With a real appreciation of the risks involved in paragliding I wanted to make sure I found what I considered to be the best place to learn. There is nothing wrong with slow and steady that I could achieve in the UK and it would definitely keep building up my knowledge bit by bit. But you can’t beat an intense period of learning to really boost it. So the prospect of a week somewhere paragliding about the place was all too appealing. After sifting through forums, websites and any other tips i could find I came across Verbier Summits. Run by Mike and Stu who are twins their soul moto is to be the best and safest paragliding school in the world came across as the winner. As the name suggests they are based in Verbier in the Alps of Switzerland. The fact that I would be surrounded by beautiful mountains, swiss/ french food and being outdoors all day was an added bonus.
I booked last minute and soon found myself on route to Switzerland. Despite a delayed flight by quite a few hours, resulting in me having to hire a rental car that I wasn’t expecting to in order to get up the mountain, I finally ended up at the chalet for the week in the very early hours of the morning. The benefit of this was I was running ridiculously late for my flight so despite the added inconvenience it meant I made my flight. I woke slightly groggy from the few hours of sleep i got to the sight of mountains all around. A quick breakfast and a boat load of coffee before hitting the classroom. We went through the agenda for the week. There was definitely going to be one day at least in the classroom as well as at the end or morning of somedays but the aim was to get us to be qualified to the club pilot level by the end of the week. There was a completely mixed group from beginners to experience paraglider's/ skydiver's and everything in between.
Taking the drive up to the gondola we pilled our paraglider into the cabin before diving into the gondola in front. Paraglider packs are not the smallest and it only took a few of them to fill a cabin. Arriving at the launch pad and it was an incredible sight. The views from high above the valley were incredible and we weren’t even flying at this point. They took us through the safety briefing again. Pointing out the various landmarks and ultimately the field we would be landing in. The difference between looking down on the Isle of Wight vs Verbier was equally daunting.
Setting up just the same as previously and then it was time to make my first flight. I was given the signal as the breeze began to run up the hillside. Our wind marker fluttering in the wind. I ran down the hillside. Feeling the wing rising above me and beginning to pull me from the hillside. Soon enough my feet were off the ground and i was flying out into the valley. I was also looking down several 1000 ft. The different conditions felt a bit bumpier initially than what I had previously experienced back in the UK but as I looked down on Verbier it was an incredible feeling. We were directed on the radios, initially this was very regular communication as they watched us all the way into the landing area but as the week progressed it became more about us feeling the glide. To pass we had to show a certain amount of competence from take off through to landing.
The final part of each flight being lining up the landing, as we approached had to consider the direction, speed and height as we came in. Observing the bright orange wind sock showing us the direction of the wind. I did of course have some nerves on each flight but as we progressed and I felt more confident these relaxed a little. As the week went on we managed 3 - 4 flights a day each being 30 mins or so and as we progressed they incorporated exercises into each of them. Building up our skills along the journey. I really enjoyed the experience of learning the new skills each day and you could see and feel the progression through the week. Towards the end we were making solo flights with a lot less input, they were obviously watching and making sure we didn’t do anything stupid but it still felt like we had a lot more within our control. We could start making journeys across the valley, making sure we avoided the other pilots as well as playing a bit of follow the leader.
It was certainly sad to see the end come to the week but it had been an incredible experience. I would highly recommend Verbier Summits as a paragliding school and certainly hope to join them in the future. We all qualified as club pilots, which sounds a lot more qualified than it really is. It is merely a small step in a much longer journey of learning about paragliding. If you fancy giving it a go why not check these guys out, high adventure on the isle of wight or there is always the BHPA (British hangliding and paragliding association) where you can search for an instructor near you.