If you're looking for adventure travel in western North America, do I ever have a great recommendation for you: Fraser Valley Paragliding!
I'll be continuing my Travel Bliss: Visit Western Montana series next week. You can read about where to eat & drink in Missoula, family-friendly things to do in Missoula, and where to eat & drink in Boise, ID here. In the meantime, I am still riding the adrenaline high from my most recent travels to Fraser Valley, British Columbia in Canada and just HAVE to share it all with you now before I burst.
It was hands down one of the top five experiences I've had so far in my life. What did I do? I went paragliding over the Fraser Valley!
Visit Fraser Valley, BC
The Fraser Valley is a beautiful area about an hour away from Vancouver BC that consists mainly of three towns: Langley, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford. It's a serene, sprawling valley filled with corn fields, towering mountains, and the seemingly endless Fraser River, which runs throughout the valley.
And, while there is an abundance of outdoor experiences that you can embark upon in this stunning part of Canada, I've learned first-hand that the absolute magic of Fraser Valley is best captured from high above . . . while gliding through the air gracefully during a tandem paragliding adventure with Jet Set Paragliding.
[PHOTO CREDIT: all photos in this post were taken by the talented Yinger Wong of Yinger Fotokrafie Design]
Jet Set paragliding
Located less than two hours away from Vancouver in Chilliwack BC (known for its corn. . . I'll get to that in a future post!), Jet Set Paragliding is owned and operated by Martina Lang, the 2013 Canadian National Female Champion in paragliding. She's been skydiving since 1997, but decided to launch her own paragliding business in 2010 -- and she's been soaring over the Fraser Valley - and taking many a happy visitor with her - ever since.
One day not too long ago, that lucky visitor was me!
I had never gone paragliding before. I had never gone skydiving or bungee jumping or any sort of extreme activity or sport that involved heights. The closest experience I probably had was going ziplining down Hawaii's longest tandem zipline.
Yet when presented with this awesome opportunity, there was absolutely no way I was going to turn it down! And, it MORE than exceeded my expectations, if you can't tell from the happiness on my face in the photo below:
How paragliding works
After meeting Martina at a base location, she drove us up a mildly treacherous steep drive up Mount Woodside on a completely unpaved, rocky "road." When people ask me if I was scared at any point during paragliding, I can honestly tell them "no." The scariest part, if there were any scary parts at all, would have been the drive up the mountain. And Martina is a pro at maneuvering that incline in her mountain vehicle.
Then you walk up to the top of a flat landing area on the top of the mountain that has been designated as a take-off spot for paragliders and handgliders. Martina deftly sets up the equipment, and hooks up your tandem seat pack while walking you through safety details and instructions. Essentially, you have a large cushioned seat that you sit on, which is strapped to your tandem guide. Martina shows you how each part is hooked up, which, for me, was one of many reassuring aspects of the experience.
Martina also likes to do a trial take-off with you on the ground, so that you can feel what it might be like when you need to run. It's a lot harder than it sounds, the take-off run, but luckily that part is also the shortest in paragliding.
And then, together, you wait at the edge of the mountain.
Waiting truly is the hardest part.
There are two wind markers that Martina watches during this time: one to the left of the take-off spot, and one several yards directly below. Martina explained that the wind needs to pick up both at the bottom marker and the top in order for us to be able to take off and catch the wind.
Then, once the conditions are just right, Martina says (in a very excited, encouraging voice), "1,2,3 GO! Run, run, run!" and you start running off the mountain top.
That folks, is ME.
RUNNING OFF THE TOP OF A MOUNTAIN. I DID THAT!
With another person, a bunch of strings, and cloth strapped to me. And the best part is that I KNOW that YOU totally can, too. It wasn't scary at all for me. Not one bit. I loved, loved, LOVED every second of it.
But, if it is for you, know that it's all good. Martina is adept at taking people who have no fear level, to people who are at the hesitant "I'm not sure I can do this" fear level. If anyone can put your mind at ease, Martina can.
And then, just like that, you're gliding gracefully through the air, soaring over the gorgeous Fraser Valley.
I can never fully describe exactly what it feels like to paraglide, because it's one of those experiences that you can't ever fully know until you do it yourself. Being up there is like your own private zen garden, and the wind is your meditation mantra.
First time paragliding tips
- Wear shoes that have a good grip. I see plenty of people wear running shoes and that's great if they allow you to grip the ground well during the take-off run. I wore my Keens, which have an excellent grip, and which also were water-friendly, which was perfect for my afternoon sturgeon fishing adventure (more on that soon!).
- Dress in layers. It could be a warm day, but the wind could be gnarly and remember you are higher up on the mountain.
- Don't forget sunscreen. Even though the experience lasts around 15 minutes or so, you are at a higher elevation and more prone to burns, so be sure to wear sunscreen.
- It's all about trust. I had 100% complete trust in Martina from the moment we met. I was never afraid, not once. She does an excellent job of describing what's going to happen but doesn't give you too much information to the point of being overwhelmed. She make its fun, and it just feels like you're having out with a good girlfriend for the day. If you have any hesitation about trusting your guide, let your guide know.
- Bring your camera AND buy the GoPro video and still shots. You can take photos with a camera that's on a camera strap, while you are paragliding. Martina also sets up 1 or 2 GoPro cameras to tape the entire experience, so be sure to get the video . It is SO VERY worth it to have that experience captured in video!
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Through paragliding, you get the best seat in the house, folks. Enjoy the ride, soak up the views.
- Know that there is always a chance you won't paraglide that day. Paragliding is a completely weather-dependent sport, and if the conditions aren't playing nicely, it's better to be safe and stay on the ground.
Jet Set paragliding adventures
Martina offers basic instructional tandem paragliding flights for $160 US dollars. For $40 more, you can add on the GoPro flight video, which I absolutely believe is worth it. $200 for the experience of a lifetime is without a doubt worth it. You can visit Jet Set Paragliding online to read more about the tandem paragliding flights, the courses Martina offers to people who want to learn how to paraglide on their own and/or take others, and to see videos and photos to help get you mentally prepared -- and excited!
More About Fraser Valley, BC
Paragliding is just one of many exciting adventures you can experience in the Fraser Valley. You and your travel mates/family can enjoy river rafting, horseback riding, fishing adventures (can't wait to share my Cascade Fishing Adventures experience with you soon!), farm tours, wine tasting tours, and so much more. Be sure to visit the Fraser Valley website for details on how to get to Fraser Valley (it's just about an hour east of Vancouver BC), and for more on making your trip here an amazing travel experience you'll never forget!
Have you ever been to, or heard of, Fraser Valley BC before? What adventures would you love to do if you could travel here?
PHOTO CREDIT: all photos in this post were taken by the talented Yinger Wong of Yinger Fotokrafie Design.
Thanks so much to all of the tourism boards - Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack - as well as Destination Think for this incredible experience! All opinions are, as always, my own.