Flying Over Boulder’s Foothills With Red Tail Paragliding

Today, I experienced the thrill of a lifetime: a tandem flight with Red Tail Paragliding over the breathtaking Rocky Mountain foothills.

Misha and Sahale Paragliding
Photo courtesy of Red Tail Paragliding.

We hop in an Uber with four huge backpacks, three in the trunk, and one across our laps in the back. “Y’all headed back up?” the driver asks. “Yup!” Misha, the owner of Red Tail Paragliding, answers. Today, I am checking off a huge bucket list item. You guessed it: paragliding. What I didn’t guess was that it didn’t turn out to be as simple as checking off a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—because now I am hooked. 

As an outspoken Type II adventurer, people always ask me if I want to skydive. I don’t have a strong desire to plummet like that. It sounds rather puckering—and terrifying. Paragliding, on the other hand, has always spoken to me. It looked so liberating and beautiful, just like all my favorite sports that learn to play with the elements (surfing and waves, skiing and slopes, etc.). And it absolutely lives up to the hype. Not only did we fly over the Flatirons, but we rode the thermals so hard we felt their g-force like a roller coaster. 

So back to the Uber. To get to the launch spot near the top of the foothills, some people choose to hike up, and others call an Uber. It’s a popular way to make friends, although the community seems pretty tight-knit already. The Uber drops us off at a pullout on a dirt road, going back down to complete the cycle again. It’s a quick 10-minute hike up, a surprisingly quick setup and instruction time (seriously, the instructions go something like this: “When I say go, run in that direction until your feet don’t touch the ground anymore”), and all of a sudden we are flying toward the adjacent ridgeline. We are tandem flying today, meaning that Misha and I will both be harnessed into the same kite. Misha holds the reins, steering us toward areas where the air is rising, which the pilots call thermals. I settle back into my seat, and Misha explains that my job will be to look for these thermals by seeing which other paragliders or birds around us seem to be gaining altitude, and then Misha will fly us toward them so we stay high in the air and don’t lose altitude too early in the flight. 

- Advertisement -

There are about 20 other pilots up here with us, each with their own distinct and vibrant kite, swirling around one another. Misha waves to them and I momentarily freak out that he let go of the reins until I figure out that the kite could pretty much fly itself at this point. The only steering required is once we find a thermal we want to fly toward, and then spinning upward inside of the thermal. Misha steers us towards the Continental Divide, Longs Peak visible in the distance, and hands me the reigns. I’m surprised how much I need to pull on them to get a reaction from the kite. Shedding my hesitancy, I take us in an upward spiral back toward the Flatirons. 

We play like this for about 40 minutes before Misha kicks on the jet engines. Earlier we had talked about roller coasters and he said if I was comfortable, we could corkscrew so hard we would feel the same g-force as a loop-de-loop. Whirling through the air, the mountain tops blurr with the meadow below, and every once in a while, I see the kite below me a bit. It seems so wrong. As we came out of the screw, I can’t stop laughing. Gently, we glide back and forth toward Foothills Community Park where everyone lands.         

The whole thing seemed surprisingly easy from setup and takeoff to flying to landing. But I suspect that is thanks to my expert guide. Misha is the man on the mountain, with other pilots constantly coming up to ask him if he had duct tape they could borrow (although I don’t know how anyone can fathom the thought of flying in a duct-tape-patched kite), if he saw their landing, where he thinks the best takeoff spot will be, etc. He runs the main paragliding school operating from this hill, so many of the pilots are his past students. “I love flying here, but I feel like Mother Goose. I am always watching my students make little mistakes and worrying about them,” he said after watching one of his graduated students fly into a valley full of homes where there was sinking air and no good place to land—a potentially fatal faux pas.  

The Man on the Mountain

Misha Banks founded Red Tail Paragliding in 2019, aiming to raise the standard for paragliding instruction. “We are in a great era for paragliding,” Misha says as we pack up the kite. “The gear is finally catching up technically. It’s no longer guys building their own kites in the garage based on an article from National Geographic. The community is starting to grow, and I want to be a part of helping it grow safely.” Taking people on joy rides in the tandem kite isn’t his main gig. Teaching is. And that’s lucky for me because my one-time flight very quickly turned into a new passion and hobby I am eager to dig into. 

As a USHPA-certified Advanced Paragliding Instructor, Misha has instructed over 4,000 student flights and coached over 200 students through their first flight, all the way to their P2 Certification (which requires upwards of 35 flights that they recommend you complete in about a month or so between April and September). Once you are a certified pilot, a setup will set you back about six grand, and then the sky is the limit. Misha has been on flights that lasted as long as six hours and gone as high as 17,000 feet. You can take off in Boulder at Foothills Community Park, Golden where the launch is located next to the School of Mines “M,” Mount Herman in Castle Rock, or on any national forest land. International travel for paragliding is also an incredible way to see a new place. 

With the sport’s growing popularity and advancements in gear, there’s never been a better time to take flight. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or just looking to try something new, paragliding offers a unique and liberating way to explore the skies.