Every so often you can spot a paraglider soaring over the Story Hills near the infamous Bozeman “M”. Nothing looks so relaxing on a beautiful, sunny day as flying over the green foothills of the Bridger Mountains. Wanting to learn more about the sport of Paragliding, EndZone sat down with Bozeman Paragliding founder, Andy Macrae.
EZ: Hi Andy—thanks for speaking with the EndZone today. How have things been going for you?
AM: Things are great—lots of new students are getting ready for the upcoming season with me. We are out at the training hill almost every sunny day and we have lots of great plans for the summer.
EZ: Can you tell us about yourself and your school, Bozeman Paragliding?
AM: I’ve been flying paragliders in Bozeman since 1997, opened Bozeman Paragliding in 2002 as a “side job,” and went full-time in 2008. Switching the paragliding business to full time made me a bit nervous at first, but it turned out to be a great decision. I’m now able to put 100% of my working hours towards teaching students and planning the next flying adventure!
EZ: Tell us about some of the competitions that you compete in.
AM: Competing with paragliders is interesting—we fly what is basically the slowest aircraft on earth, with trim speeds of about 39kph (24 mph), then we try to race around a course as quickly as possible. I laugh when I think about it, but it really is one of the best ways to learn to fly the aircraft perfectly. In any competition, we fly on average about 60 kilometers per day, which usually takes around two or three hours to complete. We turn in rising air, then glide to what we hope is the next source of lifting air, turn again, glide, etc. We’re almost always doing this with a big group of our close friends, landing in goal and laughingand talking about the flight, often with music and refreshments all around.
EZ: For those who have never done it before, what can you tell us about the sport of paragliding?
AM: Paragliding is pretty much the least expensive, and I believe the “truest” form of aviation. After taking about a week to learn to fly, one can take all of their gear, put it on their back in a backpack, and hike the nearest mountain and fly. Depending on the time of day, weather conditions, and skill of the pilot, one can either fly up and away from the hill, maybe taking a tour of the mountain range or heading as far away as possible (200 miles is possible), or simply flying down to their car in what we call a “sled ride.”
EZ: What would you say to someone who is interested in paragliding but hasn’t found the courage to try it out?
AM: One-day lessons and tandem flights are a great way to get introduced to the sport. Many people who are afraid of heights are surprised to find that it doesn’t really affect them while flying, and the flight is generally more calm and peaceful than they would have predicted. One of the great things about paragliding is that there is no jumping or falling involved. The paraglider is opened and laid out on the hillside before the pilot is in the air, and only if it comes up straight and ready to fly does the pilot choose to leave the hillside. Paragliding is all about flying, not falling!
EZ: Where do you usually paraglide around the Bozeman area?
AM: We love the Bridger range in Bozeman, and we’ve flown down the entire range numerous times. Sometimes we can turn around and make it back down the range to the car or our house in Bozeman! The Sacajawea area in summertime is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve flown over in a paraglider. The colors of the cliffs and rocks mixed with deep green vegetation and snow on the peaks is amazing. I never get tired of flying over that area. We have many other sites around the valley, from towing behind a vehicle in the flatlands, Mount Ellis in the Gallatin range, Tobacco Roots, Paradise Valley (near Livingston), etc. Anywhere there is an open meadow for launching is a possible flying site on the right day.
EZ: How big of a factor is the weather in paragliding?
AM: Weather is really huge in this sport. We are totally dependent on good weather. A lot of this has to do with paragliders flying very slowly, so we can’t handle much wind. Paragliding is a fair-weather sport; we want calm to light winds, with sunny skies and puffy cumulus clouds. If one is watching the weather closely, there are many great days every year for flying, you just need to be ready to ditch out on work or school when that day comes, as it’s probably not going to be on the weekend!
EZ: What are some sports similar to paragliding?
AM: Paramotoring is paragliding with a motor on your back, removing the need to launch from a mountain or tow vehicle, and it also allows more low-level flying and site-seeing. Paramotoring is nice because although the views are marvelous from a paraglider, the views, flight direction, and duration are determined by the weather and pilot skill, where with a motor, the pilot simply decides where he/she wants to go, then goes there. Speedflying is also quite similar to paragliding, but generally involves skis or a lot of fast running to get off the ground, and unlike paragliding or paramotoring, you can only go down on a speedwing. This is great fun when skiing off of something like Saddle Peak in the Bridger range—take the lift up, ski out of bounds, fly down, repeat! Speedwings are also lighter, easier to hike with, and cost much less.
EZ: Anything else you would like to add about yourself, Bozeman Paragliding, or the sport in general?
AM: Although we’re relatively far away from many major cities and other places to fly paragliders, the state of Montana is full of fabulous flying opportunities. I try hard to keep my skill sets in line with the top tier of paraglider pilots in the nation and world so that I can bring that knowledge and experience back to Bozeman to help teach new pilots to fly. Unlike many other paragliding schools around the nation, we have a very well-rounded set of equipment options which includes a tow boat for practicing maneuvers and emergency procedures over the water, paramotors, speedwings, land-based towing vehicles, an online store, tours to several other countries, and a wonderful group of enthusiastic and talented pilots who are willing to help other pilots and who are constantly looking out the window for good weather!
EZ: Thank you so much for your time, Andy!
AM: Thank you!
To learn more about the sport of paragliding, visit bozemanparagliding.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (406) 581-2955.