PARAGLIDING IN FRANCE
With Steve Newcombe
One year since getting my CP, and progress is slowing down. After several hours ridge soaring last Autumn/Winter, this year has seen only an hour snatched from the fickle UK weather. I’ve sample some of the delights of flying in thermic conditions, flying a few figures of eights before the thermal sneaks off behind the hill, not trying to stay with it due to lack of space and courage.
Still never mind, off on the Airsports Alpine trip to France. Mike’s well-organised holiday has nine of us staying in Anna and Simon’s comfortable chalet in Morzine, with superb food and virtually unlimited wine. The weather is quite unsettled for July, but we manage to go flying nearly everyday helped by Tony, our minibus driver, happily enduring our early starts and late finishes. The scenery is spectacular, the top to bottom heights are huge, other gliders are but distance crescents in the sky, and the landing areas are football-field sized, these French are spoilt!
The last day of the holiday is here; we’ve all had memorable flights, especially soaring in the ridge lift along the huge cliffs above the village of Meussy, the best flight of my life so far. The minibus struggles up to the top of another mountain overlooking Samoen village. We all take off without drama having had plenty of practise with the alpine launch. On the way down there are patches of lift over the tree lined slopes, but the lift eventually fades and the continuous whine from the vario returns. Over the river at the foot of the Mountain, and the last of the trees, with the landing field 600 feet below. Feeling relaxed with the field within easy reach, I’m desperately keen to find something to work, as this could be the last flight of the trip. It’s amazing how quickly one is not quite so content with a straight 3000-foot descent any more. A minute later the vario give a reassuring beep, I turn and start to circle, wondering if its just a small teaser of a thermal, but no, I’m still going up – just. Another circle and... oops now I’m sinking, is that going to be it? I tighten my turn, paranoid that my ascending friend has now vanished for ever, have more faith he’s still there and the beep rate picks up, I straightened up and then try to hold a steady flat circle, concentrating hard, trying to keep things smooth in a gentle climb. This continues for a dozen circles and a just few minutes, but seems like forever. I’m conscious of drifting slowly downwind in the gentle valley wind away from the field and decide reluctantly to leave, and safely land, euphoric that I have stayed briefly with my first thermal. Too a seasoned pilot, this is obviously second nature and probably expects to do it on most flights, but too a fledgling flyer this is a wonderful feeling. The Alps is a marvellous training ground as it gives the space to improve techniques, without the constant worry you get in the UK of flying into the hill or other pilots and would recommend a trip there to anyone.