High Above the Hills: Hang Gliding from Carson City
Written by local photographer Shelby Holte
If you’ve ever been out and about in Carson City on a clear weekday morning, you’ve likely seen all sorts of small aircraft buzzing about. In the summer of this year, I had made a morning routine of hiking with my dogs on the west side of town before digging into my day, and I noticed that like clockwork at 9am, two aircraft I’d never seen before would fly overhead. They appeared to have wheels with two seats each, and a kite that you’d see on a hang glider. There was almost always one yellow one and one green one flying over the trail and toward Lake Tahoe together. After about a week of seeing them glide overhead I finally resolved that I had to know if this was an experience I could have for myself.
One trip to the search engine solved it. The aircraft are colloquially referred to as “trikes” and you can book your own flight on them from the Carson City airport through Hang Glide Tahoe. Not only did the quest to experience Carson City from above just become possible, it also became free of doors and windows. *eeeek!*
If you’ve ever driven into Carson City at night via 580, you’ve likely noticed the blue lights lining the runways of the Carson Airport. This is where you’ll take off and land with Hang Gliding Tahoe. They fly year-round, every day (weather permitting), so if you’ve ever dreamt of seeing the winter wonderland that is Lake Tahoe from above, you’re in luck! Here’s your breakdown if you’re interested in a flight, followed by the story of my own flight experience and raving review.
The Set Up:
If you’re like me, you likely associate the word “hang gliding” with a thrill junkie running off the side of a cliff attached to a triangular kite, right? While that may be on some of our bucket lists, the experience offered by Hang Gliding Tahoe is completely different in that it’s engine powered, controlled, and you experience the flight seated behind your licensed pilot on a three-wheeled trike. No hanging required. Before your flight, pilot extraordinaire, Paul Hamilton, will fit you with a very flattering flight suit (it’s actually super comfortable!) and brief you on everything you’ll need to know to be safe in the air. No surprises!
One of their frequently asked questions is if two people can fly together at the same time, and the answer is yes! Paul has an incredible associate, Michaela Flint, who pilots the green trike. I personally had the chance to fly with her while Lydia (who operates this page– shout out!!) flew with Paul in the yellow trike. Before you board the trike, you’re also fitted with a radio equipped helmet, so you’re free to communicate with your pilot throughout the flight. This opens up the floor for so much more than small talk. Michaela was so welcoming of my questions about aviation. I love to be oriented and aware during new experiences, and I truly felt as though no question was off limits. Even the questions “Can I steer?” and “Can we try some tight turn maneuvers?” were joyfully answered with a YES.
Yes, you read that right! Paul and Michaela cater to all interest levels, but for those who want to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of the experience, they pride themselves on offering a guided, interactive flight. The flight time holds the potential for so much learning, it could even become a passion or career if you fall in love with flying. You’ll walk away with an official logbook entry that qualifies as training time towards your FAA pilot’s license. It is so much more than just a sightseeing flight!
Now that we’re oriented to some of the specifics leading up to the experience, I have a feeling you want to know what led to me asking to steer…
How It Feels:
This is the part where I want to give the keyboard a good “lnsdfkwjdnfclaksdjncnk;je” because it was THAT good. Flying on the hang-gliding trike was truly one of the best experiences of my life, and I think this was the case because of the unique feeling that the kite brings to the table. Let’s relive the takeoff together:
As we discussed above, you’re seated comfortably behind the pilot. I never felt cramped or uncomfortable during the experience, but to put it plainly, one leg is on each side of the pilot’s seat. Now the trike doesn’t have the kind of horsepower that would feel familiar on a runway setting. You’re not necessarily blazing down the tarmac for takeoff. In fact, it feels a little bit like riding a vespa with your bff. Super fun, but staring ahead at C Hill and the Sierras, I couldn’t compute how these three wheeled wonders were going to get us up there. Low and behold, when the time was right, Michaela calmly pushed the steering bar away from her, causing the tip of the kite to point towards the sky, and WHOOSH. We were up. It was the quickest, and for lack of better word, floatiest ascent I’ve ever felt. No long, incremental climb like an airplane would do. The runway was long gone, we were zooming above Carson City, and I was hooked.
