As a part of a 3600 mile trip through 10 states to Minnesota to visit relatives and then to Aspen to play for four days, we signed up to go paragliding off the top of the 11,000 Aspen Mountain. Since I couldn’t talk any of the other relatives or family members into leaping off a mountain with me, after updating my will and kissing my wife, daughters, and grand kids good bye I got ready to head to downtown Aspen to go tandem paragliding with Aspen Paragliding! It turns out, none of my group wanted to take the leap of faith, but they all wanted to watch so at 8:00 all 9 of us entered Aspen Paragliding. I sat in a corner shaking; and the adults sat in a chair watching a paragliding video and not doing much for building my confidence – “are you sure you want to do this.” Actually, the video made it look easy, fun, and thrilling and I know they were secretly wishing they had signed up! A couple of them stated that the video makes it look so easy that if I made it safely back down, maybe they’ll go next time.
After signing multiple forms waiving all our rights if something went wrong, filling out what seemed like a complete medical history, and of course listing our emergency contacts (none of my forms were legible because my hands were shaking so badly), we met our pilots. I felt a little better when I found out I was flying tandem with Alex Palmaz, who is the owner of Aspen Paragliding and has been doing this for over 20 years and is a USHPA Master Rated Tandem Instructor – which I think means he is well qualified and that I shouldn’t worry about returning safely back to ground – he has clearly arrived safely a number of times as there were no visible signs of recent crash landings. Trust me, I checked him closely for scars, remnants of broken bones, scuffed up body parts, clothing, gloves, helmets, or shoes. Finding none I checked for whiffs of early morning alcohol or blurry eyes. I wanted to inspect our chute but it was packed up and all I knew to look for would be duck tape or frayed lines. I guess I was ready to go.
I kissed and hugged the family one more time and then our pilots, a couple single paragliders, and 6 rather nervous first time paragliders piled in a four wheel drive truck and headed up Aspen ski mountain. The ride to the top was quite an experience as we took a jarring, twisting, narrow 15 minute ride up a couple of switchback ski trails to our take-off zone. A comment was made about how hard it must be to drive this narrow ski trail and the response was “the drive down is much worse as all four tires slip and slide down the steep descent.” That immediately took away any ideas I had of not jumping and riding back down in the truck. Near the top of Aspen Mountain, we unloaded and took a short walk to our departure spot – a cliff with a magnificent panoramic view of the valley, the town of Aspen, the surrounding mountains, and our landing zone over 3000 feet below us. Panic hit again for the third time that morning!
With a dry mouth, tongue in throat, and the jitters, I watched as the chutes were spread out and prepared. Then listened very closely to my pilot as he strapped me into the harness and explained what we needed to do! “p-p- ppp piece piece of c-c-c-ccake” I bravely stuttered and then asked him to repeat it again to make sure I got it! I was paralyzed as I watched the experienced single flyers run and launch themselves off the cliff and then gracefully fly through the air. “Wow, that’s easy,” I muttered as my pilot said, “yeah, but he is flying single and this is his 60th jump” – at least he made it through 59 I thought! As Alex set up our chute I watched as the rest of our party got their chutes ready, strapped into the harness, got instructions, and started running to fly with the eagles. Looked very easy.
Mouse over the pictures below to see the captions for each picture.
Since Alex is the owner of Aspen Paragliding, he always takes off last, which gave me time to watch all the other brave souls launch themselves successfully off the cliff, soar through the air, and nail the landing zone. Although I couldn’t tell how hard they landed or if anything was broken, however, I didn’t see any ambulances heading to the landing zone.
I heard Alex say “are you ready” and somehow “sssssure” escaped from my mouth and we started running toward the edge of the cliff. As soon as we started running, trying to stay in sync and not trip, the chute opened and we had to lug it toward the edge of the cliff – next thing I knew our feet were off the ground, I went “whewwwww”, and Alex said “you can take a breath now and sit sit back in your seat, relax, and enjoy the view.” Which I did – unbelievable!
Wow – what a unique and fantastic experience soaring high above some stunningly beautiful scenery, twisting and turning through the air, feeling free as a bird, and seeming to be in control of what we, I mean Alex was doing. Shortly after we took off, an eagle went soaring by and Alex said he would try to follow and duplicate its moves because eagles have been doing this soaring thing for thousands of years and they know where the thermals are to give us lift for a higher and longer ride. We stayed with him for a couple turns, caught the thermal, and rode higher than any of the other paragliders in our group.
Five minutes into the flight, Alex said “How would you like to fly this thing.” Next thing I knew I was flying through the air with the greatest of ease – even though my heart was pumping and my hands were shaking – as I maneuvered the two of us left and right 3000 feet above ground! When Alex took back the controls and said, “now let me show you what this chute can do!” Next thing I know we are doing loop-to-loops and rolls and rapid lefts, rights, and circles and my stomach was doing the same thing. I was amazed at the agility of the chute and the way that Alex could control it. After that I was feeling pretty confident and cocky knowing my pilot, who had my life in his hands, clearly knew what he was doing.
At about 500 feet above our landing zone, Alex calmly stated that “we are going to be coming in for a fast landing and all you need to do is get out of your seat” -easy for him to say, a little hard to fathom doing when you are 500 feet above ground and going 40 miles an hour – “and when we hit the ground just keep running – don’t fall.” We did a perfect four foot landing in front of my clan and I had a grin that wouldn’t stop! My welcoming was similar to something an astronaut gets when they return from a multi day trip in space! And for the next week I was still talking about this fun adventure – although none of my party was listening and whey I brought it up, the usually left the room.
What an amazing, exciting, breath-taking, and exhilarating experience. And it truly is easy and nothing to be timid about. So, what are you waiting for, pick up the phone and call your nearest paragliding company (which may be a little difficult to find in Texas since we don’t have many 5000 foot cliffs to jump off of) or book a trip to Aspen and go flying with Alex and Aspen Paragliding. They fly year round, rates in 2009 were $225 per person – well worth every penny and a memory you will never forget. Flying is suitable for anyone 2 to 92 – so, no excuses, go do it! Aspen Paragliding typically flies twice a day during the summer and in the winter there are a couple of options. Non skiers ride up the Aspen Gondola to the top of the mountain and launch off the top of a double black diamond run – one which I seem to recall sliding most of the way down when we skied Aspen a few years back. For flyers who can ski or board, you get to take a ski lift up nearby Snowmass Mountain and take off and land with your skis or board – how cool is that!
Watch a video of Paragliding with Aspen Paragliding.
If you’re interested in any type of airborne adventure, check out our Texas Airborne Adventures page – you’ll find a couple places that offer paragliding in Texas as well as sky diving, hang gliding, helicopter rides, and more airborne adventures. Have fun!