“Step forward!” A voice behind me barked orders. “Come back, come back, come back! Woah – wait up. Run, run, run! Pick your legs up! Aieyyyyyeeee!”
My paragliding instructor continued shouting at me as we were yanked across a cliffside high above Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We were flying tandem – attached to each other and attached to a massive chute.
As the wind worked to slowly pull our chute into the air, it pulled our bodies with each adjustment of the breeze. I dug my feet into the dirt and and struggled to maintain my footing. As I pushed hard steps into the ground, I felt like a sprinter pulling a weighted training sled. And then, all of a sudden, the resistance that was awkwardly pulling me backward had vanished. My body launched forward, and we were airborne.
Just moments later, we were sailing high above the rolling green hills below my dangling feet. I quickly pulled my body up into a seated position on the paraglide’s pilot’s chair. That’s right…many paragliding set-ups have a comfortable pilot’s chair, even the tandem ones. That was the first surprise of my experience.
Next, we did a series of dives and climbs, dropping to a low altitude – no more than 40 feet above the ground – before shooting back into the sky. We mimicked the soaring patterns of the falcons around us – an accurate, albeit cheesy, comparison. Just look closely and you’ll find one in the picture below.
Below us, the streets of Glenwood Springs bustled, and in the distance, the picturesque Mt. Sopris loomed. If there was a perfect way to absorb the Colorado landscape, this was it.
Over the course of many more dips, rises, and turns, I started to realize how wrong I had been about paragliding. I thought it would be a jarring rush similar to skydiving, but it was quite the opposite. While it still got my adrenaline pumping, paragliding also evoked a newfound level of relaxation. It felt more like floating on a swinging deck chair than something that would cause you to fear for your life.
When it was my turn to steer the chute, I took the reigns and gave a hard yank in the direction I wanted to go. Leaning into my pull, the paper-thin aircraft responded accordingly, smoothly straightening as I evened my tugs.
Even the landing procedure was clean and straightforward. We found an open flat space on the ground and made our approach. As the ground got closer, my instructor told me to start running in-air, which I did. Soon my feet touched dirt, and in-sync once again, we took a few steps to put the chute down. We turned, gave the obligatory high five to each other, and I was on my way.
I had no clue what to expect prior to my paragliding experience. Prior to take off, the only experience I could compare it to was skydiving – that involves a chute, too, right? That being said, the two sports are completely different. Where skydiving is a crazy rush, paragliding is serene. There’s no yanking of a chute pull and the chute is so responsive that adjustments can be made in smooth arcs, up and down, and right or left. You can sit on a comfortable chair, and the landing is hardly noticeable.
Overall, I would definitely recommend giving paragliding a try to the adrenaline-junkie or to the novice outdoor recreation enthusiast, alike. If it’s your first try, you’ll want to find a company that will take you tandem. I went with one called Adventure Paragliding out of Glenwood Springs with a Groupon for two I’d purchased for my girlfriend’s birthday. Based on my experience, I’d recommend this company to any first-timer. They put safety first and had a fun team full of personality and experience. If you’re looking for something new and exciting to do, give paragliding a try.
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