Asher on Aspen: Bird’s-Eye View

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen

Ever since I was a kid, I have always found myself searching for the next big adrenaline rush. Whether that be skiing, wake-surfing, cliff jumping, skydiving or something as simple as making my way to the front row at a concert — I delight in finding the next big thrill. Luckily, one of my dearest friends, Kenzie, shares this same sense of spirit and we have celebrated some pretty epic experiences together.

On a whim, this friend and I decided it was time to check paragliding off the bucket list. We called Aspen Paragliding to arrange a trip and they were surprisingly able to get us in the very next morning. The owner, Alex, was kind enough to accompany us on our ride and educate us on the airborne sport for daredevils.

We met the pilots, drivers and other fellow jumpers at 6:45 a.m. at North Star Nature Preserve (the popular stand-up paddleboarding location). Upon arrival, we signed waivers, secured our helmets and masks and jumped into the bed of a pickup truck to make our way up Summer Road. The plan was to jump off the front side of Aspen Mountain atop Walsh’s ski run at 11,212 feet.

Having never done this before, I felt uneasy and afraid. Alex quickly calmed my nerves when he explained that he has been doing this for the past 27 years and has jumped over 6,000 times. I reasoned that it couldn’t possibly be as terrifying as the time I plummeted out of an airplane to go skydiving.

We both flew tandem with a pilot secured and strapped in behind us. With a large harness doubling as a seat, buckled up wearing a helmet and safety glasses, I waited patiently for the order from Alex to run off the edge of the mountain. “We call this parawaiting,” Alex joked as we waited for the wind to be just right.

Kenzie and her pilot took off before me and I keenly observed as they ran down the mountain and into midair. The wind rises and I’m caught off guard when Alex commands me to start running. Without hesitation, I charge down the mountain. I feel Alex’s legs running behind mine and I am overcome with that coveted adrenaline rush. We run for maybe 20 seconds before our feet pedal their way into the sky. Within moments, we were climbing high, just below the clouds.

Once in the air, Alex instructed me to sit back and enjoy the ride. He explained that the harness is made to transition into a seat when airborne. After my nerves settled, I found myself in absolute awe. The magnitude of beauty I was now hovering over was breathtaking. We were treated to a panoramic, bird’s-eye view of the town.

I’ve seen this view many times from an airplane window while flying out of Aspen, but I’ve never experienced it quite like this. It was amusing to see the town from this perspective with everything so small below me. All of a sudden, the luxury villas and multimillion-dollar mansions didn’t look quite so intimidating.

We spotted my friend and her pilot performing fancy flying tricks in the distance. Alex explained that one needs to pull down the glider to slow down and pull up the glider to go faster. Kenzie was able to actually steer the glider and call the shots. I didn’t attempt this in fear that I would get nauseated. I honestly just wanted to kick back and enjoy the exquisite beauty now surrounding me.

We were in the air for about 15 minutes total and I loved every minute of it. This sport is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it was certainly a thrill to be airborne fluttering over one of the most beautiful mountain towns I know to exist. I was all smiles as we touched back down on the ground. My first leap off the mountain was terrifying and exhilarating, but worth every second.

Aspen Times Weekly

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