Big Sky locals forming paragliding club

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – They come off Tick Ridge north of the Big Sky Community Park like birds in flight, two mini-wing paragliders – one white, one blue – using air currents that push them higher over rocks and ridges, soaring through the mid-morning sky.

Suddenly, the blue wing disappears. The white wing continues solo, catching thermals off the warming limestone, back and forth, then makes a long loop as it comes in for landing.

Adam Olson, 34, lands running and comes to a stop, his wing slowly deflating and looks up with a broad smile.

The blue wing reappears streaking against the cobalt sky, aligns itself above the park fields, and begins descending in a blue-on-blue spiral, circling quickly to earth. As he approaches the ground, 23-year-old Josh Pelczar pulls the brake lines to slow his blue mini-wing and lands, letting out a “Whoop!”

Pelczar had to abort the initial takeoff because he was too close behind Olson, causing a wing vortex or turbulence. “It didn’t feel like a smooth pickup,” Pelczar said. “You can feel everything going on with the wing and the right side wasn’t fully inflated.”

Some call it crazy. To others, paragliding is akin to other adventure sports in the mountains, along with rock climbing, kayaking and skiing. To Big Sky locals Olson and Pelczar, it’s the dream of flying, realized.

Paragliding – or flying with mini-wings like Olson and Pelczar have – involves a rider who sits in a harness affixed to a wing with suspension lines. Air inflates the wing when the rider takes flight – often from a high ridge or cliff – and the ride can last anywhere from five minutes to hours.

“It all depends on the altitude of the launch, the size and type of wing, and the wind,” said Olson, who is a land surveyor and also owns Scissorbills Saloon at the base of Big Sky Resort. A fellow pilot recently flew from the top of Yellow Mountain to Gallatin Gateway, Olson said.

Pelczar – a condominium and revenue manager at the resort – and Olson are in the process of forming IMG_4593Big Sky Mountain Flyers, a “social club” of 10 local pilots that you may see dotting area skies above Porcupine Creek Trail off Highway 191 or above the community park, and they’re hoping to add more members all the time. Flight location depends on wind speed and direction.

“You want to take off and land into the wind,” said Olson, who has more than 200 flights under his belt. He earned his Paraglider 2 license from Andy Macrae, owner of Bozeman Paragliding, in February 2013, and received his Paraglider 3 from Little Cloud USA, which requires 20 hours of solo air time. “Ideally you want a nice, easy launch into a light uphill wind.”

Pelczar got his first taste of flight skydiving during a semester abroad in Florence, Italy in 2011, and was hooked. He earned his P2 license in August 2013.

Olson caught the bug through a different experience, one he remembers from his youth. “My third grade teacher got me into it,” he said. “We made paper airplanes, tissue-paper hot air balloons and learned about the basic principals of flight. Since then I’ve been trying to get in the air and [paragliding] is way cheaper than renting a plane.”

After packing their wings, Olson and Pelczar grab breakfast and talk about hiking Tick Ridge later in the evening for another flight. They’re addicted to the sport, and it’s no wonder why.

“You’re flying,” Pelczar said. “I have over 200 flights and when I get down I still feel like a little kid, hooting and hollering.”

Look for BSMF paragliders at the Big Sky Community Park most mornings or evenings to find out more, or visit Bozeman Paragliding for licensing information at bozemanparagliding.com.