Paragliding in Switzerland

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.  


Paragliding in the UK

I have been debating whether or not to write about paragliding for a while. Partly because it has now been a couple of years ago since I did it. But, more importantly, by far, is I unfortunately had a family member who was killed during a sky dive and a few friends who have been injured paragliding. So making the decision to have a go is filled with so many thoughts, questions and concerns mixed in with the excitement of trying something that I have watched for years.

Going back to 2008 I got my first taste of paragliding. I was out in Argentina on a ski trip where we heard of someone offering paragliding tandem jumps. It was near my birthday and I jumped at the opportunity. There wasn't a huge amount of lift that day so it was a fairly short flight but nonetheless it sparked an idea to try it again one day.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had my chance. Whilst on Baffin Island I had been listening to a audio book called Hanging in There by Jon Chambers. It's quite a niche subject but despite not knowing much about paragliding I enjoyed it as it helped pass the time away. It was interesting hearing about how they pushed the limits of technical skill and ability during the competition as well as inspiring me to have another go at the sport of paragliding. 


Once back in the UK from Canada I had a look round and came across High Adventure Paragliding on the Isle of Wight. Finding a route over from Southampton was easy enough and I made my first journey over to the Island. Jumping on the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth. I sat on the top deck in the glorious sunshine as it pulled away into the channel not far from Christchurch where I had previously practised ocean rowing. I met up with Pad the instructor where he went over how we would progress and an introduction to paragliding. Outside the office sat a swing setup like a paraglider without the wing where we could go over some of the basics before we headed out to the hill. 

Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck

Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck


Pad took the time to show me how to setup the wing as we laid it out for the first time in a small valley looking out onto the sea. I could see in the distance small white horses gleaming in the sunshine.The sea breeze channelled up this small gorge providing the lift for us to play on. He talked me through it bit by bit before showing me the first short flight of him lifting and dropping down safely. The main point being to concentrate on each section of the journey and breaking it down into shorter sections. The first bit being the take off. Wing primed it was a case of waiting for the right breeze before running down the hill. Bit by bit the wing would rise above before it felt like you couldn’t run downhill as it started to lift me from the hillside. Focussing on the direction I wanted to go i ran harder, i probably looked like some odd bird desperately trying to take off in a completely ungraceful manner. I was finally up and enjoying my short and sweet flight back down to the grassy slope beneath me as I was directed on the radio.

Paragliding swing

Paragliding swing


The day was spent making longer and longer walks up the hill, setting up under the supervision of Pad before waiting for his signal and taking off for a small hop down the field. The feeling each time was incredible with that small piece of weightlessness cruising  down the field and landing. It is of course a big learning curve and I was trying to absorb as much as I could with the terminology and new technique. In the midst of all this I even forgot to about lunch which soon passed me by.



As conditions became stronger into the early evening it was time to call it a day. We finished up with a tandem ride. Taking off near one of the cliffs we cruised backwards and forwards on the sea breeze. It gave me a true feel for what it would be like to be able to paraglide by myself with nothing but the wind on my face. I even got a go at steering us along the cliff line. 

We made our final top landing on the cliff before packing up. We made our way back to the ferry and I was excited about my next time already. 



With me being a beginner and it being Britain that next flyable day took a bit longer than expected. But soon enough I was on day 2. This time from a slightly different location and a bit of a longer path to fly. I got to practise some reverse launches. This is where you get your paraglide to form a bank in front of you further up the slope as you fill each of the pockets. Once ready and with the wind at the right level towards you I would pull the paraglider up where it would ideally slowly rise above me before I would smoothly turn around and run down the slope. After I got the knack of remembering which way to turn around, the lines at this point are twisted over one another, I quite liked this method. It was a lot more visual and i felt you could see what was happening through each stage. 

Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Again a lot of the day was spent marching up and down the hill. Each landing meant the packing up of the wing before quick marching back up the hill for the next round. Not wanting to miss out on potential flying time I marched up and down as much as I could. By the end of the day there was a bit more flying to do and a written test to complete the first stage. I managed a couple of more days in the UK each time heading higher up the hill side and getting more valuable air time.

At this stage though I got the opportunity for a week of intense paragliding.