Saturday, May 2, 2020

Would you go paragliding in the Alps?

Years ago during our first visit to Switzerland, Larry and I became enthralled with paragliding. We watched as people like us ran to the edge of a mountain and jumped off—only to be lifted gracefully upwards as winds caught the billowing parachute attached to their harness. It looked so amazing that we vowed not to let opportunity escape again if we were ever in that part of the world.
Views of mountains from the town of Chamonix, France, at the foot of the Alps
Two years ago we spent time in Geneva,Switzerland between cruises. Following an ocean cruise around the United Kingdom we were booked on a Rhine River cruise that left from Basel, Switzerland. Geneva seemed like a great place to spend the five days between—and paragliding was popular there.

We didn't realize when we took this photo from the town that we would later
soar over the glacier in the mountains.
Once we checked out this adventure from Geneva, we realized that our option was to launch from a small mountain just outside of Geneva and to sail primarily over the city—not exactly what we hoped for. The better option was to drive an hour into France and tandem paraglide from a mountain in the Alps near the charming tourist town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.

So that’s what we booked!

Now, driving in Europe can be a challenge, especially when you don’t speak the language. But we found our way there and then drove around the town several times before finding a parking lot that was open (many tourists visit Chamonix). Following instructions from our guides, we located the cable car that would take us up the mountain for our adventure.
A beautiful day and spectacular views!
Since we arrived several hours before our scheduled flight, we wandered around the shops and restaurants of the town, had lunch, and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain scenery (including Mont Blanc). The weather was perfect for our ride up on the cable car to our take-off point, and views of the countryside were stunning.

Getting the parachute ready on the mountainside before harnessing up to paraglide.
As soon as we disembarked the cable car, our guide Oliver hurried Larry to the edge of the mountain, while Xavier took charge of me. We had a helmet to put on and a harness to get strapped into while the guide positioned himself behind the passenger. The guide would steer the contraption, freeing us to breathe freely and take in this incredible experience.

Larry has just taken off--flying over the mountains (not the guy getting ready to go!)
Before I was even hooked into my harness, Larry and Oliver were on their way off the mountain and quickly gliding in the air. No time for fear!

Soon Xavier and I followed. What a sensation it was, leaving firm ground and making myself sit back into the harness/seat and relax while the guide behind me struggled to free his GoPro camera that was tangled in the cables (thankfully, I didn’t know that at the time).

Larry and guide Oliver soar over the mountains.
Camera in hand, I excitedly tried to take pictures of our surroundings—and of Larry and Oliver, who were fast drifting out of range.  As wind currents quickly lifted us we followed them to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), the largest glacier in France and a big attraction for visitors to the Chamonix Valley.
Although he may look less than thrilled, Larry really did enjoy the experience.
Xavier and I soared beside mountains and over forests. For about half an hour we drifted leisurely, and I tried to absorb as much as possible of the glorious landscape as we eventually glided toward the ground.
Smooth landing in a field near town. Beverly gets unharnessed.
Paragliding was every bit as exciting as expected. While it can be hazardous if weather conditions aren’t suitable or the operator isn’t experienced enough, we felt very safe in the capable hands of our guides. If you chose to do this, be sure to book with an established company that has a good safety record for tandem rides. Then don’t look back—just do it!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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