Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jumping off mountains

On Saturday I got back from a week paragliding at Mayhofen in the Ziller Valley in Austria. On the minus side, three and a half of my six days were blown out - too windy or unstable to fly safely. This was very frustrating, especially as these dangerous days in the Alps can look just fine - clear blue skies, sunshine, hardly any wind - but strong southerly winds at high levels can produce massive turbulence reaching down into the valleys to catch out the unwary. On Wednesday morning for example we went up the gondola to Penken to have a look, Kelly pronounced the day "toast, man", the others went back down after coffee to find something else to do, while I spent the whole day up there sheltering from the sunshine, watching the marmots and buzzards, and even grinding my teeth in frustration as two paragliders set up their wings and flew down into the valley - apparently unscathed.

On the plus side, when we did get the go-ahead to fly, it was simply awesome. Even a simple top-to-bottom - launching at 6000ft, flying out over the woods and cliffs towards the valley floor 4000ft below - took nearly half an hour and was an incredible experience. And I had a couple of flights where I was managing to get at least some lift from small thermals along the way, though the conditions were generally very light.

I have had three foreign trips now since I qualified last autumn. I suppose I thought that getting away from England would guarantee endless days of perfect flying conditions, but the reality is that wherever you go, you are in the hands of fickle weather conditions. This sport requires huge reserves of patience wherever you go. And of course a blown-out day in Austria is costing you a whole lot more money than a blown-out day in England!

For comparison here are the figures:

November 2005
Lanzarote (Green Dragons)
Blown out days: 1 out of 6
Flying time: 4.5 hrs
Highlights: reaching cloudbase; great company

May 2006
Dune de Pyla (Flight Culture)
Blown out days: almost 6 out of 6
Flying time: 15 mins
Highlights: lots of ground handling; amazing food

June 2006
Zillertal (Austrian Arena)
Blown out days: 3.5 out of 6
Flying time: 3 hrs
Highlights: massive heights; losing my red ribbon!



Iain said...

Good for you. What's a red ribbon?

Peter said...

It's like an L-plate for paragliders with less than 10 hours. It says "Keep away, I'm an idiot!"