When she’s not organizing partnerships and operations for Warren Miller Entertainment or tearing up the slopes, Renee Geary, a 25-year-old fourth generation pilot, is touring Colorado with a bird’s eye view. She flies a 1963 Cessna 210 C, a single engine propeller plane with retractable gear. They call it the Silver Bullet “because it looks like a Coors can.”
The day she was born, Geary’s parents (both pilots) flew back to their house in Westcliffe, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo range. “I grew up flying there, so flying in the region is deeply rooted within me. It’s home.”
Pilot is not a term commonly associated with women, “and for a very long time it was not seen as something that women did,” says Geary. Growing up, her role models were Amelia Earhart and Beryl Markham, author of West with the Night. Amazed and inspired by these women and the women in her own family, their travels and accomplishments, Geary believes “amazing women are increasingly joining the ranks every day. Flying is something that anyone should try, no matter the gender.”
It is pilot tradition to cut a student’s shirt tail off after his or her first solo flight. With a chopped shirt and a pilot’s license in hand, Geary was certain “there was really no going back.” Flying ignites a sense of incredible freedom and confidence: “Being up in the air behind the controls, seeing everything below you is magical. Your instinct takes over, and you know all of your training has paid off.”
What does flight training entail? A medical exam, a two-hour written exam and a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, ten of which are solo hours. The final flight test with a DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) includes flight planning, flying maneuvers, and various questions and equations to prepare you for situations you may encounter in the sky.
Most single engine planes rarely fly above 14,000 feet (about the height of Colorado’s tallest mountains) without oxygen. When you’re up in the air and nearly level with some of the state’s tallest peaks, “It gives you the feeling that you’re more connected to the mountains,” says Geary.
“Flying here has made me realize what a unique state we live in, with all sorts of terrain, weather and conditions… The decisions I make in my plane have given me a sense of capability and made me evaluate a lot of other circumstances in my life.” Preparation and flexibility are key to dealing with constantly changing variables: “I am often asking myself when driving in the winter or skiing, ‘would I do this flying? If I were going to do this in a different way, in a flying sense, what would my plan be? What would I do?”
Geary’s favorite flight to date is from Colorado all the way to Alaska. Specifically, flying from Watson Lake to Skagway. The mountains emerge straight from the ocean, so unlike most highlands in the U.S. you can fly right next to them. Geary’s next goals include becoming an IFR pilot and continuing to explore the U.S. by flight, camping at various small airports out of the plane.
If you’re interested in learning how to fly, Geary recommends visiting your local airport, and asking about training programs. Pilots will often let you come up with them in their own plane to see Colorado from the sky.