Riding the wind above Park City
October 31, 2008
When Canice Harte worked in France for a ski equipment company, he learned the town he was in was the "paragliding mecca" of the world. One day he decided to go for a ride with some friends.
In paragliding, the rider is suspended from a parachute-looking wing and becomes air-borne by stepping off a mountain or being towed into the air.
On the mountain in France, Harte noticed the person on his left was a 13-year-old boy and to his right was a 65-year-old woman.
He realized this sport wasn’t getting the attention it deserved in the U.S.
Introducing paragliding to people is the goal of Chris Santacroce, owner of Park City Paragliding.
Santacroce is not only one of the top stunt paragliders in the nation, he also runs North America’s largest distributor of paragliding equipment. If someone wants to try it out, he can take people for rides on tandem flights.
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"All you have to do is be able to take a few steps for the take-off and a few steps for a landing," he said.
Or, if someone knows this is something they want to do for a hobby, he can give lessons and help people become licensed themselves perhaps even start their own training school.
Santacroce is from Aspen where he skied a lot, he said. But really his favorite was getting big air. After getting bruised and beat up enough times jumping, he started looking for a different way to get thrills.
In 1990, he discovered paragliding and jumped in head-first.
Giving lessons came naturally, he said, because it’s just his personality to want to teach something cool he learns to other people.
Santacroce, now 36, got his start in Utah at the Point of the Mountain where paragliding has become such a permanent feature that it will soon become an official park with a parking lot and restrooms.
But to get Summit County residents and visitors into the sport, he decided to try a different approach: boating.
Most paragliders take advantage of wind coming up the slopes of a hill or mountain (Point of the Mountain works so well because wind comes off Utah Lake in the morning and off the Great Salt Lake in the evening).
But with a mile of rope, Park City Paragliding can help people jog along the beach at Jordanelle Reservoir until they catch air and tow them up to 3,000 feet.
This is not parasailing. The boat’s purpose is to help riders gain elevation. At 2,000 or 3,000 feet the line is disconnected and the rider can then try to catch drafts coming off the hills or simply float down.
For $225 Santacroce can guarantee about 15 minutes of riding time.
Paragliding isn’t an easy sport, there are a lot of safety moves that need to be understood, but riding tandem with a licensed pilot is effortless, he explained.
The Jordanelle is perfect for paragliding because no mountain launch-point is needed, it’s accessible in any season and the water is more forgiving of mistakes.
Accidents are highly uncommon, but when advanced riders want to practice maneuvers, the water makes for a great safety net, explained Harte, a Pinebrook resident.
"Paragliding can happen anywhere, our activity in Park City is evidence of that. It’s not naturally a great location, but when we use boating and other tricks we have, we can make great flying happen," he said.
Harte described Santacroce as a casual, yet direct instructor. He’s unassuming, and Harte guesses that most people would be surprised to learn he’s one of the nation’s paramount competitive and stunt paragliders.
Tim Schaeffer had an office in Bluffdale where he watched paragliders nearly every day.
Finally he decided to drive up there and talk to them.
"They were an incredibly nice group of people. Someone hooked us up with a friend of Chris’s for a tandem flight," he said. "I knew before I even landed it was something I wanted to do."
Schaeffer said he likes the Jordanelle trips because of the scenery.
"The cool thing is it’s extraordinarily beautiful from the sky up there," he said. "Being 2,000 feet above a lake is stunningly beautiful."
Schaeffer used to fly small airplanes and said one of the coolest parts of this non-powered flight is seeing the world from a totally different vantage point.
"I love getting up 1,000 or 2,000 feet above ground and cruising around. It’s gorgeous," he said.
Even though paragliding can be done year-round, the trips on the Jordanelle will end soon. Park City Paragliding’s winter activity is speedflying.
Santacroce isn’t alone in enjoying big air while skiing. Speedflying is going down a mountain on skis with the parachute attached for a faster, smoother ride with longer jumps.
Park City Paragliding
Reservation line: 801-706-6076.
Spring through autumn
7 a.m. to noon on weekdays