Hang gliding and Paragliding in the Alps

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You often see para or hang gliders circling overhead while wandering around the town or the slopes. I’m never quite sure whether they are the result of tourist provision or serious sports people. Having done a bit of digging around it seems to be a bit of both.

My brother in-law used our place last year during the spring to do some hang gliding the local area friends from his UK club in  and seemed impressed, which is one perspective.  Last year also saw friends of ours with a 7 year old son treat him to a parapente experience, i.e. a tandem paraglide for his birthday, so I suppose that’s a personal example of both.

It’s the more serious stuff I’m intrigued in though, as during the lift opening seasons it seems pretty obvious where you can launch from and fly.  So where can you launch and land when the lifts are closed?

Firstly I  discovered this map  by Oliver Guenay which at least confirmed that Chamonix was a serious location in terms of flying.  Given that the  mountains  perhaps provide the best thermalling and cross country scenery it might not be a surprise.

from a book by Oliver Guenay
from a book by Oliver Guenay

Then I found this great appraisal of the area from The Alpine Flying Centre. (They are a British BHPA school and offer BHPA – EPC and CPC paragliding beginner courses from April to November). Their review gives a great feeling for the types of flying during different times of the year. Extracts below:

Winter:

  • During mid-winter months Chamonix has excellent and gentle flying, ideal for the new alpine pilot wanting to experience massive top to bottoms, gaining air experience and learning more about alpine launching and landing approach techniques in high altitudes conditions.
  • From early February onwards the sun reaches the valley and good thermals rise giving excellent conditions. The potential cross country flying is then very good: ‘cats-cradles’, triangles, out and returns or straight distance flights are possible.
  • To leave the valley in the Passy/Varan direction to the west you will need to be at least 2700 metres asl. and have very light winds. Any significant wind from the west will slow your progress. The ground speed reading from a GPS will assist.
  • To venture off in the direction of Verbier to the east you will need a day with very little or a very light westerly wind, and easy height gains to 3000 metres or more. There are often very strong valley breezes down low in the Martigny Valley in Switzerland so care is needed!

Spring & Summer

  • Spring and summer offer a variation of conditions that can become quite strong by early to mid- afternoon. Excellent flying can be found during the early part of the day and late in the afternoon and evening but then from Plan l Aiguille on the other side of the valley.
  • In spring and summer and when the conditions become too strong in Chamonix Valley, it is worth driving down to Plaine Joux, opposite the viaduct, just outside the valley to the south west.

Autumn

  • The autumn weather in Chamonix provides much smoother flying conditions, however, many of the cable cars may be closed for maintenance, making access to some sites impossible. So check for opening/closure times.

 

They have even helpfully put together a site guide, which details etiquette, launch and landing sites with co-ordinates, along with access and hazards to be aware.  A very thorough document that can be checked out here.

So, yes, there does seem to be plenty of sites still available when the lifts are closed.

So now to track down these people who have flown to tell their tales and  see if I can borrow some photos…

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2 thoughts on “Hang gliding and Paragliding in the Alps

    […] weather was fantastic and made ideal flying weather for the paragliders and hang gliders, presenting a fantastic sight in the air above the valley.  Some were even brave enough to jump […]

    […] my earlier blog about hand gliding in the alps and the links within it, it makes reference to the potential hairy landing site in the middle of […]

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