Hang Gliding Tahoe offers flights in various lengths and in varying itineraries, and we had the opportunity to enjoy roughly 90 minutes of flight time. It is my sincere recommendation to book as long a flight as you’re able as it took me a while to even wrap my head around how incredible it was. I didn’t start fully taking in and appreciating the views until about half-way because I was so enthralled with the aircraft itself, asking questions, and enjoying the feeling of flying in an open-air setting. Trust me, you won’t want to miss the views (but in case you do, there is an option to capture the entirety of your flight via GoPro cameras).
We had discussed beforehand that we would head over the mountains, loop Emerald Bay, pass over Genoa all the way to Virginia City, and finish off viewing the wild horses from above Washoe Lake State Park. WHAT. AN. ITINERARY.
While I went into the flight fully understanding the unique and welcomed opportunity to learn from a skilled pilot, I wasn’t sure if or when I would want to engage. I decided I wanted to freely enjoy every moment of seeing my town from above. I spotted my house, favorite coffee shop, and named a few streets before we began to fly over the very trails where I first saw these kites from below. I’ve spent so many of my best afternoons in these very mountains with my husband and my dogs– seeing all our favorite trails spider web together from above brought gratitude and a bit of nostalgia to the forefront of my mind. I have yet to climb Genoa Peak (have you?) but I’ve now seen the view from the top and have a new goal to get there on foot. Inspired is an understatement.
As soon as we cleared the peaks and had a straight shot to Emerald Bay, I finally asked if I could steer the kite. Michaela explained the structure and setup of everything, and we eased into it with her steering, and me holding on and feeling the movements she was making. My best advice is to communicate with your pilot. There was never any pressure on me to try it, and there is no shame in just enjoying the ride and taking in the view! But I thought to myself, “when else are you going to get to try this?!” and had to know. The way the kite moves in the air is very intuitive, but you’re never on your own to guess what to do.
As a self-proclaimed thrill enthusiast, my favorite moments of the flight were the advanced maneuvers. On the day of our flight, there were no people out at Baldwin Beach, so both kites went as low as 20 feet to the ground to “buzz” the beach. Michaela then took us on a steep and quick incline back above the water and suddenly we were high in the sky again. WHEW!! What a rush!
Craving juuuuuust a little bit more, I asked if we could do any tight circles– the kind of loops and “woop-dee-woos” (they call them “spirals”) that come to mind when you visualize hang gliding. I was once again answered with an excited “yes” and from above Genoa, we spiraled in a controlled manner, reaching 1.6 G’s. Do I want to become a trike pilot and do this all the time now? Yes. Hands down. Sold. This was hands down my favorite part of the flight.
The rest of the flight, we eased up on the maneuvers and covered lots of ground. I was amazed by the vastness of our neighboring Carson Valley, and just how much you don’t see from the highway. We cruised over the top of Prison Hill on our way out east and caught a glimpse of the cottonwoods along the river turning yellow for fall. You know how you can see St. Mary’s in the Mountains from almost anywhere at ground level in Virginia City? It’s the first thing your eyes see from above too, and it still is every bit as prominent and beautiful. I’ve never felt more like my life was a western film than while flying past a group of at least 30 wild horses in Washoe Lake State Park.
And of course, the landing was surprisingly simple. We went from limitless kite gliders back to vespa riding bffs just as quickly as we’d taken off, and it was smooth as can be. The moment the wheels touched down, I immediately thought, “I have GOT to do this again.”
For more information and to book your interactive flight, head over to https://hangglidingtahoe.com, and if you opt for the GoPro footage, tag us in your adventures launched from right here in Carson City! Enjoy the ride!