This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s September 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
By Jill Macdonald
If someone offered you the opportunity to fly, would you take it? It’s an interesting question. A visit to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, where Revelstoke Paragliding operates, offers a window into the demographic of people who say, Yes!
Peacefully cruising the sky, thousands of feet above the ground, tandem paragliding wings look like butterflies in flight, soaring above Mt. Mackenzie, Mt. Cartier and sometimes beyond. For a tandem flight, Revelstoke offers a spectacular view of the river and townsite, as well as one of the longest flight times for guests.
Tandem flights started here in 2009. Let’s just say that things have come a long way since then, with credit going to the business owner, Chris Delworth, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort for being able to work together through a myriad of logistical and legal arrangements. Bookings have accelerated and a roster of qualified pilots is on hand daily during the summer season to handle the demand. So, who are the guests?
Delworth: “75% of our clients are women, and they are the ones who instigate booking the flights. The men are terrified.” On the day of this interview, a family of four stands at the booth. Ressy Gonzales, her husband Jamie Deacon and their two sons, Mykel Gonzales – Deacon and Dawson Deacon. All of them sign up for flights, some more willingly than others. When asked whose idea it was and who was scared, Jamie Deacon answers, “We are not going off script.”
Ressy is fired up. Compelled to experience life from a different perspective, she says, “I want to see where I am, not from a helicopter or in a plane. I can’t afford to go to space, so this is great! You don’t have to be young to do these things.” As she sees it, Ressy is being practical. She has arrived at a time in her life when her kids are old enough to take care of themselves, and she is determined to live a life of no regrets. The rest of the family is along for the ride. Literally.
Culturally, in North America, paragliding is still considered a fringe adventure sport. Delworth: “The US has a litigious outlook, and in Canada, we are fairly risk-averse, as opposed to Europe, for example, where the sport is widely accepted and embraced as a part of mountain culture. South America, India, and Colombia all have huge flying communities.” In many of those places, the infrastructure for launches and landings is underwritten by various levels of government. “We are less tolerant of accepting new sports that are inherently risky.”
How that translates into tandem guests is in the high percentage of family groups and people of South East Asian descent booking flights. Sahill Arora arrives with four of his friends in tow, all students he met in Lethbridge. Sahill convinced them to come after his trip last year. “I was scared at first, but after the launch, I loved it. I told them all they have to try!” The ride up the mountain on a steep switch-backed road is an adventure, camping is wild, river rafting took their breath away; they are here to experience as many new things as possible.
To quote a local pilot, “Paragliding is the least extreme of extreme sports.” Another pilot said, “It’s the most approachable.” For tandem passengers, this is absolutely true. All that is required is the ability to take a few assertive steps forward on uneven ground to launch and then surrender control during the flight. To borrow from the language of risk assessment professionals, the probability of having an amazing experience is high, and the likelihood of having a negative experience is low. Win-win.
A few years ago, a group of local gals booked a flight for a birthday celebration. Paragliding was on their bucket list of things yet to do in life. These robust ladies showed up ready to rumble. All of them were in their 80s and 90s.
Located in northern India, Bir is an international pilot destination, mainly for cross-country flying. Twenty years ago, there was no paragliding scene. Then a few pilots came, and from being a novelty, something odd but appealing, the Indian culture embraced the sport and took it further. Tandem flights are a big business. At the local landing field, colourfully dressed women (yes, it’s the same high percentage of female guests there, too) float to the ground and are greeted by their cheering families. Along the side of the field, Buddhist monks sit in chairs, taking in the spectacle. The art of life could be a snapshot of that scene: thick, golden light, people and children going about their lives, peaceful and engaged.
Art takes our experience and twists it into something we can approach at our own speed, to interpret and integrate it into our lives as we are willing and able. Not all of it will stick. That’s part of its beauty. The art of living is the ability to embrace the fullness of what life has to offer and inhabit the highlights purposely and fullon, however that looks for each individual. We benefit from curiosity, from trusting the skills of others and from being willing to stretch — like Ressy Gonzales. Her drive to see the world from a new perspective is a portrait of the art of living.