Learning How To Speedfly

Gordie Oliver speedflies on Cairngorm Mountain, Scotland.  Rob Grange / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

It used to be the stuff of GoPro legends: A daredevil skiers hops down some steep terrain, takes a turn or two, and then starts to float, literally sailing above the tree line all the way down the mountain. Now, these videos are about as common as a hucked backflip — and about as easy to pull off. Thanks to the popular growth of speedflying, skiing’s equivalent of kite surfing merged with paragliding, riding high and fast above it all is something just about any advanced skier can do — with the right training and equipment. Want in on the action? Here’s your speedflying cheat sheet.

What It Is: 

 “It’s similar to paragliding,” explains Will Burks, who’s been Speedflying for 10 years and is one of the sport’s most skilled, “only way faster and a lot closer to the ground with more control.” The speed needed to launch when Speedflying, along with the relative high speeds during landing, makes skis the perfect tool, although Burks and a crew of talented young flyers in Sun Valley speedfly year round. “Learning with skis is the best and easiest way,” Burks says, “Start slow and low before working your way up to flying off bigger peaks.”

The Lessons:

Speedflying is still a fringe sport. Burks was one of the first to start Speedflying in the U.S 10 years ago. “A great place to start,” Burks says, “is by contacting Justin Boer at Freeboern Air Sports.” Freeboern offers a weeklong Speedriding and flying courses around the country from Oregon and Idaho to Alaska. For $250/day the 7-day clinic includes ground school, one-on-one training and instruction, study materials, testing, certification and rental gear. A U.S. Hang gliding and paraglidling membership is mandatory and costs $150 for a year.

The Gear: 

“All you need to Speedfly is a harness, wing, and a helmet,” says Andrew Dunning, one of Burks’ protégés who’s been Speedflying for three years, “plus all your normal ski gear if you’re learning on snow, which I recommend.” The whole setup (not including the ski gear) costs between $2000-$2500 for brand new gear.

Where to Start: 

“A soccer field is the perfect place to learn how to kite and control the wing,” says Michael Neidrich, another Sun Valley Speedflyer who Burks helped mentor. “Once you get controlling the wing dialed in you’re ready for your first flight.” Look for a relatively small, wide-open slope that has a large flat landing area. “You want a place where you can take off without much consequence, fly out high and straight, practicing turns and ‘flares,’ where you pull on both brake toggles at the same time to practice the landing procedure. The most important factor is a wide-open slope and landing area along with stable consistent wind conditions.”