One way to get a spectacular view of Sun Valley and the surrounding mountains is to hike or ride the lifts to the top of Baldy. But an even better way, as we found out, is to run off the top of the mountain with another person strapped to your back as a big beautiful glider rises over your head and takes you soaring out over the valley.
I’d wanted to do as much since moving to the area four years ago. Since then, I’ve always loved looking up at the mountain to see the bright colored gliders sailing off the top, spinning around in the thermals, and seemingly descending at great and twirling speeds. So, on Saturday we arrived at River Run lodge to meet the great crew of Fly Sun Valley guys who run off the mountain most every day (usually several times a day if they can). They walked in with their huge tandem paraglider packs, three times my petite body size, and soon after had Laura, Kristen, and me signing our lives away to the air. I was excited that this day had finally come.
Mike Pfau, a pilot for Fly Sun Valley as well as organizer of the Paragliding National Championships and Fly Far Idaho, met us in the lodge ready to fly, wing in hand.
Riding up to Roundhouse in the gondola the guys shared stories about distance trips* and crazy tricks. And something about sharing that small space with four guides, two tandem riders, one photographer, and four huge backpacks started to set reality in motion for me. I was about to take to the air, and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom. * Pilot Matt "Farmer" held the world distance record in 2012 for a short time, but he was soon outdone by his good friend and local Sun Valley pilot Nate Scales, and later by their good friend Nick Grease. Because of its location and access, Sun Valley's Bald Mountain is an ideal place for distance flying.
Up on top we suited up and waited for the perfect wind at the top of Limelight as friends skied by yelling and waving. And meanwhile we picked up Kristen, who on a whim ditched her skis and prepared to run down the hill in her boots.
Mike didn't know his niece would be showing up to fly that day. He was so excited saying he had been waiting for the day he would be doing this with her.
After several deep breaths I found myself taking only a few steps downhill before the wind picked us up. My guide Chuck and I were soon soaring above the ski runs, spinning around in the thermals, and observing Baldy from a new perspective (to me at least). Gliding toward the Pioneers was surreal and beautiful, and more peaceful than you could imagine.
Laura and Farmer took sail soon after, followed by Kristen and her guide Charlie.
Kristen, a friend from Pennsylvania, thought she was just skiing for the day. But when the opportunity came up, she chucked the skis under a snow gun and took to the skies with Charlie.
At one point we were all attempting to join the same air thermal—the three gliders joined in the air like a twirling circus.
*A speed wing is a smaller, faster wing meant mostly for descending and acrobatics (as an example, you may have seen film of people flying with skis on and touching down). In recent years the sport has grown in popularity as an exciting way to fly with more maneuverability.
And as wonderful as the trip was, the best part still might have been joining friends at the bottom for a beer and some sunny afternoon skiing. ~Martha
Sawtooth Brewery beer and a good band at River Run base. Overall, a good day. Jordan even met us at the bottom. Cheers!
Words: Martha Williams | Photos: Mark Oliver