The most prominent glider pilot in Telluride, Colorado, used to go by his last name, but after 37 years of flying no one seems to remember it; now he's simply Glider Bob. And he's incredibly calm. He accelerates down Telluride Regional Airport's runway – which drops off the end of a cliff so abruptly it looks like a roadrunner gag – with the casual air of a Sunday driver. Fortunately, he doesn't turn to the audience with a look of horror and plummet toward the valleys that separate the Sangre de Cristo Mountains' jagged peaks. To the contrary, he soars. Telluride is a vortex of powerful air thermals, and Bob knows the terrain like the back of his hand.
"I had a woman achieve orgasm once," he says offhandedly, "but that was in my previous plane, which was made for acrobatics."
His current plane is a Stemme motor glider, which features an auxiliary engine not unlike a sailboat's backup outboard. In the past, gliders were towed into the air by an airplane, but this model has retractable propellers that allow a solo takeoff, enabling the plane to climb on its own – and re-climb if necessary. Gliding, also called soaring, is the art of falling very slowly and occasionally upwards, when rising air currents are caught. To anyone with a fear of flying, gliding triggers primal terror, yet the ride is astonishingly peaceful, no more turbulent than a commuter flight.
Soaring is the least dangerous way to approximate the sensation of pure flight, much safer than hang gliding or paragliding, both of which Bob dismisses out of hand as hazardous. Snug in his cocoonlike cockpit and secure in the knowledge that there is an engine on board, Bob and his passengers are protected from both the elements and happenstance. When the engine is finally turned off, a pure silence envelops us, and the serenity is thrilling. Routes vary, depending on wind conditions, giving up close views of 14,000-foot peaks and faraway views of animals grazing in the high country. It's a calming sensation, spiked with the adrenaline boosts buoyed by powerful thermals and their visceral sense of momentum.
Returning to earth safely is a relief, if slightly bittersweet, but the powerful buzz remains for hours. With marijuana now legal in Colorado, there are other ways for a gentleman to get high in Telluride, but Glider Bob is the most dependable thrill in town.
More Information: Glider Bob (his last name is Saunders) charges $130 for half-hour flights through Glide Telluride. Travelers and skiers can fly into Telluride Regional Airport as well as surrounding airports in Durango, Montrose, and Gunnison.