Soaring Over Tahoe

Reprint from 06 employee newsletter article:

I think I have mentioned my Things To Do Before I Die List in past articles. Recently I got to tick off another item—a glider ride. The occasion was my friend's 45th birthday. I wanted to do something really special that we both could share.

Last year I had seen an article in the Sacramento Bee about soaring. Soaring is the term that glider folk use. Turns out that the Reno/Minden/Tahoe area is one of the best in the world for soaring. The weather conditions make for world-class soaring. The hot desert air meets the cold mountain air as it goes over the Sierra. This creates the updrafts and air currents that gliders need to soar. When all is right in glider-world, there is a phenomenon they call the Wave. On those days there is a white cloud that stretches north-south over the Carson valley and you can see gliders like seagulls in the sky. An experienced pilot can ride the wave as high as possible, even up to 30,000 feet! They need oxygen tanks for that.

I had researched on the Internet and found that Soar Minden had the most appealing deal. They allowed two passengers instead of the usual one because they had a larger three-seater. They also had a tour that went over Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, and a bit over Desolation Wilderness. It was also the longest ride—50 minutes. This is the one I chose.

Our pilot was Jon. He was a retired Air Force test pilot, like in Top Gun. He said he had flown about 250 different types of aircraft in his life. I asked him about getting licensed for soaring. He said that if you studied and flew every day, you could be qualified in two weeks. The hardest part is learning take off and tow. Because the tow plane is short-wing and the glider is long-wing and there is a rope between you, it takes some skill to keep the rope at the right slack amount so that you don’t detach and that you draft behind the tow plane properly.

There were several typical one and two-seater gliders on the tarmac, but we were headed for the three-seater. It was a tight fit—Dean and I had to squeeze side-by-side behind the pilot.

The tow plane pulled us up and we circled to gain altitude over the valley before heading over the ridge toward Tahoe. It was noisier than I thought it would be just from the wind resistance. The plane towed us over the lake, a bit over Desolation Wilderness, back over the lake, and then we detached over the eastern ridges near Heavenly. Jon took us back and forth along the eastern ridge before doing a final swoop very close to the trees and back toward the valley. By this time I was a little queasy, so when he asked if we wanted some roller coaster stuff, I asked for a mild one in deference to my boyfriend. That did it. I got sick. They are prepared with airsick bags. It was short lived and we were soon coming in for the final landing.

I have an interest in learning to fly. If I lived in the Tahoe/Reno area, I’d definitely look into soaring lessons.