Joe doesn’t die…

Not feeling in shape for a whole day of skiing I decided to have a go at paragliding. The last two years I've wanted to do it but weather conditions have never been appropriate. Mattias (our host) called his friend Rodolphe and arranged for him to take me out at 10am.

I put on my ski pants, gloves, hat and winter jacket and walked up the hill to the meeting point. I met Rodolphe on the edge of the slope. He shook my hand and dumped the large bag from his back into the snow. I stood back and watched as he unfolded and stretched out the parachute and untangled the mess of brightly coloured strings which attached to it. Many things were going through my mind - not least of which was the thought that those thin strings would be all that stopped me from plummeting earthwards once we were up in the air.

Rodolphe helped me put on the harness and buckled me in. My instructions were to run as fast as I could down the slope and to keep on running even if we left the ground (in case we came back down). I was concerned about how easy it would be to run as fast as I could down a snowy hill while attached to another man.

I stood in front of Rodolphe and he clipped my harness onto his. Patiently awaiting instructions I debated with myself about the safety of what was about to happen. One side of me was calmly (but with enough volume to drown out the thoughts of crashing into trees) telling me that I wouldn't be paying this guy if he didn't know what he was doing.

He told me to run. My clunky boots dug into the snow and we began to move forward. As suspected it was awkward trying to move in step with Rodolphe but we managed. As we gathered speed and moved further down the hill the snow became deeper and softer. My feet began to get caught up. We left the ground briefly - I dutifully kept my legs turning like a cartoon character who's just left the edge of a cliff but whose body has yet to realise gravity. We came down again and the chute overtook us pulling us both face down into the soft snow and dragging us a good 20 feet down the hill before we came to a stop. I was glad of the softness of the snow that had cushioned our collapse but not so much of the cold wetness of the amount that had filled my jacket, pants and shoes.

Righting ourselves and digging our way out of the snowy heap we made our way onto a freshly flattened piste. We weren't going to fall for the same thing twice. After Rodolphe laid out and checked the chute for a second time we emptied the snow from our shoes and prepared for a second attempt. I was hoping it wouldn't be a case of third time lucky.

Once more I ran down the hill as fast as my legs would carry me. Again I felt the ground fall from beneath my feet and this time we didn't come back down. I settled into a seated position in the harness as the wind carried us high above the slopes. Once more a voice in my head started to question the close proximity of the snow covered trees. To my inexperienced brain they looked very close and I wondered how we were going to avoid getting more intimate than I'd like. Rodolphe clearly knew what he was doing and piloted us carefully out of harm's way.

By this time I was feeling quite secure and enjoying the view. We were gliding down gently and there was plenty to take in. I looked down and could see all that was going on between the trees. A family of dear were carefully making their way down the slope while a huge hare had found a sunny break in the trees to soak up the rays.

We were 5 minutes into our journey when Rodolphe's phone rang. To my surprise he answered it. After giving the oblivious party his website address he asked them to call him back in 10 minutes. I think that's the coolest place I've ever witnessed someone take a phone call.

I tried to soak in as much of the view as possible. I couldn't wipe the grin from my face. Rodolphe asked me if I'd like to take the controls. He pointed upwards to the handles which were just hanging freely; evidently we'd been coasting with nobody at the wheel while he took photos and answered phone calls. I took a handle in each hand and he explained that all I had to do was lean to the side I wanted to turn and pull slightly on the same handle. I made a few turns as we approached the valley where we'd eventually land.

As we got closer to the open field below he asked me if I wanted a 'sensation' before we landed. I told him that would be great. He promptly stalled our flight and began to set us swinging as we fell quickly earthwards. The G-force was pretty strong and pulled at my intestines each time we reached the bottom of a swing. He then banked quickly to the right and we spun in a horizontal spiral downwards. My enjoyment was interrupted by that little voice exclaiming that we were now "getting pretty close to the roof of that house". One final dash downward (thankfully away from the house) followed by a quick tug upwards to brake our descent and my feet were back on the solid ground. We'd made it down the mountain and all my bones were in tact. It was an amazing experience and one I'm keen to repeat. I'm planning on heading back out there in the summer to learn to do it on my own. I highly recommend having a go if you get the opportunity.


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