THINGS TO DO:
The sun is breaking over the Edmonton skyline. It’s 5:50 a.m. and I’m standing in a park with neatly trimmed grass. Our pilot fastens a frame and propane burner to the basket of the hot air balloon. The massive envelope spread out over the grass is slowly taking shape as a powerful fan fills it with air. A flame jets from the propane burner, heating the air inside the balloon and lifting it into the dawning sky.
We rise up over the field and gaze down in awe at Edmonton’s beautiful river valley, so lush and green at this time of year. The grid of the streets and geometry of the buildings contrast the natural appeal with a civilized aesthetic. Despite the thrill of floating so high over the city, this is a tranquil experience. All too soon, it seems, we return with a graceful landing.
Here are more of my favourite ways to see Alberta by air.
Biplanes and Bush Pilots
I’m reminded of a bygone era of bush pilots flying planes into the Canadian North as I step inside the open-air cockpit of a vintage 1939 WACO biplane, courtesy of the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, which offers 10, 20 and 50 minute sight-seeing flights from the Wetaskiwin Airport.
The engine roars to life and the propeller drones as we prepare for take-off. The warm wind presses harder against my cheeks as we pick up speed and lift off. From this height, Alberta appears an endless ocean of land and sky.
Soaring over Southern Alberta
There are few things more satisfying than the euphoric rush of riding a thermal while hang-gliding. On the bluffs above Cochrane, the wind socket blows straight out. After careful preparation, I lift silently into flight. Below me lies a sprawl of ranchlands and foothills that seamlessly gives way to the vanguard of pine-skirted mountains in the distance.
A great place to learn the fundamentals of hang gliding and paragliding is at Muller Windsports, in Cochrane, west of Calgary.
Rocky Mountain Heli-high
Mountain View Helicopters offers aerial tours over Calgary, the badlands, and several scenic spots in the Rockies, but today we’re in the mood for Kananaskis Country.
The rotors of the Raven R44 II helicopter are already spinning when we arrive. The pilot engages the controls, lifting us effortlessly into the sky. We take in the late spring snow adorning the peaks of the Three Sisters, the silver ribbons of Spray Lakes, and the shimmering edge of Mount Assiniboine’s glacier.
Aerial adventures abound in this province. And no matter how you achieve your bird’s eye view, one simple truth remains: Alberta from the air will take your breath away.