Insurance peak to suspend all paragliding activity on Baldy | Recreation

Without a new $ 5 million insurance policy in place by December, commercial gliding instructors and recreational gliders will lose access to launch sites off Baldy. Paragliders typically access the mountain via the resort’s gondola and ski lifts, or by hiking, landing on the Sun Valley Co. property below.

All commercial and recreational paragliding flights off Bald Mountain will be blocked starting Dec. 1 due to increased insurance claims from American Insurance Group, according to Fly Sun Valley, a Ketchum-based paragliding outfitter.

That’s unless Fly Sun Valley and a local recreational pilot’s club, Sun Valley Paragliders Inc., can increase their liability policies from $ 1 million to $ 5 million, as required by Sun Valley’s insurer. Resort, American Insurance Group.

Fly Sun Valley, not to be confused with the Fly Sun Valley Alliance at Friedman Memorial Airport, is the only fully insured and licensed paragliding operation associated with the Sun Valley Resort. For more than 20 years, it has offered tandem flights, flight instruction and equipment sales in downtown Ketchum, according to owner and operator Chuck Smith.

The expected spike in insurance prompted the Sun Valley Paragliders Club to launch a GoFundMe campaign last month, “Keep Baldy a Flying Site”. The campaign had raised $ 4,620 for the club’s $ 15,000 goal on Thursday morning.

Fly Sun Valley flight instructors take off from Forest Service Land on Baldy and land on Sun Valley Company property, operating under permits from the US Forest Service. To fly recreationally from Bald Mountain, pilots must be current members of the Sun Valley Paragliders Club and pay a monthly membership fee, Smith said.

Fly Sun Valley and the Recreational Flying Club have historically been required to hold a million dollar liability policy to protect the interests of landowners and land managers around Baldy from claims related to recreational paragliding accidents. on their property. But with American Insurance Group, also known as AIG, now requiring five times that – and without a new insurance agreement in place by December – it will be illegal for commercial gliding instructors and gliders. recreational access to Baldy via the cable car and the ski or land lifts of the resort. on Sun Valley Co. property, including the River Run parking lot, Smith said.

“You would think that if we were to land somewhere else, not on Sun Valley Co. property, this absurd request from AIG would be moot,” he said. “Fly Sun Valley is licensed with the US Forest Service and has the legal right to operate from public lands. However, AIG has made it clear that they will continue to make this request regardless of whether we landed elsewhere. “

At press time on Thursday, AIG had not responded to a request from the Express on why the company is increasing minimum coverage requirements for sport flying.

Smith said AIG had not explained the reason for its “unprecedented” request. And Sun Valley isn’t the only paragliding destination impacted by the requested increase in liability coverage, he said – as an insurance provider for more than a dozen ski resorts in the States. United, AIG’s decision affected several paraglider outfitters across the West, including operations based in Telluride and Jackson Hole.

Chuck smith

“AIG advises resorts that if this allows paragliding to occur, those paragliding entities need to increase the insurance coverage that covers the resort,” Smith said. “If they don’t and the compound still allows robbery, AIG threatens to cancel the policy they issued that covers the compound. AIG won’t budge, and Sun Valley Company doesn’t have much flexibility when the company that insures them tells them they need to increase our premium.

Smith said he believed paragliding operations to be unfairly distinguished, noting that there had never been any liability claim against a member of Sun Valley Paragliders. No landowner has been named in plane crash lawsuits “in the 36-year history of paragliding in the United States,” he added.

Few of the fatalities and injuries have been attributed to sport theft in the Wood River Valley.

In April 2003, Ketchum’s paraglider Christopher Neuman, 29, was killed after taking off from Baldy, lost control and plunged into the Big Wood River in Warm Springs. In April 2016, Jordan Niedrich, 24, a resident of Bellevue, was killed in a speed-fly crash after crashing on the Warm Springs side of the mountain. (The sport he played was a combination of paragliding and base jumping; unlike paragliding, it involved navigating close to the ski slope as it descended.)

Four other recreational pilots have been seriously injured in the past decade. In August 2012, British paraglider Guy Anderson took off from Baldy, planning to travel to Arco as part of the US Paragliding World Cup route, but crashed in the Pioneer foothills north of Carey after his wing collapsed. He suffered serious internal injuries and was rescued two days later.

Three other local pilots were injured in 2017. In September of the same year, a 36-year-old paraglider from Bellevue injured his back after crashing into a house in Bellevue. In November, a 39-year-old speed flyer was seriously injured after crashing into Della Mountain and a 52-year-old paraglider was seriously injured after his canopy collapsed over River Run Lodge in Ketchum, and he fell to the ground.

Yet, according to the American Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, paragliding is just as safe as mountain biking, skiing, and rock climbing.

“Of all the recreational user groups that access and recreate on Baldy – skiing, hiking, birding, hunting, mountain biking, etc.” “The only one. Why so?

Smith, a USHPA certified instructor, began paragliding in 1987 in the Swiss Alps and continued to use the light aircraft on foot as a descent tool for mountaineering activities in the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. . A former United States National Champion and member of the National Paragliding Team, Smith began flying in tandem, or two, in 1991, while working as a test pilot for a paraglider and hang-glider manufacturer. .

He is also secretary of the Sun Valley Paragliders club.

“Sun Valley Company supports both Fly Sun Valley and Sun Valley Paragliding and their operations, and does not influence AIG Insurance premiums or policies,” Sun Valley Resort spokesperson Sarah Mansfield said in a statement.

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