Adventure Gift Guide

By Mary Burnham

No matter how old we get, we all remember when a wrapped gift held all the promise and wonder of the Christmas season. On the giving end, isn’t the point of all this shopping and list-making to see joy light up another’s eyes when they open your special gift? Rather than giving people what you think they need this Christmas, why not try making someone’s dream come true?

Perhaps you know a young grandma who’s always wanted to learn how to fly. Get her a gift certificate for a hang-gliding lesson. Your teenager may long to bump the moguls like a pro. Get him a snowboard or ski lesson. Give your would-be artist a gift certificate for an art class, poetry workshop, an acting or dance lesson.

Search your memory for those unrealized “wishes” spoken in wistful tones, and with a little imagination, you might just come up with an experiential gift that could give a loved one the thrill of a lifetime.

A beginning hang-gliding lesson with a full day of flights costs around $85. Sail over central Virginia countryside at Blue Sky near Richmond (540-432-6557, or take off from a giant 80-foot sand dune at Kitty Hawk Kites’ Hang Gliding Training Center in Nags Head, North Carolina. It’s the largest such school in the world (877-359-8447, The only restrictions are that the flyer be between 85 and 225 pounds and able to run about 10 yards. Tandem instruction is available for the handicapped.

Hot air balloon rides over the Chesapeake Bay shoreline take off from Gloucester
(800-952-0560, Champagne, hors d’oeuvres, and a first flight certificate are included in the cost of $175 per person for a one to one-and-a-half hour flight.

Hitting the slopes
Adult and children’s lessons at Wintergreen’s Snowsports Schools start at just $24 and are free with equipment rental. Private lessons are also available. Even better, take the whole family to Wintergreen’s Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas with holiday events like caroling, Santa on the Slopes, Christmas Dinner, and a New Year’s Eve gala (434-325-8065,

For the writer
Send an aspiring writer to a retreat on a windswept island. The Outer Banks Intensive Writers’ Camps on Ocracoke Island, NC are held in May and September. Lodging is available in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage (877-708-7284, is a good resource for other writing conferences and events throughout the south. The Virginia Festival of the Book is a weeklong celebration with workshops, readings and seminars held each March in Charlottesville. Most of the events are free and open to the public, so a thoughtful gift might be lodging in an area hotel during the event.

For the kids
Give your child a day at the Rock Gym where he or she can learn to climb indoors on a rock wall. Introductory classes start at just $10, equipment included (499-8347,

Getting Fit
Many gyms and YMCAs offer trial memberships starting around the first of the year. A two or three month gift certificate is a great way to help someone beat the winter blahs. Learning to dance – whether it’s the tango or the two-step – is on a lot of people’s “wish” list. Check out the local community or recreation center for classes.

National parks
A $50 National Park Pass gift can be purchased online at or by phone 888-GO-PARKS for the nature lover on your list. Good for one year from its first use in any national park, the pass admits everyone in the vehicle and will pay for itself in no time at Shenandoah where the one-time admission is $10. It’s a good cause as well: more than 80 percent of the funds go directly to park projects.

No matter what the recipient’s age or ability, giving the gift of a new experience may just be the ticket to a wonder-filled gift that will keep giving all year and even beyond.