The dog days of summer may be upon us, but don’t let the heat and humidity stop you from enjoying the great outdoors here in the Valley. Looking for a low-key outing? Take a hike or a bike ride, or perhaps a sail on the Hudson. Need a little more excitement? How about tubing, rock climbing — or skydiving? No matter what thrill level you seek, these 10 invigorating excursions are guaranteed to get your heart racing
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“Hang gliding is a sport of the senses,” says Greg Black, owner of Mountain Wings, a full-service aerosport shop and hang gliding school in Ellenville.
Once regarded as a dangerous activity, hang gliding has evolved into a much safer sport. As opposed to just strapping in and taking flight, beginners learn from a gradual training program — taught by instructors who must be recertified annually — which allows them to move at their own pace.
The initial training readies student pilots for flight by teaching them how to soar the glider, first from flat ground, then from a small hill. A first-time flight from a training hill usually lasts just a few seconds, but with experience, gliders can roam the sky for hours (the Ellenville spot’s record is currently 11 hours, 20 minutes). There’s no specific age suggested for hang gliding — pilots generally range from teens to octogenarians — but the pilot must be able to keep an alert state of mind and have good reflexes for prompt decision-making. Equipment tends to be made for people who weigh between 90-250 pounds and stand five to six-and-a-half feet tall, but accommodations can often be made for others.
The Hang Gliders Manufacturers Association must approve all new gliders for airworthiness before they can be sold, ensuring high quality and safety. A typical glider weighs 50-70 pounds and has a metal frame that allows the pilot to maintain control over spinning, stalling, and collapsing, as opposed to the less-safe sport of paragliding, for which the glider has no frame. “We call paragliders sky buoys,” says Black, “because while they’re just hanging there, you can glide past them, then back over them, then underneath them — and they’re still in the same spot.”
According to Black, who has been soaring for about 36 years, hang gliding doesn’t give you the adrenaline rush that an activity such as skydiving would. Rather, he says it’s somewhat peaceful. “There’s a small breeze that hits your face, but that’s like driving 20 miles per hour with your head out the window,” he says. The average altitude of an experienced pilot is 3,000-6,000 feet, but many aim even higher, to the point from which a wide expanse of the state can be seen from the air. “You can see for miles and miles,” Black explains. “From the sun reflecting off buildings in New York City, to the Catskill Mountains. And you get to go where you want when you’re up there. It’s like magic.”
It’s recommended that all first-timers bring sunblock, layered clothing (to remove as you get warmed up), hiking boots, and a change of clothes (it can get a little dirty). During the training period, the repetitive lifting can get a bit tiring for those with minimal upper body strength, but once the air lifts the glider, the wind will sustain it while the pilot hangs suspended from a harness, removing the weight of the glider from the pilot’s shoulders. “The wings of a glider are just a tool to feel the air, and the wind tells you what to do to,” Black says.
Mountain Wings, Inc.
77 Hang Glider Rd., Ellenville. 845-647-3377