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travel diary: paragliding in the french alps | chamonix, france

By April 15, 2014 europe, france, travel, travel diary

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Paragliding (in French it’s known as Parapenting) in the French Alps is probably something that’s on everyone’s bucket lists. It’s been on mine for years.

If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically where you run off the edge of a mountain or cliff in a lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid structure or engine.

Sound crazy? Don’t worry you’re well & truly strapped to the pilot.

And the pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing consisting of a large number of interconnected baffled cells.

The wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

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Even though there is no engine, a paraglider flight can last several hours and span several hundreds of kilometres.

Now before I finish up the nerd talk, I will leave you with this cool map of the world’s best paragliding sites. Have any of you tried any of these?

You might remember that my brother, was visiting me in October last year. When he was here he managed to do a flight with Fly Chamonix, and I got a chance to meet the owner, Sean. He’s been in Chamonix for 22 years and started his own business around 6 years ago.

He does loads of different flight sites from Chamonix including from Brevent (1000m vertical descent), Le Plan de l’Aiguille (1300m vertical descent), Les Grand Montets (2200m  vertical descent) and the top flight from L’Aiguille du Midi (2550m  vertical descent).

Naturally we chose the highest and most difficult flight. It’s also the most expensive (at €230) so if you want to jump for around €100, then the next best is Brevent. 

Because the weather has to be just right, we didn’t manage to jump till a week before leaving Chamonix. We actually went up twice but the wind increased last minute so sadly we were turned back. But it’s not something that you chance on bad weather is it?

So third time lucky we arrived at the top and it was perfectly still.

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We made our way across the ridge to towards the take-off platform.

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From here, you can see all the skiers head off to do the Vallee Blanche. I tell you more about that in this post.

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As soon as we arrived at the take-off platform, Sean and our other pilot, Francois, got to work to setting up the paraglides.

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While we got to enjoy the view. Parapenting | The Macadames - 07

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Now as I mentioned you can’t take off if there is too much wind, but the same goes for no wind at all.

Sadly our first attempt to take off was not successful.

Parapent Attempt 1  The Macadames

Nor was our second.

Parapent Attempt 2  The Macadames

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After which time Sean moved the position of the paraglide. And then we waited.

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And waited some more.

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Until finally we get a gust of wine and took off again.

Parapent Attempt 4  The Macadames

Then I was up.

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And away. Parapenting | The Macadames - 20

Immediately you get a view of the whole valley.

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And I could spy the mister not too far behind. Parapenting | The Macadames - 29

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I loved how close we got to the rugged glacial ice and snow.

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You can really see how deep the crevasses are.Parapenting | The Macadames - 25

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It really does feel like you’re sitting in a chair floating in the air.

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About half way down there is a refuge. Sean told me this was where weary hikers recharge when attempting this face in the summer months (maybe some of the braver ones in the winter).

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And here are some great shots the mister got from the air. Parapenting | The Macadames - 41

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Given the flight time is around 45 minutes, Sean was lovely enough to take an inflight interview.

Anisa: How did you get into Paragliding? 

Sean: I first had a go about 26 years ago whilst doing a ski season. We were trying to ski launch but the gear was so primitive all I can recall is this thing thrashing around behind me preventing me from skiing normally, I do not think that I ever left the ground! I really only learnt how to fly here in Chamonix about 22 years ago thanks to a ski buddy.

Anisa: What brought you to Chamonix?

Sean: Skiing (for fun) and work as a hotel contracts manager.

Anisa: How many flights have you done in your life?

Sean: I gave up counting about ten years ago but probably in excess of 7000.

Anisa: How long have you had your business?

Sean: I was working for one of the schools and when the owners lost their enthusiasm, I dedcided to go it alone around six years ago. I wish that I had started Fly-Chamonix earlier.

Anisa: What’s your favourite flight that you’ve done?

Sean: That’s a hard one to answer but I have always loved flying from Aiguille du Midi for its rugged nature combined with the peacefulness of the high mountains.

Anisa: Do you have any paragliding horror stories for us?  

Sean: I have thousands of hours of great experiences paragliding but was unfortunate to have to attempt giving first aid to two pilots in separate accidents both of whom did not recover from their injuries. Horrible though this was, it never put me off but certainly taught me to take the sport seriously, I despair  when I see pilots who fly in a naive and reckless manner.

Unfortunately that’s all we had time for before Sean let me steer and we did those quick spins which made us lose altitude so quickly we were down the rest of the way in seconds.

Parapent Landing  The Macadames Parapent Landing 2  The Macadames

The landing was almost as smooth as the flight.

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If you’re looking for a reliable company to tick paragliding in the French Alps off your bucket list – go see Sean at Fly Chamonix.

And if you’re really into Paragliding, here is another site that lists the best flight sites around the world.

And what do you  know? Chamonix is at the top of the list. 

Anisa – The Macadames. xx

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