Mountain Adventures to Experience with Your Family This Winter

July 26, 2019

If you’re looking for a departure from beaches and boardwalks this summer, consider an unconventional mountain escape that’ll have you oohing and ahhing over expansive vistas. Fill your lungs to the brim with fresh air, and feel your heart pound with exhilaration. However you prefer to balance exercise and adventure, your family will cherish these unforgettable experiences forever. 

Get Here: Trips depart from Aspen Paragliding’s downtown Aspen office mornings at 6:45, 8:30 and 10:30. Arrive 15 minutes early, and plan two hours for the experience.  
Be Prepared: Bring a wind jacket, sunglasses, walking or running shoes, and your camera.  
Suitable For: Children 3 and older, and adults who can run 20 steps. aspenparagliding.com $225 per person.

You’d think soaring through the crisp, mountain air mere feet from the peaks as the sun peers over 14,000-foot summits is an experience exclusive to red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and the occasional helicopter or small jet. But when you sign up for a ride with Aspen Paragliding, you too can take flight on the Rocky Mountain thermals. This is as close as you can come to truly flying as you step off a cliff, arms spread, to catch the updraft and ride the breeze. In Aspen, the experience begins when you pile into a four-wheel-drive truck for a winding drive up the Aspen Mountain service roads as marmots and deer and even the occasional bear or elk scamper out of the way.

Step out of the Jeep onto one of two well-manicured grassy runways—high-altitude greenbelts that in the winter are Walsh’s and Ruthie’s ski runs. Enjoy the sights while your pilot lays out the paraglider and helps you into your harness, which doubles as your seat while you’re in flight. The pilot attaches himself to the paraglider and to you with Kevlar straps called risers. When the wind is right, he says, “Go,” and you sprint 10 to 20 steps downhill. Seconds later, you feel the tug of the wing above you, you run faster, and then your legs are moving but they’re not touching the ground. You lift off and you’re floating above a maze of snowless ski slopes.

The wind is brisk but not overly so, and the smell of earth is quickly replaced by fresh air and ozone as the ground sinks below you. The pilot scoops you onto a wooden plank seat, and your hands are free to snap photos as you meander and serenely glide 3,000 feet down to Aspen Valley. Spot a hawk playing in a thermal, and your pilot will steer you to join the bird as it hovers in the sky. Panoramic views in all directions let you pinpoint Aspen’s famed Wheeler Opera House, the craggy Maroon Bells, the cleft of Independence Pass and Highlands Bowl, which still hides snow in its gullies.

Alex Palmaz, owner of the company and its lead pilot, learned to paraglide in Aspen 20 years ago from the school he now owns. Since then he has flown more than 4,000 tandem flights, and 6,000 flights in all. If you’re game, he’ll let you steer. Brake toggles control the wing overhead. Lean left, look left and pull the left toggle, and the wing sweeps left. It’s the same to the right. Lean; look; brake. Best of all, you needn’t worry about the landing as each passenger harness has a bottom-mounted airbag to make your return to Earth gentle. You may not spend more than 20 minutes in the air, but the memory will last a lifetime.

Get Here: Tyax will pick you up in Vancouver or Whistler and fly you via float plane to the start of the trip.
Time Commitment: Ride for one to seven days. For the true hutto-hut experience, we recommend spending two to three nights.
Equipment: Bring your own hydration pack to carry water, snacks and an extra layer, and a sleeping bag liner for the huts. Tyax provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and transports your bags each day.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced riders, teenage and older.  $1,980 per person, two-night trip.

As the float plane skitters to a splashy stop on Lorna Lake, or perhaps one of the other puddles sprinkled throughout Canada’s South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park—150 miles, and a 90-minute flight, from Vancouver—your skin prickles with delight at the silence and serenity of having millions of acres of virtually untouched wilderness seemingly to yourself. There is no hum of other planes or cars; not so much as the braying of an odd farm animal. You’ve flown here because there are no roads or rail lines into the park. Lorna’s waters lap gently at the shore as you wait for your guide to retrieve your bike from the bowels of the five-seater Dehavilland Beaver. Helmeted and ready, you mount your trusty steed and ride off into the mountains. 

