A unique way of viewing Teton Valley
“Do you like roller coasters?” Luke Waters asked me. He was piloting a powered hang glider in the air above Targhee Village Golf Course and I was tucked behind him, peering back toward the crest of the Tetons where we had just been. I replied via the radio headset that sure, I like roller coasters. He performed a stall that caused the glider to sink, no longer buoyed by air, then did a wingover to the left and right. The g-force of swooping sideways with the wings perpendicular to the ground was more exciting than any roller coaster.
Luke and his wife Crissy started Teton Hang Gliding in 2017. Luke had worked for every scenic flight outfit on both sides of the Tetons and wanted to strike out on his own. While Crissy and Luke are both experienced non-motorized hang glider pilots, they opted to do commercial flights on a powered hang glider, also called a trike, because it’s easier logistically; with a motor, the glider doesn’t require heights or a tow to take off. The open cockpit of the trike gives passengers an unrestricted view of the valley and mountains, and is great for photographers.
“I really like the feeling of having my hands on the wing and getting so much feedback from the air,” Luke said. “With an engine you can cruise around the mountains. Powered is the way to go.”
The relatively quiet motor could carry a pilot over 400 miles on one 18-gallon tank of gas. In less than an hour, the Waters can remove and fold up the wing, pack the buggy onto a trailer, and head somewhere new to fly, like southern California, the Oregon coast, Moab, or the Grand Canyon.
Luke said that while he’s flown in amazing places, Teton Valley is hard to beat.
“The scenery is so accessible here,” he said. In almost no time he can fly up Teton Canyon, over Grand Targhee Resort and Table Rock, and peer into Cascade Canyon or brush past the hulking peaks in the Cathedral Group. He also likes to take visitors for a trip over the Teton River, where tourists hoping to see wildlife will probably glimpse a moose or two along the banks of the serpentine river. During the flight, Luke gives mini-lessons about geography, geology, agriculture, and aerophysics.
He generally flies in the mornings when the weather is more predictable. When I flew last week, wind speeds at the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were clocking at zero miles per hour, meaning we could travel up into the Tetons without fear of turbulence.
A 20-minute flight is $195 and 40 minutes go for $295. With a light buggy and a wing designed for speed, it just takes a little body English to tilt and turn the trike, so passengers can try their hand at backseat flying. A flight with Teton Hang Gliding can be logged as instruction time for students seeking their pilot’s license, Luke noted. To fly a trike the Federal Aviation Administration requires a sport pilot’s license, except when flying under the ultralight regulations.
Teton Hang Gliding is based out of the Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport, which has a runway that far exceeds the take-off needs of a trike.
“The airport has an active board that’s really interested in aviation and promotion, and the city is good at listening to the board,” Luke said. He added that having the MiG Fury Fighters, a warbird air show, based out of Driggs adds a unique flair that one wouldn’t usually see at a municipal airport.
The Waters supply passengers with flight suits, gloves, and helmets with face shields. On their website, www.tetonhg.com, they recommend covered shoes, and I would add that heavy socks are a good idea—it was 29 degrees when we topped out below the summit of the Grand Teton.
Teton Hang Gliding sees a lot of tourists and people visiting local families and friends. While they currently fly only one trike, the Waters said they would be open to expanding the business if another pilot approached them about partnership. Luke said that the opportunity to fly next to another hang glider gives passengers an increased sense of scale and perspective. In fact, a friend from Cody is bringing his glider down to help serve a large group at Teton Hang Gliding next weekend.
After flying low over the fields east of Driggs, we gently landed on the tarmac with minimal bumping. With Crissy taking photos from the ground and a GoPro mounted on the frame, my flight was well documented and I got to take home a flash drive full of pictures.
Luke said he consistently hears that hang gliding is the highlight of his clients’ trips. Crissy added that some people who are afraid of heights use hang gliding to overcome that fear.
“It’s like when you’re on vacation, you’re more willing to step outside of your own limits,” Luke said.