Paragliding Basics

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Paragliding
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Today we give you a little insight into the world of paragliding. From the equipment to the various disciplines all the way to the necessary training, we will provide you with the essential information.

Paragliding equipment

Harness: A harness should be replaced every five to ten years, depending on how often it is used. I have a very light harness for Hike & Fly (costs around €500) and an aerodynamic lying harness (costs around €1200) for cross country flying.

Emergency reserve parachute: The reserve parachute costs roughly €800 and has to be inspected regularly by a certified company to ensure quality and safety and then repacked.

Paraglider: A paraglider can be used for five years or longer. It must also be checked regularly by a certified company. I have an extremely light Hike & Fly parachute (costs about €2300) and a paraglider (costs about €3500) for cross country flying.

Optional: Variometer, GPS device, tandem equipment.

Dominik Tschoder in Bassano del Grappa
Dominik Tschoder in Bassano del Grappa

How does paragliding work?

The pilot sits in a harness with a built in emergency reserve parachute. The harness is also attached to the normal paraglider. On a mountain you start on foot or with a winch rope. Paragliding should not be confused with kite flying, base jumping, speed flying or skydiving. Paragliding consists of the following disciplines:

Hike & Fly

The mostly widely performed discipline of this sport is Hike & Fly. Here you will begin on the mountain on foot and then proceed to fly. A pilot will have extremely light equipment for this. The harness, emergency reserve parachute and paraglider normally weighs no more than five kilograms. The most famous Hike & Fly competition is the Redbull Xalps, where the pilots have to cross mountains from Salzburg to Monaco by foot and in the air. Swiss’ Chrigel Maurer, four time winner of the Redbull Xalps, makes it in less than nine days. Check out Redbull Dolomitenmann.

Cross Country Flying

When pilots fly cross country they use thermals to gain altitude helping them glide over a distance to the next thermal. This is why the equipment is the heaviest.  For flights up to 12 hours, sitting harnesses are not used, rather lying harnesses as they are more aerodynamic and warmer. Bottles or bags are also carried containing water and snacks. In order to relieve oneself, a urinal condom or a diaper can be used. So that you know whether you are in a thermal or not, you need a variometer. You can use a GPS to record the flight. 

There are cross country flying competitions held within local associations as well as at the national and world level. There are many possibilities for one to compare their skills with those of their peers. The following video will give you a preview of cross country flying. Clip from the Paragliding World Cup.

Tandem flying

For all non-pilots, tandem flying is a great opportunity to experience flying. The equipment consists of a passenger harness, a pilot harness with a emergency reserve parachute and a paraglider. Due to the increased weight, the paraglider used for tandem flying is bigger than that for a solo flight. You will be in front of the pilot and during the flight you do not have to do anything. Wherever there are mountains, you can buy a tandem flight.  A voucher for a tandem flight is a popular gift idea.

Tandem flying in Galtür
Tandem flying in Galtür in the Paznaun valley

Acro

The extreme style of paragliding is called Acro. With sprials, helicopters, tumbling, loops, etc. a pilot puts his paragleider in extreme conditions. Due to saftey reasons, Acro paragliding is mainfly performed over lakes.

What training / certifications do I need?

Training takes place in flight schools with flight instructors. There you will work through the necessary steps to become a pilot. These steps are the same in Austria and Germany, only the names differ. Here is the Austrian version:

Fundamental course: You attend a theory course where subjects such as weather, material and aerodynamics are covered. This is followed by a final exam. Upon completion and after practicing running and pull-up exercises, you are allowed to take-off. There is an instructor located at both the take-off and landing areas. They give you instruction via radio and the required equipment is often provided by the school. Once you have accumulated around 20 flights, you will have a practical test, in which you have to demostrate sound start and landing phases. If successful, you can fly under the supervision of an instructor. This costs about €500.

Special pilot licence: For this licence you will also attend a theory course. You will learn about weather, material and aerodynamics in greater detail. After completing the theory test, you must accumulate a certain number of flying hours as part of the practical component. Once you have done this, you may sit a practical test consisting of independent take-off and landings. Provided you are successful in this, you can now fly without supervision. This costs roughly €500.

Cross country flight certification: This certification is necessary for cross country flights.  As soon as you are more than ten kilometers from your starting point it is considered to be a cross country flight. In the theory component you will learn even more about weather and the different air spaces (no fly zones etc.). In the practical part you have to plan a route and fly it using a GPS device. This costs about €350.

To pass subsequent exams, you must first complete all previous exams.

Tandem licence: Under the supervision of a flight school, you have to perform 100 flights with a passenger. This will be followed by a practical test. Here you will have to demonstrate sound take-off and landing phases.

Flight instructor: Training as an assistant flight instructor and subsequent training to become a state-certified flight instructor.

Is Paragliding dangerous?

As a general rule you should always closely observe the weather forecast and the current weather conditions. If you have checked the weather and your equipment, it is very unlikely that something will happen to you. There are also different paragliders to suit different skill levels. Be sure to choose one that matches your ability, or consult your flight school if you are unsure. Should you hit some turbulence or if your paraglider does not open anymore, you still have your emergency reserve parachute. This works like a parachute and brings you down to the ground. To avoid stumbling during the start and/or landing phases, you should wear a sturdy hiking boot.

Paragliding, emergency rescue parachute
Paragliding, emergency rescue parachute

In high-pressure situations, for example during competition, mistakes can happen, which may result in accidents.  In the following video at 01:18 you will see me fall. Fortunately, I walked away with just a few bruises.

Have you ever flown or do you fly regularly? Where is your favourite place to fly?

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