MISSOULA – More paragliders are taking to the skies above Missoula this spring. Blackbird Paragliding started operating last fall, and now business is soaring.
“As soon as you get in air, and you feel what its like to fly, there’s nothing like it,” said student Richelle Devoe.
Jennifer Orchard and her fiance Casey Bedell started the business. Orchard is a math teacher, and Bedell is a smoke jumper.
“It’s just a challenge to stay up in the air as long as you can, try and find that next thermal, and we’ll figure out the rest later,” Orchard said.
Bedell started teaching some friends, got certified, and then they started the school.
“I wanted to make it accessible to anybody and get anybody who wants to fly, a chance to fly,” he said.
Now Blackbird is a full-fledged business, with certification, insurance and road permits.
Classes start at the landing zone, where students learn the ropes from the ground up. Then its a drive up the hill for a tandem ride.
Flights can last anywhere from 8 minutes to five hours, depending on skill and the weather.
Devoe is afraid of flying.
“Like any sport or any activity, there’s a lot of risks, but they can be mitigated with the proper training and the proper equipment and having a really good community. And we’ve got that in Missoula,” he said.
Students have a chance to get certified to fly on their own, too.
They fly off Mount Sentinel, which is owned by the city and the university. They also do flights off Mount Jumbo, which is owned in full by the city.
Classes are offered year round and take around a couple months, depending on weather and your schedule.
Reporting by Katie Miller for MTN News