SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Sometimes at Lake Tahoe, it’s all a matter of perspective.
And few people can offer a better perspective on one of the world’s deepest alpine lakes than the staff at SoaringNV, a glider company based out of the Minden-Tahoe Airport, about 30 minutes southeast of Lake Tahoe on U.S. Highway 395.
Self-described “glider girl” Laurie Harden started the company in May 2008 after seeing a business opportunity in a sport she began an interest in as a teenager. Her passion has only grown.
“It’s about as close as you’re ever going to get to being a bird,” Harden said Thursday during some downtime in the operation’s hangar.
Minden becomes a gliding Mecca in the summer, when pilots from all over the world come to ride Carson Valley’s strong thermals, columns of warm, rising air that provide lift for a glider in place of the propellers or jet engines.
But winter months may be the best for the spontaneous customers and first-time flyers because there are few crowds and plenty of calm air that make for smooth rides, Harden said. Snow-capped Sierra mountains certainly don’t hurt the experience either.
A flight with SoaringNV starts with a ride across the airport on a golf cart to one of SoaringNV’s gliders, where staff acquaint passengers with what not to touch and outfit them with a parachute that isn’t expected to be used. The passenger sits in the front of the surprisingly comfortable, if snug, cockpit, while the pilot takes the controls in a back seat.
The glider’s nose is then hooked up to a tow plane and whisked into the air over the Carson Valley, winding around a bit gaining elevation before heading towards the lake, which slowly turns from a sliver of blue to an expanse of unparalleled beauty.
Even for the most jaded basin resident, the sensation of being towed in a glider towards the lake can make a passenger feel like a winged Kit Carson or John C. Fremont circa 1844.
With tiny black dots of skiers and snowboarders peppering the slopes of Heavenly Mountain Resort below, the tow rope releases with a prominent click and the hum of the tow plane fades.
After that, it’s just you, your pilot, the rush of wind past the glider’s fuselage and the epic expanse of Lake Tahoe unfurling thousands of feet below.
But the glide isn’t necessarily all about scenery.
“Do you want to do a loop,” asks pilot Gabe Bourbeau, before dropping the nose of the glider toward the ground then pulling back on the control stick, turning the panoramic view from the brown of the valley’s fields to blue sky and back again as the glider smoothly makes a roller coaster out of thin air.
And that’s just one trick in the bag.
At a customer’s request, Bourbeau will take great joy in showing off the capabilities of the ASK-21 glider, busting out a few g-force inducing stunts like “wing overs” and “hammerhead stalls.”
The aerobatics may be the closest to “Top Gun”-type stunts the average person ever gets.
They could also be a bit unnerving if it weren’t for Bourbeau’s calm narration, which helps assure the passenger that this type of fun is all in a day’s work for SoaringNV.
Flights typically take place between 10,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level.
The company does not guarantee the length of flights because of their weather dependence, but 45 minutes is the estimate used by Harden for SoaringNV’s “Tahoe SkyRide” package.
The company doesn’t fly in rain or snow and wind speeds at ground level get above 30 mph. SoaringNV is flexible if flight reservations are disrupted by weather, Harden said.
Flight packages start at $99, but the lengthier flights over the southern edge of Lake Tahoe and Heavenly cost $259 for a single passenger. SoaringNV’s fleet also includes a glider with the ability accommodate two passengers at an additional cost. Group discounts are also available.
The company also offers edited high definition videos of flights for $59, as well as instruction to those looking to become glider pilots themselves.
There are some height and weight restrictions, but people should call in advance for specifics, as well as to make reservations.
For more information on SoaringNV call 775-789-9595 or visit http://www.soaringnv.com.