Adventure June 24, 2013

Distance Paraglider

Nate Scales

“It’s spectacular!” Nate Scales declared. “You’re up there on what is essentially an upgraded bed sheet and shoestrings that European society somehow made into a toy that can climb to elevations of over 20,000 feet.”

Sound appealing? If for some reason it doesn’t, Nate, a Sun Valley local and record-setting cross-country paraglider, will change your mind the moment you see his wide blue eyes and magnetic smile light up at the mere mention of the word “paragliding.”

After growing up spending summers in the Wood River Valley with his grandparents, Nate made the official move here in 1990. Turning the over-stimulating summer-camp atmosphere of Sun Valley into his year-round playground, Nate started working at Ski Tek in Ketchum. One day, local resident Dave McCormick came into the shop to ask if the employees wanted to go paragliding. While his co-worker declined, Nate jumped at the opportunity to literally learn how to fly.

McCormick took Nate out to Greenhorn Gulch, more or less “threw” him off the hill three times, and then said, “Now you know everything I do.” Instantly hooked, Nate immediately moved to Salt Lake City, which has a large paragliding community of all levels, and after a couple of years of doing nothing but paragliding all over the world, he moved his home base back to Ketchum.

“This place is good because we’re right at the divide between mountains and desert; and it’s called ‘Sun Valley,’ so it’s always nice, “he said.” “Here, there’s nobody in the mountains. If you go to Jackson or Salt Lake, there’s one range and it’s crowded, while in Sun Valley we have so many mountains and so few people that the adventures you can have are unlimited. We can fly around eight different ranges and beyond.”

On July 31, 2012, Nate took off from Baldy and set a new U.S. Mountain Distance Record, U.S. Foot Launch distance record and an Idaho State Record by flying 198 miles in exactly eight hours all the way to Three Forks, Montana.

Although paragliders carry GPS units, Nate usually doesn’t have a stated goal, but simply takes off with warm clothes, lunch and water—his only plan being to maximize adventure and to go as far as the day will allow.

But as Nate comes in for a landing after another day driven by “having the most fun possible,” the adventure is only halfway over—now he has to figure out how to get home. Nate doesn’t let roads confine his flying, and he’s usually out of cell phone range, so he’ll walk to the nearest road, which could be a couple of hours away, and then simply look forward to meeting the person who will inevitably drive by and pick him up.

“People are always really friendly,” Nate said with a smile, recounting stories of being given rides and taken into people’s homes with the utmost hospitality throughout the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Bali and all over Europe.

Over the years, Scales has competed in national and international races. Fellow paraglider Nick Greece, who broke Scale’s Foot Launch distance record a couple of days later by going 204 miles, described Scales as, “One of the best in the country. Nate has flown more committing lines than most people in the world. He’s a mentor to a bunch of us that are now on the U.S. team.”

Nate’s goal for this summer is to fly farther than 204 miles, and of course, to have fun. He’ll also probably take advantage of the agreement he has with his very supportive wife, Lisa. that she’s not allowed to worry if he’s not home by lunch the next day. He’ll also take his daughters, Ripley (7) and Daisy (4), up for a couple of rides with him.

“Our deal is that the girls have to beg to go up. Most kids dream of flying, but mine actually can. Knowing that anything is possible is probably the best thing I can give them,” he said. “We’re pretty lucky because we live in the best place on earth.”

This article appears in the Summer 2013 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.