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Planning your first paragliding trip?

Going on your first overseas trip is a real rite of passage for a new pilot. Since my first flying trip, I’ve flown all over the world and worked on trips for pilots of all levels of experience. But I still remember my very first trip! I didn’t really have any idea what to expect, or what I needed to do, but the school I learnt with were great andhelped me through all the preparations. So for any pilots out there thinking about their first overseas trip, here’s my checklist to get you started.

Choosing the right trip

Graham helping Chris into his first thermals. Photo from Fly Sussex

There are different kinds of flying trips so have a think about what kind of flying you want to do. If you’re a low airtime pilot, perfecting your basic flying skills and then learning to thermal well are probably your priorities so look for a course that covers this. There’s no point going on an cross country flying course until you know how to stay up. Most websites list minimum requirements. These are usually flexible depending on how current you are, but they are a good guide.

Get advice from your school or a coach. Ask other pilots what trips they’ve done and get recommendations. 

Rachael Evans, who runs Allez Up in Laragne, suggests: “I think the biggest thing is to make sure you go on your first trip abroad with an organised group, and a guide who really knows the area and is prepared to spend time helping you. Find out the best places to go by word of mouth, but don’t be tempted to tag along with a couple of friends who have been the the area once or twice before and say it will be lots cheaper that way – yes the overall cost might be less, but looking at flying done for money spent, an organised trip with a guide who understands the local weather and sites and a dedicated retrieve driver is invariably better flying value for money. And, of course, a much safer and more comfortable way to progress.”

Who is running the trip?

Speak to the person organising the trip. Do they answer all your questions? How well do they know the area you’re going to? How much help will they give you on the hill, in the air and debriefing flights? Will they go the extra mile to get you flying as much as possible? Whether or not you enjoy your flying trip depends a lot on the people running it. It’s important to have confidence in them! 

When and where to go

Not every site at every time of year is suitable for low airtime pilots. When you find a trip you’re interested in, ask around to check that it’s suitable for your level of experience. For your first trip, you should probably look for something with friendly conditions and nice big easy take-offs and landings.

Toby Colombe of Passion Paragliding adds: “One of the most important thing for new pilots to bear in mind when planning their first trips overseas is “venue”.  As a new pilot getting easy airtime in a safe environment should probably be your goal. There’s no point rocking up to the XC capital of the world when conditions are too strong for a new pilot.  Choose a reliable venue that offers easy airtime.”

Expectations

On my first flying trip, I got two sinky top to bottoms all week! OK, so I was unlucky, but it does happen. No matter how reliable a place or how well planned a trip is, the weather can still throw you curve-ball and mess up all the best laid plans! Also, just like in the UK, just because it’s flyable, that doesn’t mean it’s flyable for you. It’s up to your guide or instructor to get you as much SAFE flying suitable for your level as they can.

Paul forward launching at St Hilaire. Photo from Fly Sussex

Attitude

You’re a qualified pilot. You know that making sensible decisions and having a sensible attitude to flying is crucial for a long and safe flying career. But some pilots get into holiday mode – I’m here to fly, so I’m going to FLY! They take risks they wouldn’t take at home and fly in conditions they’d normally avoid. Don’t leave your common sense at home! 

Preparation

A good beginners’ trip will cover anything you need to know. That said, doing a bit of research about the place you’re going and reading a bit about thermal flying will definitely put you on a good footing when you get there.

But even more important than this, try to be current when you go. Flying new sites makes even experienced pilots feel nervous. And if you’re going to the mountains, the sites may be bigger than anything you’ve flown before, so that can feel a bit intimidating. It helps you overcome the nerves if you are relatively confident with your take-offs and landings – both in strong and very light winds.

Even ground-handling helps if you can’t get out flying. When was the last time you did a forward launch? You may need it!

Insurance

Accidents do happen. They’re no fun wherever you are, but imagine being stuck in a foreign hospital with no way of getting home for weeks on end. This is a real possibility if you don’t have insurance.

Your insurance can be part of a travel insurance policy or a separate sports insurance. Whichever you choose, it must explicitly state that it covers paragliding. Phone your insurance company and check it covers free flying on your own – not just a tandem flight! It should include search and rescue by helicopter, personal accident, medical and repatriation costs in the event of an accident and third party liability insurance. Mateo Manzari has been compiling information on different insurance policies and providers  – Got Paragliding Insurance?

Most insurance policies go nowhere near paying out the value of full paragliding kit if it’s lost in transit or damaged so it’s also a good idea to insure your sports equipment separately.

For European pilots, don’t miss out on getting an EHIC card (www.ehic.org.uk). This may be a condition of your insurance anyway. And even if it’s not, it takes much of the hassle out of getting hospital treatment anywhere in Europe.

Irwyn Jehu, owner of Maison du Moulin, Annecy: “When pilots venture abroad they think ‘insurance’ but the most important thing if you ever have an accident is the speed and quality of response. Annecy for example has free expert heli search and rescue backed up by the best medical service in the world. Many places have nothing. If going abroad head for civilisation.”

Lee flies out with Tim on a boaty evening flight from St Hilaire. Photo from Fly Sussex

Essential kit

The kit you need can vary a little depending on where you’re going and who you’re going with, so do ask. But as a rough guide, the following are a must:

  • Wing, harness, helmet and reserve – all in good condition.
  • A 2m radio with headset. Check it is unlocked and you know how to use it before you go!
  • A vario
  • Water pouch/platypus for drinking in flight
  • Clothing – layers – it can be baking on take-off, but cold once you get up in the air!

Getting there

If you go on the flying forums, you will also see lots of conversations and advice about flying with paragliding kit, particularly baggage allowances. When you choose a flight, check what’s included and how much extra you need to pay to take sports equipment.

Most trips include an airport transfer at a set time. Double check your flights fit in with this before booking otherwise you could be left with a very expensive taxi ride!

Accommodation

As with any holiday, this also varies from trip to trip. You may be staying in the lap of luxury with a pool and all meals included, or in basic bunk rooms in a self catering hut! If you care about this, ask before you get there! It’s usual to have to share accommodation, so if having your own room is important to you, make sure you let the organisers know. 

Should I bring my partner?

You can sometimes take your partner on your flying holidays, but flying holidays don’t suit everyone. If you’re out flying all day, you may not get home until 10pm! And when you get back, the conversation round the table may be all about the day’s flying. For those who are happy to do their own thing, it’s fine. Some people love just chilling in the landing field watching the flying happen. But if your other half is expecting you to be the attentive partner, you may be putting yourself in a situation where you’re going to be torn between them and going flying 😉

For more info on the topic, also have a listen to our podcast on paragliding guiding with Toby Colombe, Kelly Farina and Adam Hill.

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