Wind your way over shale-littered passes with sweeping views of the jagged Coast Range, snow occasionally crunching beneath your bike tires. Then race downhill through sprawling meadows—a rainbow of endless azalea, Indian hellebore, arrowleaved groundsel, Indian paintbrush, Sitka valerian and lupine quivering as you whiz past. You’re in the capable hands of the Tyax Wilderness Resort & Spa’s expert mountain bike guides, and you’re pedaling toward the first of as many as six simple and comfortable huts—each with its own personality, but all with soft beds, hot showers and hot, hearty meals—that will be your home each night. Bike for three, four or seven days, three to eight hours a day. Awake each morning to snow-capped peaks reflected in a mountain lake, with a lone heron gliding silently by. If you’re truly adventurous, skip the shower and take a frosty dip in the glacier-fed lake. After breakfast, it’s another quad-burning climb to the top of a pass followed by the sweet reward of a sweeping descent through mineral stained soils, the crumbling remnants of old lava flows and breezy groves of iridescent aspen. 

You might see a string of packhorses delivering your bags to that night’s cabin or possibly a faraway grizzly digging for grubs or chomping on fireweed. The single-track isn’t technical—it was beaten in by gold-seeking prospectors and their stock animals, and First Nations hunters in pursuit of deer, bear and mountain goats. But the adventure is remote and hard-charging—the kind of experience that creates an iron bond between you, your fellow travelers and a special place few people get to experience.

Get Here: Drive 90 minutes from Park City to Ogden to meet your guides, who provide harness, helmet and lanyard.  
Be Prepared: Bring sunscreen, a small backpack, light snacks and lots of water; and wear light hikers, approach shoes or running shoes.
Suitable For: Children 8 and older. Pass on this adventure if you’re afraid of heights. mountogdenviaferrata.com $100 per person. 

Have you ever imagined yourself scaling a cliff Stallone-style, your fingers pinching barely-there ledges as you athletically slither your way to the summit? If it sounds exciting and ruggedly romantic, yet you lack the skills, (rock) face time or Sly’s catlike reflexes, don’t sweat it. You can book an afternoon at Mount Ogden Via Ferrata in Utah, a 90-minute drive from Park City, and experience the thrill with much less risk. Italian for “iron road,” via ferrata is a semi-assisted way to traverse rock walls using fixed iron cables and ladders that let you StairMaster your route up a cliff; no technical rock climbing skills, knots or ropes required. The technique originated in the Italian Dolomites during World War I as a way for troops unskilled in mountain climbing to move quickly and efficiently through Italy’s peaks as they fought the Austrians on ever-higher ground. In the U.S., via ferratas are purely recreational. The Mount Ogden routes are some of the best in North America, designed by American alpinist, climber and Ogden resident Jeff Lowe. If you’re fit enough to climb a long ladder, agile enough to clip a carabiner to an iron rung and comfortable with heights, you’ll scamper up mountainsides with ease whether you’re 5 or 65.

Ogden’s Waterfall Canyon, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, can be steamy hot in the summer. It’s a short and dusty walk to the shady grove at the base of the demonstration wall, where your guide fits you with a climbing harness and helmet and issues you via ferrata’s signature hardware: a shock-absorbing Y-shaped lanyard that connects your harness to the route’s metal rungs. Your shoe rubber grips the rock as you carefully choose slabby foot holds and navigate from rung to rung. You work one side of your lanyard then the other up the iron ladder so that you are always attached at one point or the other. Once you have the basics, it’s a 15-minute hike through a boulder field to the waterfall for which the canyon is named. Cool off with a splash in the water; then it’s time for your first ascent. Your focus is sharp as you carefully pick your way around loose cobbles, reach your foot for the next rung and pull your hips toward the next secure clip. Three routes meander 350 feet up craggy Mount Ogden. The rock is hot and dry, but a light breeze cools you as you wrestle your way to the summit, where you’re greeted by bird’s-eye views of the Great Salt Lake basin and the jagged Wasatch Mountains.