Paragliding (or parapente in French), has evolved steadily over the last 25 years. The first flights in France were made at nearby Mieussy with pilots flying converted skydiving wings from steep and windy mountains.
Modern paraglider design has improved vastly and recent designs now offer wings with easy handling characteristics with excellent performance.
The paraglider is a wing, rather than a parachute, having the ability to glide forwards rather than to simply descend vertically. Whilst the paraglider is a completely soft structure, with the pilot being suspended underneath, once the canopy has been inflated, it becomes a wing – similar in profile to an airplane wing.
Launching a paraglider requires a short run along a gentle slope, the wing the lifts the pilot off the ground – there is no sensation of falling, a good launch feels similar to an airplane taking off.
Once in flight, the pilot steers the paraglider and controls where he wishes to go. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a feeling of being completely supported by the wing, and even sufferers of vertigo generally feel at ease: the difference of looking out of the window of an aircraft – rather than standing on the edge of a cliff. The paraglider flys at a speed of around 35 – 40 kph / 20 – 25 mph.
Whilst the paraglider is always moving gently, almost imperceptibly, down through the air, if we find air that is rising quicker than the wing is descending, it is possible to maintain altitude, or even climb up. The most common source of rising air in the Alps are thermals – caused by the sun heating the ground.
It is quite possible to fly without wind as there is always air !
Strong winds and low cloud, or rain, usually mean that paragliding is not possible .
Landing requires a structured approach, bleeding off of altitude whilst staying in proximity of the landing field. Touchdown is generally gentle and necessitates a short run for around 5 metres.