This summer, we wanted to give our guests an insight into paragliding in Chamonix. Also known as parapenting (the French word for the activity), this popular activity can be done year round, in winter and summer. In the name of research, we sent Kerry, our Operations Manager, to try out paragliding in the summer with Fred, our instructor and long-standing partner.
Paragliding in Chamonix review
There are some days when I really love my job, and this day at the end of June was one of them!
I had asked Fred if we could do an interview to find out more about paragliding in Chamonix, and instead he invited me to head up with him and experience the activity for myself.
We were extremely lucky with the weather, with a clear blue sky and barely a cloud to hamper the view. It was also very warm, so the perfect conditions to get some altitude and catch some thermals to soar above the valley.
We met at the bottom of the Planpraz cable car at the Brevent area – the most popular place for our guests to do their paragliding in Chamonix. The cable car is included in your summer lift pass or winter ski pass, but if you haven’t bought one, it’s easy to buy a one-way pass to the top – you won’t need the pass to come back down after all!
On the ride up, Fred explained that he does a lot of flights from Brevent and Plan de l’Aiguille (the mid-station of Aiguille du Midi cable car) throughout the year as they are both easily accessible from Chamonix. In the peak summer months of July and August, though, the flights from Plan de l’Aiguille and Aiguille du Midi are forbidden as the rescue helicopters need to be able to quickly access Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains in case of emergencies or accidents, and the paragliders might find themselves in the way of the most direct flight path for the choppers.
Fred also told me about how he manages the flight depending on the ability and confidence of the customer. Wherever the air is warmer, there will be more thermals which allow you to rise, whereas cooler air causes you to descend. In addition to the influence of the air temperature, Fred has a lot of control over the wing and can adapt it to rise or fall, as well as seeking out the warmer air which forms above metal or concrete structures, or the cooler air above trees. Younger guests will usually fly in the morning when the air is stiller – a fabulous opportunity available to kids from age 5.
When we arrived at the top of the bubble lift, we walked a short distance to the ‘runway’ – a short sloping field at approx. 2,000m at Planpraz, where there were many other paragliders laying out their wings and getting ready to fly. Fred set everything up, talking me through the different bits of equipment: the wing and the cables which allow him to control the flight. I then put on my harness, which doubled as my chair when we were in the air, and my gloves and helmet, and Fred attached my camera and Go-Pro so everything was safe and secure. He clipped me on to his harness and then we were ready to go.
We waited for the wind to be blowing the right way and as soon as Fred told me to, we started running down the slope. Long before we reached the end of the mountain, the wing had caught the wind and we were flying!
In the air
Depending on the age of the guest and their confidence level, as well as the weather conditions, Fred might decide to try and head up from the take-off point and fly higher over the Brévent peak itself at 2,525m. From this high position, you can see over the Aiguilles Rouge mountain range to the mountains all around as well as enjoying a bird’s eye view over Chamonix.
If you’re really lucky, as I was, you might even see some eagles. They tend to fly lower in the couloirs where they’re more likely to find their prey, but Fred kept us quite still and we were quiet, so they came up and flew around and beside us before soaring off. It was a truly magical moment and one I will treasure forever. Unfortunately my filming techniques leave something to be desired, but you do catch a couple of glimpses of the eagles in the video below!
From here, you will head gently back down to Chamonix, skimming the trees or rising above the valley floor to take in the views. Fred always lets you have a go at piloting too if you want to try your hand at that. He explained how to turn right or left, and how to control your descent.
As Fred didn’t have a flight booked straight after mine, we made an exceptional diversion and crossed over the valley to the other side where we flew close to the “Junction” between the glaciers des Bossons and Taconnaz. We went lower and came up close and personal with the crevasses of the glacier des Bossons – and even saw a wingsuiter shooting down from the Aiguille du Midi.
Back to earth
After all that excitement, it was time to head back down to earth. Usually flights from Brévent will land at Le Savoy slopes which are just next to the Planpraz cable car, but at certain times of year you may land in the Bois du Bouchet instead, just behind the swimming pool in Chamonix town centre.
We lined up behind the other paragliders and smoothly made our way back down, landing very gently on the grass. We moved out of the way to let other pilots land and Fred packed everything up.
What to bring for paragliding in Chamonix
Our paragliding in Chamonix activity is aimed at beginners, so you don’t need lots of complicated equipment or kit. Fred will provide all the safety equipment you need, so you just need to dress sensibly and bear in mind a couple of pointers.
- Sturdy hiking shoes – it’s best to wear hiking shoes that support your ankles for the take off and landing, but any good, supporting shoe will work.
- Flights which take off from a glacier location (Les Grands Montets and Aiguille du Midi) require mountaineering boots instead – your Resort Team can advise on this.
- Sensible clothes:
- Short shorts or skirts are not a good idea as you’re going to be wearing a harness. It’s better to wear trousers or long shorts below the knee if it’s very hot.
- Wind-proof jacket – even on a gloriously hot day it can get chilly when you’re flying. It’s not a bad idea to wear a couple of layers and definitely bring a wind-proof jacket.
- Gloves – Fred has a pair of gloves that he can lend you, but you may prefer to bring your own.
- Camera – Fred has a Go-Pro and for 30€ you can film your flight and take home an SD card of the footage. Alternatively you can bring your own camera and snap some stills on the way too. Fred will help you attach your camera if needed so you don’t drop it on anyone’s head!
- Lift pass – bring your summer or winter lift pass, or buy a one-way ticket at the bottom of the cable car.
- Motion sickness – if you suffer from travel sickness, it might be worth taking your medicines or wearing your wrist bands before you take off. Make sure you mention it to Fred too and he’ll be sure to take the gentler route.
- Try not to bring a backpack if possible, as you’ll be more comfortable without it.
Chamonix paragliding instructor
Fred was born in Chamonix and has been a qualified paragliding instructor for coming up to 20 years. He has worked with Chamonix All Year ever since we arrived in Chamonix and has taken hundreds of guests on memorable paragliding flights in the Chamonix valley. He works with other well-established partners so he can take groups of several people at a time.
Find out more
Flights start from 100€ per person from Planpraz Brévent. Book your Chamonix paragliding activity on our Chamonix Resort Shop.
More Chamonix activities, tried and tested by our own team: