Parapenting / paragliding in Chamonix

In a recent visit to Chamonix in the French Alps I was lucky enough to experience a tandem parapent. After living in Chamonix for a long while, it’s something that has always been a temptation, as on most sunny days you can look up to skies and see a swarm of parapenters floating around the sides of the valley. With such a big vertical difference between the lift accessed areas and the valley floor and such stunning scenery, it is the ideal place for it.

Parapenting basically involves running off the side of a mountain with a large gliding canopy attached to you, in a parachute style. There’s no freefall involved though, this has a far closer relationship with hang-gliding. Not being the best with heights, this might not have been the most sensible thing to sign up to, but I don’t like to let vertigo get in the way of new experiences!

D-day was beautiful and sunny, so I was sure to have some amazing views. I was a little concerned with the wind that seemed to be building on the run up to my flight, but my pilot, Jean-Charles, cheerily put my worries to rest and told us that we’d have an amazing flight.

Unfortunately there was a lot of time for tension and nerves to build as I stood on the side of a cliff in Brevent and watched JC prepare the canopy. As far as I was concerned he could take as long as he wanted making sure that it was safe… seeing as it was going to be holding us a kilometre and a half above the valley floor!

Everything happened very quickly once JC called me over to strap me in. He gave me simple instructions about taking off – something along the line of “run, then run… then when you can’t run, keep running” – and we were away. The ground disappeared below us before I could really register and we were sailing very quickly towards another cliff. Thankfully, it was apparent from the start that I was in very good hands, as JC gracefully navigated us around and swooping back over our take-off point for a nice little photo opportunity.

I was then given a lesson about the thermals that are key to hang-gliding and parapenting, when we hugged the rocky side of the mountain and used the hot winds coming off the rocks to propel the canopy upwards. This was a very strange sensation that I wasn’t expecting. It really felt like you were being blown around like an empty carrier bag on a blustery day. It certainly did the trick though as we reached our cruising altitude at around 2,500m.

This was the point where we left the cliff faces and glided out into the centre of the valley (1,500m below) towards the Bosson Glacier and Mont Blanc. This gave a completely different perspective of Chamonix town, which I had gazed upon hundreds of times before from the valley walls. It’s the kind of perspective that could only be seen otherwise by helicopter, and it was stunning. As we slowly drifted downwards, JC asked if I’d like to “do some tricks” towards the end. Although my knuckles were already white from clinging on for dear life, I had to say yes, not wanting to miss out on an experience.

The pair of us lent from side to side in a rhythm, as JC steered the canopy. Within seconds we were flipping from side to side in an inverted figure of eight fashion. One instant we were level with the canopy, the next we seemed to be above it and facing the ground! It felt like the craziest rollercoaster.

Landing was a sudden as the take-off (with a similar running principle) and although the flight time was around 25 minutes, the whole experience seemed like it lasted no time at all.

So, I can highly recommend parapenting (excuse the pun). It’s certainly one thing that I’m please to have crossed off my list… next stop skydive!

There are plenty of companies to go parapenting with in Chamonix, but I had a great experience with Les Ailes du Month Blanc, Jean Charles was excellent and the lady in the office was very helpful (and spoke very good English).

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| April 19th, 2010 | Posted in: Destinations, Photos & Videos, Stuff We Like

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