FIFAD; The day I finally got to experience a Paragliding flight

The person who took off just before.

During the FIFAD event I was invited by one of the people I was working alongside to try paragliding. This is a sport that I have thought about trying for more than a decade by now. Many years ago I bought a book about the theory of flying parapente and I have often watched them take off from places like the peaks near Lucerne, from St Hilaire du Touvet, land close to home and more.

I was invited the previous evening and the next day I went to the zone where they were landing and I watched them fly and then land. Some were novice fliers. Some of them were learning to land within a small circle and others were flying in tandem. I spoke to the person and he told me to come back at 1500 so I had two or three hours to occupy.

The area where we flew
The area where we flew

During the wait I took some pictures of Parapente as they flew around and when I saw the paragliders flying where they are in the image above that is where I wanted to go. I saw them ascend and as their flights were lasting so long I thought that the wait would be longer than anticipated. They had found some rising air and were playing with the backdrop that you see in these images.

A parapente flying near Les Diablerets
A parapente flying near Les Diablerets

When it was finally time to get in to the minibus to go up I was worrying about how the motion of paragliding would affect me and I was thinking about whether I was scared or not. I seemed to be impatient rather than scared. I felt excited and happy to have such an opportunity. Two years ago when someone asked me whether I wanted to go ice diving as there was a space free I had said no, that I did not feel ready. That friend had said that there would always be next time. Before “next time came up he died on a professional dive”. It is for this very reason that I really wanted to grab this opportunity.

The person who took off just before.
The person who took off just before.

The image above shows the zone from which we took off. To the right you have the Tour D’Aï and to the left you have the Diablerets. The fields are near a farm where the farmer processes cow’s milk to make cheese and other products before bringing it down to the valley. At this point I asked about the safety briefing. It was short and to the point. As a climber the thing that surprised me is the notion that you are using a “seat” rather than a harness. You wear the seat without tightening it. You sit in that seat for the flight. I was also told to lean forward and to walk/run forward when I felt the sail go up.

When the sail went up I felt that we were pulled backwards a little before we started moving forward. Within just two or three steps we were flying. We banked right to try to find a thermal but as this failed we banked left towards Les Diablerets towards the trees near the Creux Du Champ to find ascending air. The feeling as you head towards the trees relatively close to the tree tops is a strange feeling. I also noticed that I felt motion sickness at one or two moments but I quickly made sure to look in the direction of travel rather than the other way.

As we flew I could hear some beeping from my right shoulder. I had my gps watch on my wrist tracking the flight out of curiousity but the device I could hear indicated whether we were gaining or loosing altitude. The faster it beeped the faster we were rising.

Finding ascending air was a challenge. The pockets were very small so we had to be patient, turning and travelling until we found the right pockets of air. Eventually we did rise quickly. That was an interesting feeling. You see the ground get further away and you feel as if you are not moving that fast. You look at the chalet and the cliffs. At one moment you are below them and two or three passes later you rise above them and then you see the chalet at eye level and then you are above them. We turn again and we catch another thermal and we rise to the half way point, a picnik table with a view over the Creux de Champ. Eventually we were at 1800m in altitude and I wished I had taken a thicker layer as it started to be colder up there. I didn’t want to interrupt the flight just because I was a little cold though.

Eventually it was time to head back to the landing zone and the festival, for another night of work. On the way back, above the village I was allowed to pilot for a bit. I tried a right turn and then a left turn and then I gave the controls back to the pilot. We did two corkscrews and pulled two and a half g’s. The feeling was fun.

We landed on our feet and it was soft, softer than when you jump. The flight lasted about 45 minutes. Not bad for a first flight. The GPS track from that flight is here. I want to fly again. I enjoyed the sensation. The people I flew with are from paraventure. Flights range in price from 120.- CHF for a discovery flight to 200.- CHF for a thermal flight. They also do via ferrata, canyoning and other sports.

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