Simply defined, paragliding is flying from a slope or a cliff wearing a wide, light-weight, foot-launched glider. If you're looking for an unforgettable summer activity, tandem paragliding is a great choice.
American born and a Swiss qualified tandem paragliding pilot, Peter Greis, who has nearly 2,000 flights and 900 flight hours under his belt, kindly agreed to explain the basics of paragliding in Switzerland.
Peter, you have been flying solo and tandem flights in Switzerland and the US for almost 20 years and have taken numerous novices on their first tandem journey. You even take your young kids to fly with you. Does it mean paragliding is safe?
It is very safe. While not without risk, the training that Swiss pilots, including tandem pilots, receive is the most extensive that I have come across. But when in doubt, always feel free to ask your prospective pilot when and where they qualified, how many flights and how many flight hours they have. And yes, my two boys flew with me on the tandem when they were three and four years old (there are harness custom-built for young passengers).
Who can do it? What can we expect on our first flight?
Nearly anyone can try paragliding. You need to be able to run a short distance (while launching). The only exception to this is flying in winter, when it is often possible to start on skis. Your pilot should take you through a briefing of the launch and landing. Important from our perspective is that the passenger continues to run through the entire launch and not stop when they feel the harness lifting them. And remember, it's your flight, feel free to ask anything. Once in the air, please give your pilot feedback. If your stomach is not agreeing with the experience we can generally find calmer air to fly in.
What should one wear? Where would you recommend going for the first experience? And what are the costs?
Wear long pants and sturdy hiking boots. Even in summer, a light jacket is recommended. It goes without say in winter just bundle up. There are, quite literally, hundreds of places to try a tandem flight in Switzerland. I myself am preferential to Hoch Ybrig and Klosters, but there are too many launches for me to mention here. Costs vary based upon location. I have seen pricing between CHF 120 and 200 per flight (CHF 170 is the norm for Davos/Klosters). If you like, you can also bring a camera along for photos during the flight.
How do newbies usually react to their maiden flight?
First timers are, for the most part, stuck with a permagrin after they fly. A few go on to take lessons and qualify in Switzerland. It would be worth mentioning that the alternative to a tandem flight is a "Schnuppertag." This is a one day course where you transition from pedestrian to flying alone (albeit very close to the ground) under radio instruction. The instruction received that day is the same that normal students get when they start to paraglide.
You are an IT manager who worked for major banks in Zurich, a qualified massage therapist from a top massage school in London, a musician and a busy father of two. Why do you need paragliding? What do you feel while airborne?
This is the ultimate freedom. It also goes without saying that Switzerland from the air is spectacular. And each flight is different — some are technical, and others are for pure relaxation. For me it's self-time where I can unwind from my work in computer science and project management. At the same time, paragliding as well as skiing, strength training and several other sports I enjoy regularly help me to better understand injury prevention and soft tissue rehabilitation techniques I focus on in my massage practice.
Paraglider above Zurich © Jonas Wagner / flickr