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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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.