We Faced Our Summerfest Fears

After two years of not trying out this Big Gig classic, we thought it was about time.

Henry Maier Festival Park’s collection of festivals are all connected by one attraction: the Skyglider. 

For some festies, it’s a must-do, annual staple. For others, it’s an extra five dollars they just aren’t willing to spend (or eight, if you opt for a round-trip ride). Personally, I successfully avoided the colorful seated suspensions for two consecutive summers. 

I’ve never been a fan of heights. Anything higher than 18 inches off the ground is a no-go from me. I skip roller coasters at theme parks and opt out of most anything that takes me up up and away … until today. 

I live downtown, so I decided to walk to Summerfest. I slipped on my festival shoe wear of choice — crocs, for all-day comfort and weather resistance — and headed out the door. The lengthy walk gave me some time to mentally prepare to take on the Skyglider.

Once I entered the gates, I took the opportunity to admire the ski lift-style adventure from the comfort of the ground. It was longer than I remembered, but I was determined face my fear of heights.

I forked up the extra three dollars to take the roundtrip. If I was going to do this, I was going to go all out.

I plopped down on a green and white car as a Skyglider attendant pulled the safety bar down in front of me and told me to enjoy the ride — more of a challenge than he probably expected.

Something to note here for gliding newbies like me: the Skyglider does not stop for you to get on or off, so you’ll be situating yourself onto an accelerating seat. At the same time, it doesn’t move very quickly, making this relatively easy.

Before I knew it, my feet were off the ground, and I was in the sky. The brief work up the incline was a little nerve-wracking, but once I got to the top, I was intrigued by everything there was to look at. As you can imagine, there’s a lot.

People watching from up high is incredibly entertaining. I spotted plenty of families heading to their stages of choice, kids scarfing down ice cream and patrons searching for the next place to grab a cold one.

Photo by Aly Prouty

The first half of my trip was on the side closest to the main gate, with the second half being toward the lake.

The gate-side view offered a quick taste of what was playing on the stages below. It was actually a great way to check out multiple acts at once and decide where I wanted to head for an afternoon jam session. Admittedly, the best part of the ride was the food. The Skyglider floats passengers directly above a long line of food vendors, and the aromas steamed upward to my nose. It smelled delicious and my stomach started rumbling.

Photo by Aly Prouty

At the halfway point, I descended back toward the ground. Now was my chance to bail, if I really wanted to, but instead I waved my ticket at the attendant who grabbed it before I briskly started back up the incline. There really was no turning back now.

The rest of the ride was set with sparkling views of the lake, although the trees were sadly blocking parts of my sightline. While I was essentially taking the same route, this side offered fresh water scents from Lake Michigan. I got a taste for what vendors were out there, including tie-dye and sunglass tents. 

At this point I was relatively calm. “Maybe I’ve finally conquered this fear,” I thought.

I thought too soon.

Photo by Aly Prouty

The Skyglider ended up stopping three times before I’d finally make it back down. Honestly, with the safety railing, this wouldn’t have been that bad if the breeze off the lake didn’t rock my hanging seat back and forth. On that note, if you’re gliding solo, sit in the middle, so you’re drastically not tipping one way or another if the wind hits.

Once we started moving again, all was well. I glanced down at my crocs, they were still on my feet. If I had been smart I would’ve put them in sport-mode.

Photo by Aly Prouty

The descent was not as fear-inducing as the ascent, but perhaps that’s because I was honestly really excited for gravity to take its full effect on me again.

Exiting, I was proud of myself. Plenty of people do this nonchalantly every day of Summerfest, but this was one tick mark off a bucket list for antsy little me.

Photo by Aly Prouty