It is possible to launch from Oregon's biggest mountain, but paraglider pilots don't fly there very often for a variety of reasons.
The slope is shallow. The launch direction is south, and prevailing winds often over the back. Useable conditions are more likely in the winter. It is illegal to carry a glider into the wilderness area which begins at 9200 feet on the south side of the mountain and people have been fined for doing this.
Flying down the south side of Mt. Hood puts the pilot in a canyon at the bottom (referred to as "canyon diving"). The wind in the White River Canyon can be stronger or in a completely different direction than the wind on launch, which can make landing tricky.
On the other hand, it's a delightful sled ride on the right day when there are light south or light and variable winds aloft between 6,000' and 12,000'. By hiking as high as legally allowed it's possible to get a nearly 5,000' vertical descent with nice views of the Cascade range stretching to the south. In the interest of maintaining good relations with the ski area and the Forest Service, be sure you know where the Wilderness Boundary is and be sure not to land anywhere near Timberline Lodge.
View of Mt. Hood showing south side
CAUTION: Don't fly in the high Cascades when the wind is strong. The stronger the wind the more chance that you'll encounter turbulence during the flight and on landing. If the wind is pushing 15 mph or feels like it might be ridge soarable, that's an indication that it's too strong because ridge soaring is generally not wise on big mountains.
Directions to Launch: Drive to Timberline Lodge and park in the lot next to the day lodge. You can either hike up to launch or ride the lifts up (if one or both of the upper mountain lifts are running). To ride the lifts buy a sightseer ticket in the day lodge -- as of February 2001 the cost was $8. Ride the Magic Mile lift up, and then the Palmer lift if it's running. If the Palmer isn't running hike up along the lift line to the top of the Palmer snowfield. If you choose to ride the lift, it's important to know how to get on and off a lift safely with a paraglider pack. Once at the top of the Palmer snowfield (8,500' msl) you can launch there or you can hike further up to the Wilderness Area boundary at 9,200' msl. The higher you go the steeper it gets which can make it difficult to keep the glider from sliding on the slippery snow & ice. When picking your launch location be sure to stay out of the way of the skiers -- they have priority on the Palmer snowfield and the cat roads. Launch to the south and then fly southeast over the White River Canyon toward the LZ which is located near where Highway 35 crosses the Canyon. My recommendation is to foot-launch rather than ski-launch, because launching on skis is more difficult unless you have helpers to lay out and hold the glider for you.
Directions to the LZ: From Government Camp drive east on Highway 26, then east on Highway 35 toward Hood River. The White River Canyon is the large canyon that crosses the highway before it reaches Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. Park in the large lot on the north side of the highway. The LZ is anywhere along the relatively flat canyon floor north and east of the parking lot at about 4,300' msl. When there's snow in the canyon (winter and spring) the area can be swarming with cross-country skiers so be sure to land well away from the skiers.
Submitted By: Steve Roti
Updated July 2014 by Pete Reagan