On the 6th of September, I decided to book a trip as Rob and I needed some time in the Alps.
The end of summer was approaching and we decided that with some forward-thinking, we could catch up with Alex in Chamonix, fly to some incredible sites and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coupe Icare, the world-famous flying festival.
I planned our trip to arrive in Geneva on Saturday 16th of September and depart on Monday 25th. Our first stop would be Chamonix where we would catch up with Alex and dust off our paragliders. From Chamonix we would head to Annecy, spending a few days flying the local sites, before heading to the Coupe Icare in St Hilaire. We had 9 days, our paragliding kit and some flexibility knowing we would need to dodge the weather as and when it turned unfavourable.
Alex and his very excited 6-year-old son, Theo, whom we hadn’t seen for at least 12 months, welcomed us to their home on the outskirts of Chamonix. We had a quick turnaround before heading into Chamonix for dinner followed by an early night for tomorrow we were flying!
The next morning we loaded the vehicles and made the short drive to Passy Plaine Joux. Anyone starting on their paragliding journey in the Chamonix region will most likely spend some time at Passy. Both Rob and I certainly have. My first flight in the Alps was from Passy back in March 2019. Rob’s was slightly more eventful, ending up in a tree on his final landing approach 20 years ago in 2003! This was the perfect spot to get Rob back into the swing of things. A nice gentle take-off, very stable conditions and an easy landing zone (provided you avoid the tree!). Rob flew first, followed by Alex and Theo in tandem. I took off shortly after and was able to catch up with Alex. Although only a 5-minute flight, seeing the excitement on Theo’s face made it one to remember.
As is more often than not the case, adverse weather stopped play the following day, but by Tuesday it had cleared and we were off to fly from the mid-station of the Aiguille du Midi, Plan de l'Aiguille, a cool 1,233m above the Chamonix valley. In the 5 years that I have been flying, I have seen emotions play a massive role in myself and the pilots around me. I always consider nerves a positive emotion. They feel like they keep us safe, make us double-check, and hopefully prevent us from taking risks outside our ability level. That said, they can also become all-consuming.
I have found myself thinking “I’m not going for it, I’m going back down”, but somehow I silenced that voice and entered the routine of laying out my wing, clipping in, and carrying out my checks, before launching. Rob was struggling to silence his inner voice and though I tried, I couldn’t help. Fortunately, Alex has a way with words - “Robert, you’re flying. No, no, no Robert, you are flying. The conditions are perfect so get your equipment ready!” 45 minutes later we were on the ground. Rob had tackled his fears and flown from arguably his least favourite takeoff, having almost become stranded some years ago after the lift had closed and a tailwind had kicked in. I too landed with a sense of accomplishment having performed my first acrobatic manoeuvres above ground, a different feeling than being above the warm Mediterranean sea in Turkey! We said our goodbyes to Alex but planned to catch up again at Coupe Icare. Our next stop was Annecy!
I was particularly excited about our time in Annecy. The last time we visited was back in 2019 and it was a very brief visit. Conditions were looking very favourable and we had managed to find the perfect Airbnb five minutes from the landing zone in Talloires. We arrived with just enough time to head to the take-off at Forclaz. Standing at 1,279m above sea level, this was where I had one of my first (and certainly most active) paragliding flights. Unfortunately, though, the thermals were slowly dying leaving me to enjoy a top to bottom to the landing at Doussard. I landed in time to enjoy a sunset pint with Rob, before heading to the Airbnb.
We spent three incredible days in Annecy flying from Forclaz and Planfait, enjoying the walks around Annecy and swimming in the lake. On Thursday 21st we were joined by David and Murray. I met David this year when he joined us in Spain to complete his APPI PPG Pilot course. He then introduced me to Murray when I went down to visit Bruce Daniels, another SkySchool Instructor, at the British Open PPG Competition. We had dinner together and met the following morning for some flying at Planfait.
After an eventful day of flying, we loaded up and headed to St Hilaire for the Coupe Icare festival. It did not disappoint! The event was well organised and featured almost everything a lover of Adventure AirSports would enjoy. We caught up with several of the manufacturers whom we have worked and flown with over the years and looked at exciting innovations coming to the world of paragliding and paramotoring. Once we had looked around in the exhibition halls, we decided to venture outside to watch the airshow. This took place over the valley below, utilising the take-off as the perfect theatre. The view was pretty spectacular and the show that unfolded in front of us was well worth watching!
Rob and I met up with Alex again and grabbed a beer with Eric and Matt from Aviator PPG, finally putting faces to the names as they had made the trip over from the USA. We finished off the evening with Tom PB from Parajet and our very own cameraman, Oscar Manville-Hales.
In the morning we had a phone call from Alex. He had just landed from a Hike and Fly and he was heading back up to his van to cook some brunch. Rob and I packed up and headed his way. We found him at the foot of Col du Coq, the mountain he had climbed and flown from earlier that day. The views were breathtaking, the weather was perfect and the company was spot on. We hiked a short way up Col du Coq to explore a little after lunch, before heading back to Coupe Icare to say our goodbyes.
In the evening Alex headed to Annecy and ended up camping high up the mountains so he could get up early for another Hike and Fly. The following morning our logistics were flawless, perhaps the best I have ever known! We checked out of our accommodation, drove one and a half hours back to Annecy and called Alex when we were approaching Doussard. He had just taken off following his hike up and he could see us in the van from 1,500m above! He guided us to a landing field he had his eyes on, we parked up and moments later, Alex landed metres from us. It was a textbook retrieval! We then drove back to collect his van before he dropped us off at Planfait, allowing Rob and me to enjoy one final flight. It was the perfect end to a seemingly perfect trip.