Hang gliding over Lake Tahoe

By Jenn Sheridan  ·  Photos courtesy Uprising Paragliding  ·

 

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A bird’s eye view of Crystal Bay from above the Stateline Lookout.  ·

On a clear, summer evening in Kings Beach one can glance east toward Crystal Bay, and if the wind is right, the ridgeline will be dotted with colorful paragliders floating on the air currents.

These pilots have caught my eye on more than one occasion, so when I had the opportunity to join a tandem flight with Uprising Paragliding, I did not hesitate. Uprising Paragliding has operated in the Tahoe and Reno region since 2006. It began as a flight school and has grown to offer instructional tandem flights. Co-owners Thomas Pochazka and Fred Morris each bring 15 years of paragliding experience to the school and mention that they have a perfect safety record.

“I was looking for the fastest way down the mountain,” said Pochazka, my pilot for the evening, of his initial interest in paragliding. A skier, climber and mountaineer, it’s safe to say Pochazka is a seeker of adventure and walking down from the summit was clearly not the quickest way to the base. After getting his license, Pochazka worked as a professional tandem pilot in New Zealand before moving to North Lake Tahoe with his family.

At the top of the ridge, Pochazka unpacks the paraglider while explaining how we’re going to take off.

“When I say ready, we’re going to take two big steps forward,” says Pochazka. “As the wing fills with air, it’s going to pull back hard, so just let it pull you. When I say go we’ll start running downhill,” he says. He gives me a firm pull to demonstrate.

“The most important thing is to stay on your feet,” he explains, and since we can’t see which direction the wind is blowing, we might have to run through some bushes before catching air. I begin to get butterflies in my stomach as Pochazka double checks each carabiner. “Ready?”

Two steps forward. A strong jerk back, and we’re running, but I’m unsteady. I do the opposite of what I was told. I trip and fall, inhaling a mouthful of dirt and dragging Pochazka down with me. We’re dusty, but unharmed. I’m a little embarrassed as Pochazka carefully sets up the paraglider for the second time. This time I’m ready and the launch seems effortless. I slip into the seat as Pochazka steers across the ridge high above the trees.

A paraglider works with airflow to create lift under the wing. Under the right conditions, a pilot can stay aloft for hours at a time. Local pilots have flown from Mammoth Lakes to Reno using the wind currents created in the Sierra Nevada.

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Relax and enjoy the view.

There are three types of rising air that create the right conditions for paragliding. Ridge lift occurs when the wind is blowing toward a ridge or hill. As it hits the mountainside, the air must move up and over the summit creating a pocket of rising air along the ridge. A wavelift is similar, but occurs on the downwind side of the mountain as the wind blows over the summit, down into the valley and back up. The last type of rising air is a thermal. Thermals are columns of warm air that expand and rise from the ground. When a bird is seen circling an area without flapping its wings, it is using a thermal to stay aloft. Pilots know that thermals can be found near dark areas such as asphalt parking lots and they circle within the thermal until the desired elevation is reached.

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Secline Beach makes for a scenic and soft landing.

During our flight, Pochazka uses the ridge lift along Crystal Bay to keep us sailing over the trees. I relax and take in the sights of Lake Tahoe and downtown Kings Beach below us. The sun begins to set behind the mountains as we glide over Kings Beach State Recreation area and head for a soft landing on Secline Beach. I’m all smiles as we slip out of the harnesses and pack up the gear.

Uprising Paragliding offers tandem flights in several locations in the Reno and Tahoe region. No experience is necessary and anyone with a taste for adventure can join. Additionally, Uprising offers the training and testing needed to become a paraglide pilot. Since paragliding is dependent on weather for a successful flight, Uprising Paragliding has partnered with Sierra Aero to offer flights in a single engine plane for those who seek a bird’s eye view of Tahoe when the conditions aren’t right.

For more information, visit uprisingparagliding.com.

 

Before you go

• Bring warm clothes. Even on a warm, summer day, the high elevation and strong wind can make for a chilly ride.
• Wear sturdy shoes. Plan on hiking and running over rocky and uneven terrain.
• Be flexible. Paragliding is dependent on having the right wind conditions. This may mean waiting days or weeks for the weather to change.

 

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Jenn Sheridan
Jenn is a freelance writer using words, photos and digital media to connect people to the outdoors.