​A paragliding course for beginners – like a bird in the sky?

Natascha all prepared for flying, during our paragliding course for beginners

A 50th birthday is something special – and we wanted to do something special on Isa’s 50th birthday. For years we had toyed with the idea of paragliding – doing at least a tandem flight. But on a whim we signed up for a 4-day paragliding course for beginners in Austria.

Paraglier over the Aletsch Arena in Valais
Paragliding above the mountains- that is the goal

At 9 am we sit nervously in the lecture room together with about 15 other beginners. More of our fellow paragliding students are men than women. Many are younger than us, but some are older.

“What about your weight? Around 60 kg, I guess?”

Normally not one of the first questions you would ask a stranger, but the paragliding equipment comes in different sizes, according to the weight of the pilot. As we start the training in teams of two, sharing one paraglider, we have to find someone in the same weight range.

Isa's very first steps with the paraglider during the paragliding course for beginners

As it is quite windless, we go outside for the first training instructions: Familiarizing with the paraglider. Dozens of coloured lines lead from the thin fabric of the wing to our harness. After clipping into the harness and sorting the lines, it is time to pull up the wing for the first time. In theory this works like flying a kite – but this time we are strapped to the kite! If it were to fly, this kite would drag us over the meadow.

No warm winds for us, please!

In the afternoon we have our first lessons in paragliding theory. As a paraglider you have to learn a lot about the weather and the wind. The weather forecast predicts warm winds from Italy – this sounds nice, we think. But for paragliding, things are different. Warm winds falling from the mountains will push the pilot into the ground. instead, we need updraft from the valley to get into the air.

During the beginner's paragliding course, Isa is just so flying a few metres

But finally, we are on our way to the beginners’ slope. Laying out the paraglider, clipping into the harness, checking the ropes and then – the first start! We go running down the steep mountain like mad while bringing the paraglider vertically above the head. The trick is in the “vertical” part – if you drag it too far to the front you just fall head forward down the hill – something both of us experienced. Luckily, we did not get hurt.

Waiting for the right weather

Our small group of paragliding students spends a lot of time waiting for the right wind condition to get into the air. We are connected with the teacher via walkie-talkie and when he calls “Now” we run. And then we are in the air for about one or two minutes. And after that we have to climb up the steep hill again with 10 kg or so of unruly paragliding gear.

In the afternoon class, there is more meteorology. Cloud formations will tell you a lot about the weather but are quite dull if you watch endless pictures of them. When we arrive at aviation law nobody in the class is really able to follow the details.

One of the first landings with the paraglider in Stubaital

On the last day of the beginners’ paragliding course, all of us are in the air. We are still at the beginners slope, but we fly a distance of about 100 meters, 20 or 30 meters above the ground. A farmer is fertilizing the neighbouring field with slurry.

Sweet scent of paragliding

Natascha's first flight in our paragliding course in Stubaital

“Left! Left! Lean to the left!” comes the command from the instructor, increasingly high-pitched. And Natascha, who was too occupied with flying to hear him at first, finally does a slight left turn. But it’s already too late. With a slurping sound she lands at the fringe of the freshly fertilized field. For the rest of the day everybody keeps a distance to her.

But she is not the only one experiencing mishaps. Although we are connected wireless to the instructions of the teacher, we are all far too nervous to really listen, not to mention react. Romina takes a sharp turn and glides directly feet forward into a wooden fence. Luckily she is unhurt. “You see the other hole in the fence? That was me last year” another participant contributes. Generally paragliding is a very safe sport, the instructors assure us. The modern beginner paragliders practically fly on their own and would bring any pilot safely to the ground. The worst case would be to land in an inconvenient spot: You might end up in a tree, having to wait for rescue.

During our four day paragliding course for beginners we did not get to fly from a higher mountain, or for more than a few minutes. But we did get a taste of flying. And although it was quite scary we loved being in the air.

