be. … I don’t fly solo that much anymore, but I still really, really enjoy doing tandems, sharing the experience with people and seeing their faces. We all do.”
While some may be driving down Grand Avenue or walking the Rio Grande bike path and see the colorful parachutes overhead and immediately think it is risky, Pienaar said that over the years the worst injuries they’ve seen were a few twisted ankles during the landing. He attributes this success to being a “strict” boss and maintaining high expectations and experience for all the instructors who take tourists out for their first flight.
“In order to become a tandem pilot you have to have probably about 300 hours of solo flying. … The pilots that work here, I really want to try and get some more experienced pilots than just anybody,” Pienaar said. “Most of my guys have been working with me, all of them for over 10 years. I’m really lucky to have the crew, and they’re super experienced. They know the site like the back of their hand.”
The company, Adventure Paragliding, has flown individuals from ages 2 to 92. Father and son Paul and Sam Minot were in the second flight round and watched a group glide down the mountain with instructors before they were driven up to the cross on a dirt road that consists of a series of steep then steeper turns.
Paul said that after doing his research he found comfort in statistics showing that driving across the country is more dangerous than paragliding.
“I’m afraid of heights, but I’d love to fly. It’s a dream,” Minot said, eagerly awaiting his turn to run off the cliff and slowly soar to the bottom.
Janora Apple flew in the same round as her daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and Jeff Drake, and walked up to the parking lot from the landing field slightly out of breath and with a big grin on her face.
“I decided I didn’t want to die before I did something exciting,” Apple said. “I thought it was exhilarating — it was like being free.”
For me, the most nerve wracking part was driving in the truck and watching everyone get suited up in harnesses and helmets waiting for my turn to “run, run run,” until we were floating. Airborne, I realized how right Pienaar was in his observation that people aren’t actually afraid of heights, but rather afraid of falling.
Getting ready and moments of enjoying the view while still on the ground were the toughest, but catching flight and following the wind left me in a state of shock and awe, almost giddy as we landed and ready to make sure I’d bring back friends and family to share the experience with in the future.
“If you’ve been thinking about it, and there’s been some perception inside your head that has been keeping you away from it, it really is worth just pushing yourself and saying, ‘I’m just gonna go do it,’” Pienaar said. “… Our heads tend to withhold us from so many fun things. There’s a wonderful world on the other side of fear, and you just need to convince yourself to give it a try, and then you’ll discover that.”
Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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