10Best Itinerary: Try Tandem Hang Gliding

Soar over the mountains around Lake Tahoe with Thermal Sky Sports

Reno and Tahoe Local Expert

Soar through the blue sky over the Tahoe Range and get a birds-eye view of Washoe Valley, Reno and Carson City and maybe even the waters of Lake Tahoe with a tandem hang glide with Thermal Sky Sports. Thermal Sky Sports offers daily tandem flights from the edge of Slide Mountain, just below the East Bowl of the Mount Rose ski resort. This area is easily accessible by car from either Lake Tahoe or Reno.

Soaring over the mountains — Photo courtesy of Thermal Sky Sports

Thermal Sky Sports is run by Bill and Alexander Cuddy, a father and son team. Bill has been hang gliding since the 1960s and Alexander has been hang gliding since his early teens. He's a world competitor and a USHPA certified instructor. The thermals that come up from Washoe Valley, below Slide Mountain, make for some excellent hang gliding conditions, but the winds that tend to pick up in the afternoon usually keep flights confined to the morning and early afternoon.

On the day of your flight, Thermal Sky Sports will give you your launch time, but be sure to get there a few minutes early. At the East Bowl there's an area off the road where you can park, and while you wait, you can watch other hang gliders take off and soar over the mountains and valley like giant white birds.

Alexander will put together his glider in front of you and will teach you the rudimentary skills needed to be his co-pilot: hold on to him, don't grab the glider and have fun. Once you are suited up in a harness and helmet, he will strap you into the glider and you will both step over the guardrail and look down from the top of Slide Mountain to the valley below. When Alexander feels it's the correct time to take off, you will both run down the side of the mountain and before you know it, your feet will be dangling in mid-air and you'll be hang gliding.

The author during her first hang gliding takeoff — Photo courtesy of Harry Thomas

I recently spent a Saturday afternoon in what Alexander calls "his office", working on getting over my slight fear of heights. This was my first hang gliding trip and what really surprised me was what a simple and beautiful sport it is. Very little equipment is needed and the flight is exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. You will hear the rush of the wind through the glider and will feel a few G's as you ride the thermals down to the valley floor. If you're comfortable, Alexander will let you handle the bar that controls the glider and you can take over as pilot for a few minutes.

Flying over Washoe Lake State Park — Photo courtesy of Harry Thomas

Slide Mountain is about 5,000 feet high and your launch will start about 1,500 feet below the summit. The majority of your flight will be in the 1,000-1,500 foot range. The flight lasts about 15-25 minutes, depending on the conditions, and you will get a nearly unobstructed view of the mountains, small towns, lakes and the pine forests that crawl up the side of the Tahoe Range.

Alexander will land the glider in a field just west of Washoe Lake State Park. Again, be prepared to do a little running and you will be right back on solid ground…but wishing you were back up in the sky. Bill will meet you both at the bottom with a car and you'll be driven back up to the East Bowl.

About Christina Nellemann

Christina Nellemann has lived in the Reno/Tahoe area for over 30 years and has always loved watching the hang gliders come off the mountain...never thinking she would do it. She's glad she did.

Read more about Christina Nellemann here.

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