The intermediate course we had planned to do fell victim to the Corona pandemic. And anyway praragliding might be an inconvenient hobby for us. Having no car and no mountains nearby, the transport of all that heavy gear would be a challenge. But we are planing to do a tandem flight in the near future – and who knows – maybe we get hooked with flying and continue the paragliding training.

All about our particular paragliding course for beginners

Paraglider high above the Gesaeuse mountains, Austria

We did our 4 day paragliding course for beginners in Neustift in Stubai valley in Tyrol/ Austria with the Papillon paragliding school. The weather was not ideal during our stay and we could not finish all the flights we needed to continue to the intermediate course. Papillon is among the largest paragliding schools in Europe, with several training centres. Our instructors Jenny and Inge were very patient and encouraging. In Neustift, we could stay at the campsite conveniently close to the lift and the paragliding school. If we sign up for an intermediate course we might choose a spot with more reliable weather conditions.

NB: We were not sponsored for this paragliding course. We paid all expenses ourselves. We did publish a version of this text in German in our Tyrol guidebook “Dumont Reise-Taschenbuch Tirol“. Read more on our Tyrol research here.

18 Comments

  1. This is such a coincidence. I was just looking into traveling to the mountains and trying paragliding for the first time in my life. It looks so exciting, but at the same time, that moment of take off and landing sounds very scary too. I do hope to try it someday though.

  2. I have done over 150 skydives but have not yet tried paragliding. But whenever I see paragliders I get the urge to be back in the air. A four day course in Austria would be amazing. Such great scenery to enjoy as you float. I actually stopped skydiving when I got tired of spending days waiting for perfect weather. An issue with a short season in Canada. Glad you got a short taste of this great feeling.

    1. In that case you really should try paragliding. If you go for an 8 day course you will do your first high altitude flights as well. Fiesch in Switzerland or the Brenta region in Italy are also great spots to go paragliding. The waiting for the right weather though will be the same I guess – or even worse.

  3. Oh my God this is so awesome! Such a great idea to mark a milestone birthday. I would love to learn paragliding some day. I have done paragliding only once but I have not learned it ever. Thanks for this post, I will add this to my bucket list now and make sure I do the course with of course at such a beautiful location.

    1. It was a very good experience. Although if you want to be able to do high altitude or thermic flights independently you really have to commit. You will spent a lot of time with waiting for the right weather.

  4. I went tandem paragliding in Rio and it was an amazing experience. Learning to paragliding in Austria over those green fields looks gorgeous and what a way to celebrate a 50th birthday!

    1. Yes, it was really fun! But we also learnt, that you need a lot of patience and commitment for this sport. Persuing it as a hobby was not feasible for us. Of course it gets more interesting if you get higher up in the air!

  5. I have sweaty palms reading this! I’m terrified of any heights, and even though it was a beginner course, I still felt nervous! Weather really plays a big part in paragliding, the landscape is perfect for it too!

    1. I do not know if it is true – but the instructors assured us that even people who are afraid of height can learn paragliding.

  6. that is so freaking cool. sad you didn’t get to finish, but jeeze, just flying on your own had to be such a rush. i want to do this so badly. i might have missed this, but how much did it cost for the whole session?

    1. It was around 400 Euro for the 4 day course! We stayed at the campsite nearby and did our own cooking – so it was quite affordable.

  7. The first time I tried paragliding was not in the mountains but on a sea beach. The sad part was that as i was about to take off, came the rains and all my efforts came to vain. But one day I would really like to do this in the mountains. You motivated me again.

  8. The paragliding course is definitely exciting and adrenaline-lifting. It’s amazing to fly, soar like a bird, and watch the world from above. I don’t know if I would take such a course, but it must be a great adventure. Neustift in Stubai valley in Tyrol seems to be a perfect place for the course due to the breathtaking scenery.

    1. Yes the scenery is very nice and usually the weather is quite good for flying we heard. I think the waiting time for the right weather is something most people underestimate when starting out with such a sport.

    1. Actually paragliding is not a sport that is physically very demanding. The oldest participant was over 70, I think. Although you might be less carefree when you are older and more afraid of accidents. There was a young guy who broke his arm on the first day of the course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *