"What if I fall? Oh but my darling what if you fly?"
It was one of those things that's been on my bucket list for years, yet whenever we were in a location that would be ideal for it, I always found some excuse for not going through with it. However after finally mustering up the courage and deciding that it's worth the cost, I can only say that my first time flying high above the Alps was so amazing that I am hooked and look forward to experiencing more tandem flights in the future.
Who could have ever thought that sitting in a harness suspended below a fabric wing, feeling the wind, and hearing the silence of the atmosphere could be such a peaceful experience?
Tandem paragliding is offered at many of the larger ski areas in the Austrian Alps. These are flights with an experienced pilot who does all the work so that tourists like us can just sit an enjoy the experience. Our pilots shared with us that it can take years to be able to fly solo and become a pilot - if one has the opportunity to fly and therefore practice often, it can take at least a year, otherwise it could be two to three years.
Nothing can describe the mix of adrenaline and dopamine that evokes those butterflies in one’s stomach but just like anything we might initially be afraid of, the reward is well worth overcoming the fear.
What's it like?
Imagine standing on top of a mountain, seeing the whole world below and thinking about running and jumping off, placing your life in the hands of a person that you strongly hope will be able to navigate the winds as you both run to the end of that mountain so that you can soar high above it.
After taking the cable car up to the top of Schmittenhohe, my new friend Laure and I had time to walk around the top and try to mentally prepare. We saw our paragliding instructors getting ready to jump off the mountain with another couple that was right before us and so we were lucky enough to see how smooth the take-off could be. It seemed relatively simple – you put on a harness that’s like a backpack but with a cushy seat underneath, the pilot secures his harness onto yours, and you both wait for the right wind conditions. The pilot instructs you that when the wind conditions are just right, he will tell you to start running in the direction he determines, and then you both run until you lift off the ground.
To us, it seemed like the couple before us was in the harness and off the ground in just a couple of minutes and off they were – flying so effortlessly that we felt a bit relieved that perhaps it’s not as complicated as one thinks.
When the pilots came back up to the mountain, it was our turn. The wind conditions were relatively good and after putting on the harness, we were also in the air within a few short minutes.
While we both thought that the moment of the jump would be scary and warned our pilots that we may scream for the fun of it, there was nothing but a sense of peace once we lifted off.
The pilots controlled how high and which direction we could go – the wind allowed us to rise roughly another 1000 meters above the Schmittenhohe, flying at about 3000 meters above sea level, changing direction and altitude a few times during the 30 minute flight experience.
The silence up there was nothing but godly and the feeling of flight felt so effortless, so comfortable, and so natural.
Landing was just as simple as flying – nothing to do but lift our legs while the pilot did the work and then we ran the last few steps together before being back on solid ground – safe and forever changed by the experience.
A Word of Caution to Those Considering Paragliding
Of course an activity like this is risky and you need to make sure that you do your research before choosing your paragliding pilot. Ensure that it is a credible company with solid reviews and plenty of years of experience. If you don't feel comfortable when you meet your pilot, re-consider. Always make sure you know your own risk tolerance before jumping into any dangerous activity.
"You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don't. You have wings. Learn to use them and FLY." - Rumi