"Liberistes" - Free Flying in the French Alps
The French Alps spread roughly in a north-south direction in the southwest of France between Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean Sea, and include the range's highest peak, Mt. Blanc, at 4808m, along with numerous other 3000 and 4000m peaks. The mountains grow in size from west to east, culminating at the French-Italian border which runs along the highest ridges. They experience a range of climatic conditions; particularly the southern ranges tend to be dry and windy in summertime due to the influence of the Mediterranean; during our visit the northern parts were often windless but cloudy. Occasionally the western ramparts would stop the clouds, offering unexpectedly good conditions deeper among the higher peaks. We studied meteorological data and forecasts meticulously in the evenings, often moving base taking advantage of whatever weather phenomenon we could. It worked out fairly well overall.
The areas we visited were:
- Mt. Myon, near Bourg-en-Brasse, not really in the Alps but in the western foothills of the Jura mountains, on the way in from Paris (it was raining in the Alps at the time).
- Annecy, the mecca of French, if not European, paragliding...but we only enjoyed one day of good conditions there.
- St. Vincent, an excellent place right on the geographic divide between the north and south, with excellent XC potential.
- St. Andre, possibly the best site in the south Alps.
- Ceillac, a beautiful place deep in the mountains near the Italian border.
- Courtet, kind of in the middle of nowhere between the Vercors and Ecrins ranges.
- Aravis, a walk-up takeoff we discovered that made flying in the morning (and hence all day) possible.
- St. Marcel, a rather secret, strategically located XC takeoff (but unfortunately it was overcast!)
- St. Hilaire, near Grenoble, a very civilized, carpeted, and with its own funicular access, along with Annecy probably the busiest takeoff in France.
By the way, paragliding and hang-gliding are collectively called "Vol Libre" or "Free Flight" in French, and enthusiasts of this sport are therefore, "Liberistes". I rather like the sound of that! Not to mention, use of the luxurious takeoffs is completely free (paid for by local administration), and sometimes so are even the shuttles to take you there from the base of the mountain. How much better could it get?
Coming soon! In the next few entries, I'll talk about some of my cross-country flights in a little more detail.