Sandia Site Guide

Revision: 2023-02-23

Current Conditions

Tempest on WindAlert              


Forecast Conditions



Sandia is the premier flying site in New Mexico. It is a high altitude, Tram, hike and road-accessed site that is home to numerous 100 mile flights and has been the site of the HG World Championships. Evening glass offs while surfing the massive granite walls is a truly amazing experience. The ridges and pinnacles of the mountain’s west side create technical airflows that require forethought of meteo winds, escape routes, and awareness of details like cables, venturi, ground speed, etc.

Based on the complexity and difficulty of the launches, combined with the dry, booming, desert thermals this is not a casual flying site.   Our 10,600 ft mountain is a rock that sticks up 5,000 ft in the middle of high desert.  Wind, changing weather conditions, massive overdevelopment, and eye popping climbs are not out of the ordinary.

Located atop a giant rugged bowl of cliffs, new pilots can appreciate the importance of working the ridge then going out front as soon as nothing is found. This site, exemplifies New Mexican Flying, with evening glass offs, morning glides, and mid-day 'big air' flying for inland experts, occurring year round here.  Many west side short XC options exist. Fast and rough climbs are common, and high altitude winds create some solid hang gliding only days.   Thermals and currents directly above the mountain can be extra rough, visitors often find better and cleaner conditions off the front of the range.  XC pilots get high and get off the mountain quickly because of this. 

No need to fly the deep line here to find thermals.

The New Mexico foot-launch HG and  PG records were flown from this site.


Sandia Overview

Sandia Mountain View from NW

Sandia View from South

Sandia Mountain View of Tram System near Peak Launch



Visiting Pilots

If you do not have an annual USHPA Pilot membership with rating/Special Skills of P4/CL, FL, TUR, HA or  H4/CL, FL, TUR, HA, RLF, then you will need the following to fly the peak:

Tandem Flights


Visiting PilotsSee Visiting Pilots info in the GENERAL INFORMATION section above.

Sandia Peak Launch

Sandia Peak launch was recently renovated and is one of the best sites in the state. The surface of the launch is smooth and free of snags. There is room for multiple gliders to set up and prepare in the back but launching one at a time is recommended. 

All normal launch techniques will work, but pilots should be aware that the launch is at 10,300 ft in the desert. Our launch is just above a cliff face and it is possible that the wind you feel standing on launch is considerably lighter than the wind 10-15ft over your head. Use the tall trees to your north as guide for winds overhead.

Access:  Sandia Peak Launch (35.196576, -106.434662, 10275 ft) is accessed via the Sandia Peak Tramway or hiking in from the Ellis Trailhead (35.209017, -106.441065) on Highway 536.  Pilots must purchase a Tram ticket, sign in, show proof of a current USHPA P4/H4 membership, and be on the current SSA roster for full or temporary membership.  

PG backpacks on Tram: A single backpack for everything can be taken on the tram with the pilot and other passengers in the main tramcar. No rosette bags are permitted - keep bags clean, compact, and out of the way of other passengers. 

HGs on Tram: should plan more time at the Tram base, since they need to get put on top of the tram car prior to boarding.  SSA and the Tram ask pilots to be courteous and helpful with the glider loading/unloading process.  Expect it to take extra time for HGs, and be there over an hour prior to your desired launch time.

Best Wind Direction: SW - W.  West winds can make for great flying but be aware of rotor coming off the Tower 2 ridge. In NW and North expect SEVERE turbulence and rotor.

Best Wind Strengths (mph):

H4: Range: 0-25, Ideal: 10, Gusts: 7 max
P4: Range: 5-15, Ideal: 8, Gusts: 5 max

To Primary LZ (Big Sky):

Distance: 3.1 Miles
Minimum Glide: 4.2

CAUTION:  Do not turn left into the tram cables when launching!

Sandia Crest Launch

Sandia Crest is mostly used by HG pilots.

The crest launch is situated in a west facing bowl where NW and SW winds may 'wrap' in.

In stronger winds, significant rotor may be present in the launch bowl, primarily from the South Pinnacle, which is a prominent feature WSW of launch.

Sandia Crest Launch

Access:  Sandia Crest Launch (35.21342, -106.45026, 10600 ft) is accessed via Highway 536.  Googling Sandia Crest will get you to the Sandia Crest parking area outside of the radio tower area. Pilots must gain access to the radio tower entry gate with an authorized SSA member. The gate requires a combo that your SSA Orientation Mentor will have. You cannot go into this gated radio antennae area without a local knowledgeable member, so these instructions are given from the SSA Orienting member.

