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Around the world in 30 days: Paragliding in St Andres Les Alpes

Updated on October 26, 2011

After deciding that sky diving was too scary for me and that the bit I loved was the parachute part, we decided to do what the French call “Parapente”, paragliding in English.

The first year we  went to Saint-Andres-Les-Alpes, I went to the beginners course with the aim to do one big flight of twenty minutes after a whole week of training.  When we finally did it, it was amazing.  Running off a big mountain is not as easy as one would imagine [ It was actually 810 metres, but it looked bigger than it sounds when you have to run off it!].  First of all, if there is wind blowing, you don’t have to run very fast and very far.   However, if there is no wind at all then you need to get those legs moving fast as in theory the take off speed required for a parachute is 25 km/hr.  At my best I can run a mere 10 km/hr.  So you can all see there is a slight mathemitical problem here.

We had an interesting thing happen when the 11 of us did our first big flights.  When we were all down, the instructors seemed to be looking worriedly at somebody in the sky.  In fact it was the last person on our course.  She was still up there and it seemed like she could not come down.  How bizarre an idea that somebody cannot fall from the sky!  What happened was that it was late in the afternoon on a particularly hot day and the thermals rising were stronger than usual.  For an experience paraglider this is heaven as they can stay there as long as they want.  But the girl on our course was also getting quite nervous.  The instructors had to give her a bit of an advanced training how to come down in a thermal.  So while we all had twenty minutes flights, she was up there for forty minutes.  So we had to wait a while before the first big flight champagne bottle was opened.

In the air
In the air | Source

The following year we went back and it was great because I was then doing these so called big flights every morning and every afternoon, weather permitting. At the end of the week I had 13 big flights in my log book.

What is so great about flying a parachute?

This sensation of taking off and suddenly having your whole body moving is an utter feeling of freedom that is very difficult to experience in our daily lives. The breeze on your cheeks and down below you can see our world while not being part of that world while circling literally like a bird. It is not an adrenaline fix when up in the air, nothing like jumping off a plane.

What are the dangers of paragliding?

There are still many risks and dangers associated with paragliding.

The take off can be very dangerous as you may not have enough speed to clear trees on the landing strip. This happened to me on my last jump. There was no wind and I had to really run but I felt I was fast enough, so I tried to correct and changed my direction towards some trees to the left and end up flying through the top branches of the trees and luck was on my side and my parachute did not collapse and I was in the air with a few twigs and leaves attached to me, and my radio knocked out of place.

Landing is one of the most hazardous time as we do have to get very close to electric lines, buildings, roads and traffic and vegetation. There was one landing strip that was a few metres away from a ditch with thorn bushes and of course I ended up there once!

There is always the risk of something going wrong with your parachute. If your parachute collapses, then you have to gather it all in your hands before deploying the emergency chute, in order to prevent the two parachutes getting tangled up. Well the odds of managing all that if you are in a panic is pretty low for a beginner, but experienced paragliders do have special training over water to master these skills.

Finally the biggest hazard is other paragliders in the sky.  There are some crazy guys out there, who are not paying attention to other paragliders.  So you have to watch out to avoid any head on collisions or colliding with somebody underneath during your ascent.

Lac Castillon
Lac Castillon | Source

Saint Andres les Alpes Information

Saint Andres les Alpes is one of France’s best kept secret. It is set amidst the stunning Verdun gorges on the shores of a lake Castillon.

We stayed at Hotel Lac et Foret both times and it was lovely. We managed to get the one room with a balcony and from there you can watch all the paragliders and handgliders land.

To get there, the best way is to fly to Nice and then hire a car and it is an hour and a half drive on a very picturesque country road.


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      Traveller 7 years ago

      This really sounds like one of France's best kept secret. Look forward to hearing of others! I live in Uk and would love to explore France.