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Carson Valley gliding company offers thrilling—or smooth if you prefer—rides.
Photo: Ryan Jerz (all)
As the majestic peaks of the Carson Range drop out of view to our rear, my pilot, Jeffrey Hazlegrove of Soaring NV, asks if I’m ready for some tricks. I reply with an enthusiastic “Yes!,” and before I know it we’re upside down, 3,000 feet above the Carson Valley. Hazlegrove isn’t done yet. For the next 10 minutes he artfully maneuvers the glider through a series of loops, barrel rolls, and a couple moments of completely inverted flight. Every few seconds he asks me how I’m doing—and every few seconds I manage to break my ear-to-ear grin long enough to shout, “Awesome!”
At Soaring NV the gliding is about catering to individual customers. That’s why Hazlegrove, who has logged more than 10,000 flights, is so insistent on keeping track of how I am feeling. “We’ve had big, tough guys who couldn’t take the Gs [G-force],” he says, “and little grandmothers who couldn’t get enough.” Laurie “Glider Girl” Harden, also with Soaring NV, echoes that sentiment. “Some people get a rush from [aerial] tricks, and others just like a nice smooth, scenic ride,” she says.
On the golf-cart ride across the runway to the waiting glider and tow plane, Harden asks me, much as she does all her customers, what kind of flight I would like—smooth, relaxing, and scenic; or gnarly, spinning, and upside down. I choose the latter. After a brief but informative rundown of safety procedures, we’re rolling down the runway, and moments later, we’re airborne.
The tow plane takes us to about 11,000 feet and releases somewhere in the vicinity of Stateline. While we glide and soar (soaring is when the pilot uses air currents, or thermals, to gain altitude) around and over Heavenly Mountain Resort, Hazlegrove goes over some facts about the area and instructions on basic glider piloting. Once we’re back above the Carson Valley, safely away from the mountains, he decides it’s time to break me in. I take the joystick, press the right pedal, and hesitantly bank right. This is fun. Hazlegrove reminds me to keep the nose up and tells me to turn left. Braver after my first turn, I bank sharply left, dropping the left wing and leaning the glider into it. This is really fun.
After another reminder to keep the nose up, Hazlegrove has me level the plane and head east toward the Minden Airport. I reluctantly relinquish control and prepare for what lies ahead; the tricks. Hazlegrove drops the nose to build some speed before pulling back, sending us into a loop. This is really, really fun. After a couple of these, he explains that gliders roll much more slowly than jets because of their long wings and then takes us into a series of long rolls and a longer period of completely inverted flight.
After a bit of recovery—the inverted flight left me a little dizzy—we circle the airport a few times before settling into an exceptionally smooth landing. Upon our return to the Soaring NV office, Harden asks me how I liked my flight, but I’m too busy reliving the spins and rolls to hear her. Something tells me my silent, rapturous smile is a common response.