Paragliding in Aspen


I’m running as hard as I can and barely moving. The drag of a glider, the awkward tangle of a harness, and the weight of the pilot yoked in behind me seem to be holding me back. We’re on Aspen Mountain, trying to launch from this clearing that slopes gradually downward and drops off steeply 10 yards ahead of us. But, with such resistance, even gravity hardly helps toward forward momentum.

I dig my toes into the soft, grass-covered soil of the mountain side, push off with each giant stride, and squawk with the effort. The drop off nears but I still run. And, soon, my legs are kicking in the air instead of pawing at the ground. The man strapped to me tells me that I can stop running now. I instinctively stop whipping the sky with my feet but can’t bring myself to answer him, because I’m awed. We’re floating 3,000 feet above Aspen, and I’m enormously enjoying the view.

For a millisecond, I wonder why I’m not terrified. But I toss that curiosity to the wind (literally) and instead simply admire the Roaring Fork River winding through the valley, still green in mid-September, and marvel at the fact that we’re somehow gaining elevation and seem to be even higher than we started.

I ask my pilot how long he’s been paragliding. “I’ve done it a few times,” he kids in his charming Hungarian accent. “That’s where we’re landing,” he points to the snow-making reservoir at the ski area just beneath us, joking to distract me from more questions. I’m certainly not ready to land yet though. “We need to do some tricks first,” I tell him.

For the next ten minutes, we float north, then steer our glider south, and finally aim toward Northstar Reserve, where we actually will land when it’s time. He shows me how to hold the handles of the glider and demonstrates that pulling the set of strings attached to the right side of the glider collapses the material and turns the glider right. It works the same way on the left. I take the reins and steer us in a slow 360.

When give up the handles, my trusty pilot double checks that I’m comfortable before abruptly launching us into speedy spirals. Suddenly, I can’t tell whether we’re spinning right side up or swinging side over side like a pendulum. My helmet has slid off my head, so I’m wearing it like a necklace, and my eyes are tearing from the wind. Plus, I can tell from the pressure change I feel in my ears that we’re rapidly losing elevation. Finally, we slow to a gentle float again, and I slip on my helmet again.

We hover over the Roaring Fork then turn north for a landing from the south. My pilot asks me to start running while we we’re still 20 feet off the ground—but coming in quickly. So I flail my legs and wonder how in the world they’ll keep up with the speed of this glider. Luckily, we brake just before hitting the ground and stumble a few yards before I trip over a tuft of grass and fall on my knees. I get up smiling, help pack up the glider, clink glasses in a champagne toast, and spend the next few hours feeling like I might hurl. Flying over Aspen—letting the currents carry me and relaxing in the peaceful quiet high above earth—was so worth it.

It’s easy to book this adventure and others through the Adventure Concierge at The Little Nell, like I did. Perhaps make a weekend of it and cap off your experience with a bike ride to the Maroon Bells or some fly fishing in a nearby trout paradise. Enlist the help of the expert fly fishers, bicyclists, and hikers at The Little Nell Adventure Shop to ensure a top-notch day (or three) in the outdoors.

Last modified: June 20, 2013

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