The Gallatin Valley is renowned for its happy marriage of wide-open space and breathtaking mountain terrain. From immaculate pastel sunrises to towering dreamscapes bathed in silver moonlight, the valley offers perspectives and reflection that calm the cluttered mind and speak softly to the troubled soul.
I often find my eyes wandering skyward to contemplate the majestic birds of prey soaring overhead. They float effortlessly above the bustling valley floor, the distant peaks curling away from their powerful wings. The elegant weave of their concentric paths captivate my thoughts and I long for a dance with the sky. To be immersed in empty space, freed from all earthly burdens, to embrace the endless possibilities—this is the dream of flight.
For thousands of years humans looked toward the heavens with a wishful eye and in just the last few hundred, finally began to explore the tantric void between earth and sky. Today, there are countless ways to sail through the air; yet all too often, we find ourselves searching for the shortest flight or enduring a maddening rush through the chaotic corridors of another major airport. The focus has become the destination, our wings a simple means to an end. I invite you to have a look at three intriguing services found right here in the Gallatin Valley whose sole purpose it is to remind us of the ancient dream and to once again fill us with wonder. Each experience is unique—tailor-made for the adventurous romantic in all of us.
Paragliding is aviation in its simplest form. There are no motors, no moving parts, and the only noise you will hear is the wind in your hair. Weighing in at a mere 15 pounds, paragliders are an extremely lightweight aircraft that can be ready for launch in as little as five minutes. A canopy made of durable nylon fabric, connected to a comfortable harness system by Kevlar riser lines, constitutes the entire system. Under the right conditions, it can stay airborne for several hours and can cover over three hundred miles in a single flight. Often confused with hang gliders and skydiving canopies, paragliders differ from both in several important ways. Paragliders are more like wings than chutes, which means they are designed to stay aloft, greatly increasing your flight time, while parachutes are designed only for descent. Hang gliders are a bit more cumbersome than paragliders, requiring transportation with a roof rack and much more set-up and breakdown time. Hang glider pilots also generally fly prone, while paragliders are harnessed in a sitting position.
Flights typically begin on a gently sloping hillside with the pilot running forward until the air currents catch beneath the wings. Once airborne, the paraglider is extremely maneuverable, allowing the experienced pilot to execute precision turns, stalls, spins, and spirals. Sound like a little too much for your first go round? Fear not—Andy Mcrae, owner of Bozeman Paragliding, and his seasoned staff can accommodate anyone interested in experiencing this breathtaking sport. Andy has been flying paragliders in the Gallatin Valley since 1997, and is an advanced-rated flight instructor. After six years of flying on his own and logging nearly 1000 flights, he decided to bring the sport to the public, opening Bozeman Paragliding in the summer of 2002.
Bozeman Paragliding offers exhilarating Tandem Flights with USHGA-certified instructors lasting approximately one hour. Consisting of a hike to your launch point, an incredible flight down to the landing area, and a short hike back to your car, the Tandem can easily be inserted into the tightest of schedules. For the dedicated adventurer, the Bozeman Paragliding Pilots Program will take you from novice to a P2 rating with the United States Hang Gliding Association, allowing you to fly without instructor supervision. This comprehensive package includes instructional tandem flights, a minimum of 25 solo flights, radio communications, and transportation to and from the flying sites.
Paragliding is the simplest and most intimate way to connect with the air around you. It is rife with the soulful power found in other elemental sports such as surfing, kayaking, and climbing, where the ultimate goal is not victory, but unity with the surrounding natural forces. Time in the air is time well spent, and Bozeman Paragliding provides an excellent opportunity for anyone seeking to explore, or master, this incredibly rewarding sport.
Balloons Over Bozeman
Few mechanisms of flight carry the emotional impact of the hot air balloon. It is truly a work of art. Floating effortlessly above the valley floor, it captures one’s imagination and will restore the twinkle to even the most cynical eye. For the passenger, it is a classic blend of fantasy and romance: a throwback to the days of wine and roses, free from the weight of the world, with destiny subject to the whims of the wind.
Dating back to 1783, ballooning is the first way that man took to the skies, and it has remained a favorite to this day. The concept is startling in its simplicity. Superheated air released from propane burners in the basket fills a gigantic balloon providing the lift, while the direction of flight is determined by varying air currents found at different elevations. In the Gallatin Valley, flights launch just after sunrise when the air currents are at their best and the play of light on land is nothing short of sublime.
Balloons Over Bozeman, owned by Scott and Suzi Taylor, has been offering hot air balloon flights over the Gallatin Valley since 1999. “Ballooning is a completely unique experience” says Scott, a pilot for over 17 years, “For most people, it is a culmination of a life-long dream.”
