SOAR over Glenwood Springs |

SOAR over Glenwood Springs

Colleen O’Neil

paragliding faq:

Do I need any experience to fly with you?

No, most of the people who fly tandem have no experience in air sports. You’ll fly with an experienced instructor.

What is the age limit?

Everyone can fly.

Is paragliding safe?

Extremely. More than 5,000 customers have flown without incident.

What’s the difference between parasailing, paragliding and hang-gliding?

In parasailing, you are pulled aloft by a boat or car. Hang-gliding, although similar to paragliding, is performed on a fixed wing that looks like a boomerang. Paragliding is done on an airfoil wing that is inflated by the movement of air through its cells.



$149 for a tandem flight with a certified instructor.

What do Amish families, young adventurous guys and high school girls have in common? They all love paragliding.

Glenwood Springs is home to the Adventure Paragliding company, which is based out of the Glenwood Adventure Company headquarters downtown. They’re the folks you can see floating around above town on sunny days in the summer. Ever wonder what it would be like to be one of those people gliding over the world?

I decided to check it out. Purely to inform the public, of course.

On a sunny Wednesday morning, I signed my waiver and hopped into the truck with Shannon Francis, who co-owns the paragliding company with her husband, Pine Pienaar. A few long-haired, bearded guides (U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association-certified) lounged in the truck bed with their gliders packed up in tight rolls. From downtown Glenwood Springs, Francis drove us outside of town and all the way up Red Mountain Road.


Francis started paragliding 14 years ago in Aspen, where she was born. Pienaar, a South African native, came to the Roaring Fork Valley to further his rugby career, then wound up discovering paragliding as well.

“I saw these guys fly in Aspen and I was like, ‘Ahhh! That’s exactly what I want to do,’” he said of his mid-1990s introduction to the sport of paragliding. “So I started learning there.”

When they first started the company, it was a small operation. “I remember it was so exciting if we had four flights in a day,” Francis said. Now they run five flights a day in the summer, weather permitting. Thousands of people, from age 2 to 92, have taken to the sky with Adventure Paragliding. The customers include large groups of Amish vacationers, who are especially thrilled to get into the air. Adventure Paragliding also offers certification lessons, and trips to exotic locations such as Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

On the way up, I talked with the other customers on the trip. The two girls were just about to graduate from Glenwood Springs High School, and this flight was the reward for their hard work throughout the school year (one of them turned out to be a valedictorian).


At the top of the road, the guides hopped out and set up their gliders near the precipice.

I stepped into my big, awkward harness. It was supposed to fit “like a big diaper,” said guide Hayden Dudley. The harness seemed huge and loose, but it’s adjustable so that a 3-year-old child can sit in it safely.

I watched as both girls got strapped in and launched off the ridge to soar over the green valley below. A couple students went solo. Then it was my turn. My guide strapped my harness to himself, and then we awkwardly bumbled (it was supposed to be a “run”) off the side of the mountain.

Then we were flying.

I sat back in my harness — it feels like a big, stable chair — and took it all in. We were over the treetops, making turns along the ridge. It was completely surreal. Like being in a dream, we effortlessly glided through the air.

Over Glenwood we soared, looking at the mountains in the distance and the tiny cars and people down below. I raised my camera and took a few half-hearted pictures. But I just wanted to sit and stare with the wind in my face and the sun on our backs.

Too soon, we were flying over the high school track. We took a couple more turns over the river, then the treetops were close. Dudley instructed me to start running as soon as we got close to the ground of the big, grassy field. I scooted to the front of the harness and waved my legs around in the air. We slid to an undignified halt on the grass.


The high school girls had already packed up and left with their parents. Dudley and I chatted as he packed up the glider.

“People always say, ‘You’re so lucky you get to do this every day,” he told me. “But it’s not luck that I’m doing this; it’s a life choice.” He’s been flying folks around for six years, but his life wasn’t always such an outdoorsy dream. Before getting his U.S. Hang Gliding Association certification, he was a corporate chef for catering companies. But he left that high-stress life to glide with the birds.

“I’ve definitely had a few people throw up on me,” he laughed, “but mostly everyone’s having a great time.”

I could relate — a smile was pasted on my face for the rest of the day.

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