Our home, the beautiful Vallée du Louron, is one of the most reputed areas in the Pyrénées for the sport of paragliding. At the heart of the mountain range this region is perfect for paragliding whether in tandem with a professional instructor or solo for experienced pilots and beginners alike. Offering gentle, grassy take-off areas plus having the perfect landscape for generating moderate thermals, the valley is a wonderful playground for pilots of all levels. It is not uncommon to find yourself sharing a thermal with birds of prey and at the end of your magnificent flight there are easy landing options around the shores of Lac Genos. Lake reduced Due to its frequently ideal conditions the valley welcomes many pilots, holds world class competitions and hosts the Pyrénées Louron Air Festival. So, a beautiful blue ski full of colourful paragliders is a frequent sight against the backdrop of our mountains.DSC06315 Here at the Ancienne Poste we are fortunate to have close links with a paragliding school situated in the valley, L’École de Parapente Virevolte, so if you have never tried paragliding before then why not try a discovery flight called a “baptême de l’air”? This is a two-seater flight with an instructor who will share their passion and experience, explaining take off technique and your role during all phases of the flight. If conditions allow then you may get a chance to take the controls for a few moments to experience the sensation of controlling the paraglider. It is possible to try this “baptême de l’air” all year round and is available to all from 4 years old and with no age limit!
Bapteme parapente montagne VIREVOLTE Image credit - Bapteme parapente montagne VIREVOLTE

Virevolte offer a 5 day Introductory/Initiation Course – the instructors will try to take you on as many great flights as possible, if the weather is favourable maybe as many as a dozen. This will give you a good understanding of the sport and will be a move towards solo flying.

English speaking instructors are available and full information on all courses can be found on the website: virevolte.net IMG 0934 *Important Note: UK paragliding qualification standards and training is overseen by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (bhpa.co.uk). It should be noted that any qualifications gained in France under the FFVL are not directly transferable to a UK qualification. However, at time of writing any flying exercises completed in the Pyrénées should count towards UK qualifications (Club Pilot being the basic UK qualification). However, please note that even if a trainee completes (in France under the FFVL) all of the same tasks required to achieve the UK Club Pilot qualification they would still have to sit the UK ground exams on their return in order to gain the British Club Pilot qualification. There is a procedure called the ‘alternative entry’ for converting a full French paragliding qualification to the Club Pilot equivalent but with a requirement to sit the UK exams.

It is always strongly recommended and advised that before embarking on an introductory or more advanced course under the FFVL that UK based trainee pilots/pilots check directly with the BHPA for all the latest requirements and costs for conversion of the qualification in the UK as such requirements can change at any time.

If this has whetted your appetite to try a new sport then contact the team at L’Ancienne Poste for more information – and for a little bit about the history of paragliding read on…your adventure starts here….

IMG 0937

What is the history of paragliding? There are varying opinions as to how the modern paraglider was developed, by whom and also who made the first “flight”. However, it probably originated/evolved from similar technologies being developed almost in parallel. It is pretty certain that some of the basis of the modern paraglider originated from designs developed as part of the NASA space programme and also from what we all recognise as the parachute.

Two men are attributed with being part of the early development of the paraglider, both Americans.

Many say the original inventor was Domina Jalbert who patented the Parafoil in 1963. The parafoil is essentially an aerodynamic row of cells/air pockets inflated by the wind into an aerofoil shape. This was very much the forerunner of what we now recognise as the shape of the modern paraglider.

The other key individual was David Barish who in the early 1960s was developing a space capsule recovery device for NASA which he called the “Sail Wing”. He was influenced by the invention of Domina Jalbert and he tested his work himself in 1965 on Hunter Mountain in New York state. He called this activity “slope soaring”. He spent the summer of 1966 touring US ski resorts “slope soaring” in an attempt to popularise the new sport. However, when NASA decided on other methods to recover the space capsule, Barish changed his focus to other projects.

Meanwhile in Europe in the late 70s mountaineers in the French Alps started to use similar technology to make a fast descent from summits. These intrepid individuals worked out the aerofoil or ram-air canopies as they are also known could help them float down off a peak. Light (around 4kg) and therefore easy to carry up a mountain they would make for a faster (20metres per hour) and safer descent. By the mid-80s the mountaineers bold enough to use this technology were also starting to work out that rising air on the descent had the potential to increase the flight time and distance travelled.

With this increase in use came improvements in technology and flying technics and by 1986 the sport was established in Europe. Thanks to the early intrepid souls “happy” to launch themselves off mountains the sport of paragliding is now established. Development and design of equipment is continually evolving with the products tested extensively to ensure the safety of pilots.

So there you have it a short history of paragliding!