5 New Thrill Sports You Can Learn This Summer

Let me start by saying that I am not good with heights. I get vertigo looking down a stairwell. Slacklining is scary. The idea of bunjee jumping, sky diving, or doing anything that Dean Potter, R.I.P., might have done, gives me hives. I call that a healthy survival instinct. My husband calls it, ‘being a wuss.’ I am, I like to point out, a walking, breathing wuss.

That said, there are few things I find as alluring as flight. Ever since the ancient Greeks sat around the campfire telling Icarus stories, humans have dreamed of being airborne. To that end, we’ve built planes, rocket ships, and blimps. We’ve also found ways to fly without motors: hang gliders, ultralights, parachutes, and now wingsuits, zip lines and flyboards.

In an effort to appease my thirst for adrenaline and conquer my phobia of being too far off the ground, I’ve sampled many of these. I won’t lie, flying is fun.

Not Your Daddy’s Zip Line

If you stand at the top of the gondola at Stowe and look way, way down and across the mountain at Lower Nosedive trail, you may have a sense of how intimidating Stowe’s new three-span Adventure ZipTour is. The third longest span in the continental U.S., the double line could be a wild, nearly mile-long ride of open-mouthed terror, except for one thing: you control the speed, letting you go anywhere from 10 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour. And that’s just the first span. Add in two more and that comes to 10,193 feet of cable and a nearly two-mile ride. By way of comparison, Bromley’s zip line, which is also made by ZipRider, spans 2,400 feet with a 26 percent grade, which means you can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Okemo’s longest span is 900 feet and lets you reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. Sugarbush, Smuggler’s Notch, and Magic also have zip lines of varying lengths and scream factors. At press time, Stowe’s Adventure ZipTour was scheduled to open June 23rd. A ride costs $131 and includes all-day access to the gondola. Or pair it with a pass for the new TreeTops Adventure Course for $179. www.stowe.com.

Paragliding and hang gliding

Calef Letorney made a name for himself as a freestyle kayaker, but these days he’s traded the water for the sky. He owns Paraglide New England, located in Westford in northwestern Chittenden County, where he’s one of three flight instructors.  While most people might think paragliding qualifies as an adrenaline sport, Letorney begs to differ, referring to it as “chess in the sky.” Letorney (see his profile, here) and his partners do tandem flights for $200 to give you a taste of flying. After that, you can do an intro lesson ($200) or sign up for a Novice Package, $2,500. Once you get good, try flying from the hills above Rutland, Burke or many other places around the state.

If you are hell-bent on learning to hang glide, Morningside Flight Park, just across the Connecticut River, teaches hang gliding and paragliding. A four-hour introductory course goes for $175 or a two-lesson weekend course ($329) moves you up the training hill for longer practice flights. flymorningside.kittyhawk.com

To Soar is Human

When the art thief Pierce Bronson plays in the classic movie, “The Thomas Crown Affair” wants to impress an investigator, (portrayed by Renee Russo), he takes her on a series of over-the-top dates, the first of which is soaring. It’s easy to see why it worked. After being towed up behind a motorized plane, your glider is let go. Then, it’s just you, the pilot and the ultralight glider silently swooping over mountains, gaining altitude on the thermal and ridge lifts and diving to build speed. In Stowe, a ride will take you past Mount Mansfield, close enough that you can see hikers beneath you. The sport has become so popular that in the Mad River Valley, the Sugarbush Soaring Club has Youth Camps to teach kids as young as 13 to become pilots. At Sugarbush, scenic rides start at $109 and a lesson (yes, you can learn to fly the glider) at $164. www.sugarbushsoaring.com.

The Fun of Freefalling

If you really want to fly and get a sense of how vast the farmland is in Addison County, try jumping out of a SuperCessna two miles above the ground. When the door opens at 12,000 feet, the wind is rushing at you at about 100 miles per hour, and the farms and buildings are laid out way, way below like a Monopoly board, it’s time to jump. At 12,000 feet, the free fall lasts for just about a minute before the parachute pops open and you float gently another 3,000 feet to the ground. That’s the time when you can relax, look west to Lake Champlain and east to the Green Mountains. Vermont Sky Diving Adventures, located just past the Ass-Pirin miniature donkey farm in Addison, lets first-timers do a tandem jump ($250 a person). Once you complete a one-day First Jump course, you can start the Accelerated Freefall Program, which starts with a jump from 12,000 feet, with two instructors holding onto you and a third on the ground guiding you to the landing. There’s also the option of a static-line jump from 3,500 feet where your chute is automatically deployed. www.vtskydiving.com.  

Hot Air Ballooning

If you think hot air ballooning is something reserved for tourists and marriage proposals, think again. With two major festivals and a landscape that seems custom-made for it, Vermont has become a hotbed for the sport. And yes, it is a sport. Think of it as three-dimensional sailing where you control where the 70-foot tall balloon goes by figuring out what altitude you fly at based on varying currents of wind. Pilots can control altitude to a measure of feet and most flights hover above tree line or go up to about 3,000 feet. Where you go on what is typically a 30-minute flight at about 8 miles per hour still depends on where the wind blows so be prepared to land in a field.

The 32nd annual Stoweflake Balloon Festival, coming up July 6-8, will bring close to 25 balloons to Stowe with sunrise and sunset launches and rides available for $275 per person, with $10 tethered rides as another option. The Quechee Balloon Festival is held in June each year. A number of outfitters will also do balloon rides throughout the season for similar prices, with most flights going out when the winds are calmest, at sunrise and sunset. In Swanton, you can get views north to Canada and west and south across Lake Champlain with U-Ken-Do-Ballooning (hotairballoon.org); in Jericho, Above Reality (balloonvermont.com) offers rides over the Green Mountains and the shores of Lake Champlain. In Quechee, Balloons of Vermont (balloonsofvermont.com) and Balloons Over New England (balloonsovernewengland.com) will let you hover over the Quechee Gorge or explore the mountains down to Killington.

Last updated July 1, 2019.