Tandem Paragliding with Midnight Sun Paragliding
losing sleep over Alaska’s long summer days
It occurred to me on my latest flying excursion “Outside” how little exposure we receive about our outstanding summer flying here in the 49th state. The great white north is supposed to be frozen, right? How much of a thermal can you expect from a glacier anyway? Truth is, Alaska has some spectacular flying with a uniqueness that can be found only in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Midnight Sun, is it?
Yes, but only some places and sometimes. The Arctic Circle defines the latitude where, one day per year, the sun doesn’t set and likewise doesn’t rise six months later (June 21 and Dec. 21, respectively, give or take around leap year). Anchorage lies about 370 miles south of the Arctic Circle making its longest day about 19.5 hours. Barrow, Alaska’s most northerly point, lies about the same distance north of the Arctic Circle. The sun rises there on May 10 and doesn’t set again until August 3.
Before you pack your wing and head for Barrow, know there are no nearby mountains and scant chance of finding a payout winch in this village of 5,000 people. Take heart, though, as there is plenty of good flying south of there. The longer days of approaching summer quickly melt the winter’s snowfall. By June all but the highest peaks and glaciers have given way to the verdant tundra and vegetation that serve as our thermal generators. By this time, the nearly perpetual daylight takes some getting used to, and most sourdoughs resign themselves to rationing sleep until the winter months. When you can thermal until 10 p.m. and waterski until 2 a.m., who wants to sleep?
In southcentral Alaska, Anchorage is the largest city and home to just fewer than 300,000 people. An additional 300,000 or so hardy Alaskans live throughout the state, making for an average population density of about one person per square mile. About 30 percent of the population has no access by road or ferry. The lack of roads combined with the spectacular scenery compels many Alaskans to learn to fly: the state boasts about six times as many pilots per capita than the rest of the U.S. Free flight is still catching on though, as only about one in 10,000 opt for paragliding.
The Local Pilots
The second-largest contingent of paraglider pilots live in Juneau, the state’s capital and home of the Juneau Eagles Paragliding Club. Much to the delight of our local politicians, there are no roads to Juneau so it remains accessible only by air or sea. And who needs roads when the tramway there will take you and your wing 2,000 feet up to the top of Mount Roberts in six minutes? Fewer than a dozen paragliding pilots reside in Juneau, but during summer thermalling sessions they’re treated to some of the state’s most beautiful views of the Alaska coastline and neighboring ice fields.
Arguably our most popular site is Alyeska Resort at Girdwood. Saunders was instrumental in opening the site for flying some years ago and the ski resort’s management now welcomes pilots by offering inexpensive summer tram passes. The 2,000-foot tram at Alyeska begins just a few minutes’ walk from the spacious LZ, and ends a stone’s throw from launch. Ride the house thermal to 6,000 feet for seemingly endless views of glacier-topped mountains and Turnagain Arm, then top-land neighboring mountains to take it all in. At the end of the day, choose your landing at the local watering hole for appetizers or at the small airport and hitch a ride to Eagle Glacier for a 6,000-foot unforgettable midnight flight back to Girdwood.
Planning Your Trip!
Phone or email: Jake Schlapfer (907) 240-5420
Midnight Sun Paragliding, LLC
Jake Schlapfer, Instructor