Adventure October 6, 2023

Take Flight in Sun Valley by Paragliding

A bird's eye view and other top scenic flights in Idaho

There are many ways to take in the beauty of Sun Valley: by foot on our many hiking trails, by bike on some of the splendid single-track, or by boat on our famous rivers. But for those who want a different perspective, why not get the bird’s-eye view by trying paragliding?

Sun Valley, and particularly Bald Mountain, are known as some of the best paragliding territories in the country, with Baldy hosting many competitions over the years and being the site of many world records.

Though the word looks similar to parachuting and parasailing, paragliding is neither. Rather it is its own form of flight and the smallest and lightest of wings a pilot can fly. It is essentially an airplane wing with no rigid frame attached and provides a silent, nonpolluting, pure form of flight. No jumping from a cliff or precipice is required; pilots use ski runs and mountain slopes as runways to launch the glider. In the right conditions, paragliders can soar for hours, maintain altitudes of thousands of feet above the ground, or cover distances of hundreds of miles.

Whether you’re looking to go on tandem flights off Baldy or get instructions on flying solo, Fly Sun Valley is the best game in town. The only fully insured and permitted paragliding operation of the Sun Valley Resort (though they are their own autonomous business entity), Fly Sun Valley conducts flights off Baldy in cooperation with the Sun Valley Company (SVC) and through an exclusive commercial permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service.

Fly Sun Valley owner and operator Chuck Smith began flying paragliders in 1987 in Switzerland and helped form the American Paragliding Association. Smith is also a former factory test pilot for UP International and a former U.S. national champion with numerous flying awards. Smith first came to Sun Valley for a flying competition in 1991, a place he “only knew as one of the best flying sites in North America.” Shortly thereafter, he moved to the area to start Sun Valley Paragliding with a friend. The long wait for a permit with the Forest Service prompted him to move to Aspen, Colo., where he lived and paraglided until returning to Sun Valley and starting Fly Sun Valley in 2000.

Fly Sun Valley is a one-stop paraglide shop with personalized coaching and instruction; guided international tours and travel; instruction for all levels of pilots, including specialized continuing education courses; retail sale of paragliding gear and equipment; and, of course, tandem flights.

For those who have never paraglided, tandem flights are the best way to try it out. People of all ages can fly—no experience required—in tandem gliders designed to accommodate you and your pilot.

For summer morning and evening flights (when the lifts aren’t open), Fly Sun Valley will take you to the top of Baldy in their company 4×4, and you’ll launch from the top.

In winter, or when lifts are in operation, SVC requires the use of chairlifts and the gondola. While in flight, covering the approximately 3,300 vertical feet from the summit to the base of Baldy, your pilot is equipped with GoPros on selfie sticks for optional photos at an extra fee. The whole experience, depending on the weather, takes about 1.5–3 hours, with flight time ranging from 15 minutes to an hour.

“Baldy is a great launch site with good logistics because it can accommodate flights in just about every wind direction,” says Smith. This means that Smith rarely has to cancel flights. Baldy also has tons of potential for flying distance and cross-country, though that’s not something Smith does commercially, though he and other paragliders in the community have been trying to get Sun Valley Company to embrace that potential.

Those staying at the Limelight Hotel can take advantage of paragliding flights and lodging packages between Fly Sun Valley and the Limelight.


Sun Valley Heli Ski

Scenic helicopter flights (winter only) orbiting around the Pioneer, Smoky, and Boulder Mountain ranges with lunch in the field (customizable). Guests can also opt for a morning helicopter ride to the top of Baldy’s Lookout Lodge from the Sun Valley Gun Club—then can ski the resort or fly back to the Gun Club. Cost is $2,500 for a group of up to four for a Scenic Flight; or $1,000-$1,200 for a group of four for a Lift to Baldy, plus a lift ticket or pass.

Sawtooth Flying Service

Scenic flights (year-round) or breakfast flights to backcountry lodges or airstrips not accessible by road. Available out of McCall, Sun Valley, Stanley or wherever your group decides. Cost: $600/hour

McCall Aviation
Scenic flights of the west-central mountains of Idaho, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Sawtooth Mountain Range, Hells Canyon Wilderness. And scenic breakfast flights to ranches.

This article appears in the Fall 2023 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.