I flew over to Snoqualmie Falls a couple weekends ago on my birthday. Literally. Flew right over them in a little Cessna 172SP three-seater. Nothing like a Sunday morning flight through a clear sky: the mountains in view; the cityscape (and the stresses it represents) safely below you. Of course, I didn't know any of this when I took off from Boeing Field that morning. It was my first time in the cockpit. Fortunately, my co-pilot, Henrietta Ball, was a little more accustomed to the whole flying bit. She's an instructor with Galvin Flying Service, and she was taking me on an introductory flight lesson.
The lesson wasn't a birthday gift, but it will forever rank among my most memorable birthday activities. And it was a gift of sorts, from the Be a Pilot program, which I'd contacted when I decided to try my hand at flying. As a member of the press, my way was paid by the Pilot program, a privilege that could warrant a big, sassy "Nanny-nanny-na-na," but really doesn't, because anyone can do it for practically free: $49. Here's how, plus a guide to other local lessons for the adventurer on your gift (certificate) list:
BE A PILOT PROGRAM
1400 K St. N.W., Ste. 801, Washington, D.C. 20005, 202-842-4099, www.beapilot.com
Introductory Flight Lesson, $49: Yeah, yeah, you've sat in the back of a big commercial airliner and jetted from airport to airport. Ever think about what's going on up in the cockpit? More than you know, Skippy. The Be a Pilot program wants to make pilots out of anyone who's interested, starting with a one-hour introductory flight lesson at a participating flight school in your area. A perfect gift for the adventure-inclined. They'll love it. Of course, if they really love it, they may decide to continue their training (at a cost of $3,000 to $10,000 for a private pilot license). Time for a new lesson: How to fill out that student-loan application.
300 Third Ave. W., 206-284-8484,
www.mountaineers.org (membership—$25 and up—required for most lessons.)
Telemark, Nordic Skiing, and Snowboarding, $30-$125: Wussies needn't apply for these courses that cover technical skills, avalanche safety, and glacier travel. Newcomers to the backcountry, rest assured: There are classes for you, too. Not every participant's expected to be a seasoned, double-diamond fanatic, but basic fitness is expected.
FIORINI SKI SCHOOL
Ski and Snowboard School for Kids and Adults, $168-$240: Season-long ski and snowboard classes for all experience levels at Snoqualmie Pass and Crystal Mountain. With ski bus pickup at several locations in Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond, and Issaquah. Grown-ups, did you miss out on the ski bus as a kid? Now's your chance. Fiorini takes no responsibility for pounding headaches caused by loud all-bus renditions of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
Sea or Whitewater Kayaking, $130-$150: Registration for these spring classes doesn't open till January, but you can give a crude, handmade gift certificate now—perhaps with an illustration of how to do an Eskimo roll.
NORTHWEST OUTDOOR CENTER
2100 Westlake Ave. N., 206-281-9694, www.nwoc.com
Sea or Whitewater Kayaking, $50-$625: Expect to get wet with fun class titles like "Whitewater Fever" and "Total Immersion" (a five- to six-day kayak excursion).
CLIMBING AND MOUNTAINEERING
Alpine Scrambling, $100-$120 (membership required): We're not talkin' eggs, doughboy. We're talking traversing your ass across a Cascade peak and, preferably, getting out alive.
Avalanche Awareness, $30-$50 (membership required): Additional skills for that part about getting out alive.
Climbing, $200-$220 (membership required): Another way to get out alive. Learn safety and technical skills in these courses for climbing on rock, snow, glacier, and frozen waterfalls.
Mountaineering-Oriented First Aid, $60-$115: A 30-hour course offered in conjunction with the American Red Cross.
Navigation, $30-$50: Didn't you learn anything from Hansel and Gretel? Bread crumbs just aren't a good idea. Take this course and learn to read a map and compass, for when your GPS dies.
STONE GARDENS CLIMBING SCHOOL
2839 N.W. Market St., 206-781-9828, www.stonegardens.com
Climbing 101, $40: Unleash your inner monkey. Learn climbing, knot tying and belay technique.
VERTICAL WORLD GYMS
2123 W. Elmore St., Seattle, 206-283-4497; 15036-B 95th St., Redmond, 425-881-8826; www.verticalworld.com
Intro to Indoor Climbing, $40 (members, $30): Learn all the basics in this primer from what's billed as America's oldest climbing gym.
Outdoor and Nature Photography, $75-$100: Not up for dangling off frozen waterfalls? Learn to photograph those dangling crazies—or just the waterfalls—from a safe, solid perch.
WINDWORKS SAILING CENTER
7001 Seaview Ave. N.W., 206-784-9386, www.sail1.com
Basic Keelboat (Crew Level), $182: Ahoy, matey! This 12-hour course should make a decent crewperson out of you.