Paragliding is a popular sport and hobby of flying paragliders, which are foot-launched glider aircraft. Often viewed as adventurous and romantic, people often fly in the scenic mountains or thermal updrafts above them. The high points of paragliding include excellent maneuverability, good safety record and the fact that pilots can run and get back into the air quickly.
Flying a paraglider is very similar to skydiving, but instead of falling towards the ground, you are floating in the sky. Your wing is much like a parachute, except that it is inflated by the wind passing through it. The wing has two different parts: leading edge and trailing edge. The leading edge is the front of the wing, which takes most of the impact when you land.
The pilot is suspended under or “behind” the paraglider via a harness known as a “sit harness”. Some pilots prefer to be fully suspended underneath the glider by wearing a specialised “flat-seat” harness, where the seat and leg-pads are integrated into a single construction. A specialised paragliding harness is designed to “cradle” the pilot as opposed to using straps over the shoulders and around the waist as found in other aviation sports like hang gliding. The number one goal of h
Paraglider pilots are able to reach high altitudes by using either dynamic soaring or ridge lift. Dynamic soaring involves flying in winds that are moving up and down while the paraglider flies only in its own rising air. Ridge lift is more common because it can be used even when there is little wind, but requires an updraft caused by terrain features like hills or cliffs. In this way, it is possible to soar for hours and travel thousands of miles cross-country with little effort.
Paraglider wings are made from ripstop polyester cloth stretched over a flexible frame composed of wood, aluminium alloy or carbon fibre rods. The wing’s design and colour combine to form an airfoil that is designed to interact with the wind and generate lift. The wing is built so that it has a high angle of attack and a low stall speed, making it able to fly steeply and slowly. This gives pilots more time to analyze the air as they glide towards the landing site, which makes it possible for them to avoid sudden gusts from terrain features.
While most paraglider pilots use a “front-suspension” (chest-straps and risers), some prefer to fly with the suspension lines running over their shoulders like a backpack. However these types of gliders are more difficult to control and less forgiving, so they are called “free flight”. Most new paraglider pilots prefer to use a standard front-suspension glider.
Paragliders are often launched by winch or aerotow, but can also be foot-launched. The wing loading of a paraglider is relatively low making it possible for one person to carry the wing without assistance. The pilot usually runs downhill and launches off a small “trampoline”. A strong wind may be necessary to launch a fully loaded wing, but the flight can be sustained even in light winds.
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PARAGLIDING IN COLORADO
In Colorado, there are many places where you can go paragliding including Loveland Ski Area, Monarch Mountain, Powderhorn Resort, Ski Cooper, Aspen/Snowmass, Vail/Beaver Creek, Breckenridge Ski Resort.
COLORADO PARAGLIDING LOCATIONS
- Loveland Ski Area – The largest ski area in Colorado is located 30 minutes from downtown Denver. There are four peaks that you can fly off of at Loveland. Launch is off of the Continental Divide.
- Monarch Mountain – Located in Colorado Springs, this small ski area provides an excellent location for beginners to get their wings. There are three peaks available, including the Colorado College Peak which is one of the steepest launch sites you can find in Colorado.
- Powderhorn Resort – This small ski area is located in Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the world. The views from here are outstanding and it is a very beginner friendly location for launching.
- Ski Cooper – This small ski area is located near Leadville and provides two flying peaks: one which can be reached by car and another that requires hiking. Ski Cooper is a skiers-only club so you will need to purchase a day pass. This resort also offers snowcat skiing, snow coaching and access to the white water rafting on the Arkansas River below.
- Aspen/Snowmass – These ski areas provide some of the best soaring conditions in Colorado. The mountains are very steep and provide many launch points for pilots of all levels.
- Vail/Beaver Creek – These ski areas are located in Eagle County and provide some great cross country soaring with the help of the many mountain peaks in this area.
- Breckenridge Ski Resort – This resort is located 20 minutes west of Denver, near the popular town of Breckenridge. There are a few peaks that you can launch from at this resort but the best site is owned by a local gliding club, so it requires an additional fee to use.
COLORADO TERRAIN – Perfect for paragliding
Colorado is a wide open place with lots of room to go soaring. The nearby Rocky Mountains provide many slope lift opportunities and the mountains are very steep offering great speed potential. Many pilots enjoy flying the nearby Front Range, but others like to travel further out into the state where there are more peaks that can be reached allowing for longer flights.
COLORADO WEATHER – Perfect for paragliding too
Colorado is known as a sunny state and the weather tends to be very predictable during the summer months, which makes it perfect for flying everyday. The winter can be unpredictable but pilots are used to dealing with all types of weather here. This is one of the reasons why so many paragliders live here.
COLORADO PLACES TO STAY – Friendly to paragliding pilots
Most national hotel chains have locations near all major airports so it is easy for any pilot to find a place to stay wherever they go. The town of Grand Junction has a few hotels but there are also a few hotels in the nearby town of Rifle which is a good starting point for pilots interested in soaring Grand Mesa. The towns of Eagle and Vail also have a few hotels to choose from if you would like to stay overnight after flying Aspen/Snowmass, Breckenridge or Monarch Mountain.
COLORADO PLACES TO EAT – Good food after a good paragliding
Colorado has many restaurants in the cities and towns near all major airports. This is true even in smaller towns like Rifle, Grand Junction and Eagle which are pretty far removed from the larger cities. The resort areas tend to have more high end restaurants where pilots can sit down to relax after flying their paragliders.
COLORADO PLACES TO GLIDE – Where to go after paragliding
Colorado offers a variety of places to fly, ranging from ditches and flat-lands to the Rocky Mountain peaks. Many pilots simply enjoy flying along the Front Range but those who have been here for a while visit Monarch or Powderhorn because those resorts are both close to Denver. Aspen/Snowmass is popular with more experienced pilots because of the high elevation of this resort means that the speed you get on landing approaches 200 km/hr depending on how big of a mountain peak you are gliding down towards.