• Caitlin Kennedy

Up, Up and Away

Courtesy of Val d'Isere Parapente

To paraphrase the lyrical genius of Robbie Williams, I always believed I could fly. As a child, it was a dead cert in my mind that when I grew up I would be able to soar through the air; the thing was just a matter of time and enough practice leaping off my bed. This is probably why it broke. When the dreadful truth finally dawned on me and it became apparent it was not my lifelong destiny to fly, I started looking for ways around this conundrum. Although skiing makes for a pretty good substitute, this week I finally found my wings in the form of a man called Stephan and his paragliding canopy.

After years of looking up to the skies with wishful longing at the graceful gliders that float above Val d’Isere, it was finally my turn to take to the air. My Dad is out this week and he was the kind benefactor of the gift of flight. We arrived at the top of the Solaise where we met the two men who would be in charge of our lives for the next 10 minutes. Stephan, who runs Val d’Isere Parapente, has been flying for 35 years and offering tandem flights for 20 of those. By night, he becomes a pistebasher driver, so he is a seriously cool person who has made excellent life decisions. He also has an exceptionally good knowledge of the mountains and you really couldn’t feel in safer hands.

We were swiftly positioned at the edge of a lip and attached to the paraglider, looking out over a beautiful, late afternoon Val d’Isere. But if the view from here was good, it was about to become phenomenal. Once ready to go, we were told to ski in a straight line towards a rather large cliff. Never one to be put off by a large drop, I happily obliged and before I knew it, we had left the ground and were smoothly lifting up, up into the sky. Stephan quickly ascertained that extreme things are right up my street, so we swooped low over some cliffs just past the Solaise bubble before looping back round to the piste, practically skiing on the groundlings’ helmets. After a few royal waves to the minions below, we glided up into the air where there came into view the most spectacular vista of the Tignes Lake.

Courtesy of Val d'Isere Parapente

Apparently in the depths of winter, flights are shorter as there are far fewer thermals, the warm air currents which lift birds and paragliders high above the ground. This meant our flight was short and thrilling, so to make the most of our time in the air, Stephan made an executive decision to go for the G force and we spun to the ground, my stomach doing backflips. Without a doubt, the flight beat an icy chock-a-block ski down Solaise any day.

Paragliding should come with a health warning though as it’s hella addictive. I’m already contemplating spending all the money that I don’t have on learning how to fly solo and considering where I’ll keep the canopy that I may or may not have been eyeing up on ebay.

Thank you to Stephan and Gilles, our fantastic flyers. Book direct with Val d’Isere Parapente (http://www.valdisere-parapente.com/) on 06 80 48 47 96. Or go through Evolution 2, who you can find in Snowberry Streetside.

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