Flights last approximately one hour, though the entire experience is closer to three. Participants greatly enjoy watching and helping set up the balloon, which stands an impressive eight stories high when fully inflated. After lift-off, the balloon rises up toward the clouds, leaving the buzzing valley and workday worries far behind. It is the essence of peace and serenity, a glorious chance to unwind and enjoy a sumptuous view of Big Sky country. Far below, the chase crew keeps a sharp eye on the flight, staying in constant communication with the balloon’s pilot to help insure a safe trip. Upon landing, participants are treated to a post-flight celebration, complete with a champagne toast and snacks, while being awarded an Aviators Certificate.
The basket can accommodate up to four passengers, though capacity is determined by total weight and outside air temperature. For example, above 90 degrees, the maximum passenger load is two, but on cooler days and mornings, three to four passengers can enjoy the ride. The temperature in the basket is nearly the same as on the ground, so plan accordingly. Long pants and solid footwear are recommended and cameras for video and still shots are an absolute must. Wise aviators will book well in advance, especially for weekend flights throughout the flying season (May-October).
A hot air balloon ride with Balloons Over Bozeman is a great way to recharge your batteries and offers a very unique perspective on our beloved Gallatin Valley.
Alpine Soaring with Sunbird Aviation
Alpine Soaring. The name alone is enough to raise eyebrows and heart rates. It is an intimate hybrid of modern technology and age-old gliding technique, combining the silent majesty of hang gliding, precisely engineered aerodynamic curves, and a cockpit riddled with conventional aircraft instrumentation. Though similar in appearance to sleek, high performance airplanes, gliders rely only upon air currents, skillful piloting, and intricate design to stay airborne. By utilizing subtle adjustment points on the wings and tail of the craft to take advantage of thermals and updrafts, pilots are able to stay in the air for hours on end, and have traveled over 800 miles in a single flight, landing at the same point from which the flight began. Gliders have reached speeds of over 130 mph and have climbed to dizzying heights nearing 50,000 feet above sea level. They are extremely maneuverable and are capable of the same impressive aerobatic feats as their high-powered cousins, including stalls, loops, and barrel rolls. Perhaps the greatest advantage to Alpine Soaring, however, is the ability to view our area’s diverse wildlife without disturbing the creatures or the pristine habitat that is their home. It is a rare glimpse into the incredible macrocosm of wilderness surrounding Bozeman.
The folks at Sunbird Aviation, located in the Yellowstone Jet Center, have been honing and fine-tuning their Alpine Soaring skills for over 20 years on the powerful air currents found throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area, where excellent thermals, updrafts, and ridge lifts abound and the backdrop for the flights is always magnificent. Good soaring opportunities exist throughout the day, though a late morning or afternoon flight offers the best chance at optimal conditions. Sunbird offers everything from one-time scenic flights to week-long soaring packages that are sure to satisfy both the curious traveler and the up-and-coming Alpine Soaring pilot. They also fly year-round, affording the client the opportunity to see the incredible changes of each passing season. Reservations are required for the Alpine Soaring experience, so plan ahead, and enjoy the ride.
Imagine, valley locals offering indescribable experiences right here in our own backyard. At once intense and enchanting, exhilarating and soothing; each is a true breath of fresh air, capable of blurring the hard lines of everyday reality and bringing to focus the elusive beauty of the here and now. Gravity is no longer the insurmountable obstacle that once separated the dream of flight from the lofty pursuits of pioneer genius. ‘Tis now but a simple matter of choice. So come, adventurous spirits, and catch a glimpse of life on the wing.
Activity – Paragliding
Company – Bozeman Paragliding
Where – Bridger Range, Paradise Valley
When – Any time of day
Time of Year – All year
Trip Length – Approx. 1 hour
Price - $50 - $150 w/ in-flight photos
Contact Info – Andy Macrae, 406.581.2955, www.bozemanparagliding.com
Activity – Hot Air Ballooning
Company – Balloons Over Bozeman
Where – Gallatin Valley
When – Mornings
Time of Year – May – October
Trip Length – One hour (three total)
Price - $175 per person
Contact Info – Scott and Suzi Taylor, 406.586.1808, email- [email protected] or Google Search – Balloons over Bozeman
Activity – Alpine Soaring
Company - Sunbird Aviation
Where – Gallatin Valley and Beyond
When – Late morning, early afternoon is best
Time of Year – All year
Trip Length – Custom
Price – Call for details
Contact Info – 406.388.4152, 1.800.700.JET1, www.sunbirdaviation.com