Best Wind Direction: SW - W.  W or slight NW are preferred for the Crest Launch.

Best Wind Strengths (mph):

H4: Range: 0-25, Ideal: 10, Gusts: 7 max
P4: Range: 5-15, Ideal: 7, Gusts: 5 max

To Primary LZ (Big Sky):

Distance: 3.5 Miles
Minimum Glide: 4.4


Big Sky (Primary LZ)

Sen. Harrison H. Schmitt Big Sky Hang Glider Park (35.18265, -106.51897, 5800 ft), known simply as “Big Sky” or "BSLZ") is dedicated to the activity. Many hang gliders consider it a bit small.

Big Sky LZ

When leaving the mountain you will have to over fly a few miles of residential housing before arriving at the LZ. It is recommended that you leave the base of the mountain with at least 8500ft of altitude in light to medium wind conditions. Strong West winds require much higher departure altitude to make the LZ. The Elena Bailout LZ is noted above. There are also many residential lots on the way to the LZ that do not have structures on them. CAUTION: Many of these empty lots are bordered by power lines and contain large amounts of cactus.

On approach to the Big Sky be aware of Airspace. The portion located at the LZs has a floor of 6900ft and a ceiling of 9400ft

Peak Crest BSLZ With Airspace

The LZ has a large windsock located in the south west corner of the field. It is surrounded by an asphalt walking path and a low fence. To the immediate east of the LZ is a ditch and additional open space. Be aware of a slight east to west downhill slope in the LZ.

Most of the time you will be landing towards the south or west as those are the dominate flyable wind directions. Be aware of late evening east katabatic flows coming off the mountain.

For paragliders, a standard figure 8 landing approach setting up over the houses to the north on a south wind landing or a figure 8 approach setting up in the open space east of the field tends to work the best.

For HG It is highly recommended to walk the Big Sky LZ prior to landing there. The most common HG approach is due South. You set up your approach on the North side of the landing field, lose altitude and land to the South. North approaches are also recommended however there’s a power-line running E-W on the far North side of the LZ. East approaches are simple and straightforward. West approaches can be difficult for high performance HG due to the slope of the field.

Balloon Fiesta Park (Secondary LZ)

This is a very large and grassy area available at the Balloon Fiesta park (35.19650, -106.59695, 5055 ft). Check for closures with the city before going there (like during the Balloon Festival SEP-OCT) and watch for pedestrian uses of the fields.  Access to the park is through the "Balloon Fiesta Northeast Gate" (35.198874, -106.592448).

Elena Gallegos (Bailout LZ)

Should pilots be over the base of the tram without the required altitude to make the Big Sky or desire to do so, landing is possible at the Elena Gallegos “bailout” LZ (35.183076, -106.479549, 6400 ft). This landing is in rolling desert terrain with many small bushes, cacti and trees and is not maintained. Only land there if you are comfortable out-landing in rough terrain and in potentially turbulent conditions.  The Elena Gallegos covers a fairly large area with an extensive trail network.  To access the area by car, you enter at the Elena Gallegos Open Space gate (35.161777, -106.473772).


As a P4/H4 pilot with mountain experience you are expected to make sound decisions within your experience and comfort level. Cliffs at the bottom of the launches require quick clearing and loading of the wing. Close proximity to Tram cables, complicated cliff rotors, intricate rock formations create tricky to read flows.  NW wind is hard to read on launch.  ABQ Class C airspace above the LZ makes studying the site guide essential and planning final glides important.  Always check for Forest Fire and emergency air operations, as well as military and civilian air traffic.  This can be a congested area. 

Here are some site specific considerations to take into account:

Airspace Considerations

WARNING: The descriptions of typical flying conditions listed in this site guide reflect the experience of the authors of the guide. The conditions that you encounter at the site may differ, sometimes substantially, from those encountered by the authors. The descriptions of their experiences may not be relevant to the likely experience of any other pilot, particularly one who is relatively inexperienced or new to the site. A decision to launch is always that of the individual pilot. When deciding whether or not to fly, a pilot may wish to take into account the descriptions in this site guide but must also consider numerous other factors including the pilot's training and experience, familiarity with the site, equipment, physical and mental condition and the specific conditions in existence at the time of the decision.

Always fly within the USHPA recommended operating limitations for your rating as specified in the USHPA Pilot Proficiency System. Pilots of relatively little experience or who are new to the site are urged to consult with other local pilots at the site in order to obtain their assessment of the conditions. Always get a site briefing from a local pilot. Do not fly sites alone or without a local pilot present. If locals are not flying, there is likely a reason.


 Also be sure to read the general information in the SSA's overview of the SITE GUIDES