air force

Scenes of gliders will again dot the Telluride skyline this summer as the Telluride Air Force, as well as local operators, resolved an insurance snafu that caused them to lose access to ski area launch sites. (Courtesy photo)

Cue Ozzy Osbourne because the Telluride Air Force, along with local hang gliding and paragliding operators, will be flying high again this summer.

Due to an unexpected increase in liability insurance, the nonprofit club and local businesses lost access to its ski area launch sites this winter.

The decision halted all flying during the ski season, which left the club and enthusiasts confused and frustrated. Like Ozzy sang in the 1981 heavy metal hit, “Got a crazy feeling I don't understand.”

After the American International Group insurance company decision, Telluride Air Force began working with the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association in an effort to find alternative insurance options.

The club announced this week that operations will return this summer, thanks to a decision to go with another insurer.

“The ski area has always had our back and always supported us and wanted to see us flying. Their hands were tied because they weren’t going to be able to purchase their insurance if they insisted we continue the way it was. They allowed us to insure them directly,” said Ryan Taylor, a local air force member and owner of Telluride Paragliding.

He explained the contract is for five years.

The club has been using the Gold Hill spot since forming in 1973, when a handful of hobbyists decided that area was optimal for launching. It’s become somewhat sacred land since then, as its hosted countless meet-ups, including several airman’s rendezvous over the year.

“It would’ve been terrible to lose it because there was nothing that we really did that brought this on. It wasn’t because of accidents or any issues with safety,” Taylor said. “Some day we hope to bring back those festivals and increase our numbers here in town. We’re a small club, and we grow very slowly every year.

Currently, 20 pilots pay club dues, air force president Karl Welter previously explained.

The club also launches from Milk Run, and landing zones include the Valley Floor, the Pearl Property and Town Park, thanks to long standing agreements with the Town of Telluride. The club, U.S. National Forest Service and Telski have had a productive working relationship as well.

With a mission to “preserve free flight for generations of aviators to come,” the club addressed some of the future concerns during the most recent insurance negotiation, including the desire to maintain access even if the resort would come under new ownership.

“What we were trying to do what the ski area was trying to address … how do we move forward for the next 50 years? It’s not going to be me flying anymore. It’s going to be younger people or younger pilots. We feel like we need to set them up for success,” Taylor said.

Though nothing has been officially announced or decided upon, the club has discussed a summer fundraiser that would help raise money for general operating costs.

An instructor since 2008, Taylor works as a ski patroller during the winter, so running his paragliding business during the summer months “means everything to us.”

“There are five tandem pilots. That’s how town sees paragliding is from us taking people tandem every day. We are the ones flying all the time,” he said of local outfits.

Typically, the flying season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, though if the weather is agreeable, flights can last into November, Taylor explained. While he’s not necessarily taking many bookings at this point, he believes this summer will be busy.

“Last year was incredibly busy because kids weren’t in school. People felt cooped up. I think this summer is on tap to be as busy as last year,” he said, adding Telluride is “a pretty special place to fly.” “It seems like the daily flying drives the next day or week of bookings. It’s a snowball effect when we start flying and people see it. It’s not that I have a store on Main Street or have a lot of ads in the paper; it’s the fact that we’re flying.”

For more information about the Telluride Air Force, visit tellurideairforce.org.