Check into a one-way, top-to-bottom direct flight
Full disclosure up front: I’m not the greatest with heights. I love all action sports from surfing to snowboarding and have no problem paddling into overhead waves or dropping down gnarly lines. But with heights I just feel out of my element — out of control. I didn’t figure, then, that I’d be sending it off the side of a mountain with nothing but a fabric wing and a burly Austrian dude anytime soon.
However, I manned up to the moment. Tandem paragliding is what it’s called and it’s awesome. All I can say is that if you’re having any doubts about it, you shouldn’t. The only skill you need is to be able to run — fast — to get enough speed for liftoff. The pilot (the burly Austrian dude) will handle the rest. You just sit back for the view. And let me tell you, they’re absolutely epic.
Once in a lifetime doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling you’ll get as your scurrying feet suddenly have no ground to run on because you’ve lifted off the mountain and into the air above. The day I went held perfect conditions — blue skies, a consistent breeze and endless vistas.
Not only are paragliders very maneuverable — through the use of control lines to turn, or to increase or decrease airspeed — but they can climb as well as descend, in favourable conditions. After takeoff, we were able to catch and ride a thermal, essentially columns of rising air. My pilot told me they might extend all the way from the ground to a cloud or they might be just a bubble. He said they’re like a lava light, as the rising lava in the light is nothing more than a thermal.
After ascending high above the SkiWelt resort and seeing all of the chalets, gondolas and skiers and snowboarders look miniaturized down below, we started to drop down into the valley. But this was no mellow descent. I told the pilot I was feeling more comfortable. That was a cue for him to launch into a series of spiral dives, throwing strong G-forces into the mix. I was a little disoriented at first, but by this point I felt comfortable enough with the flight that I just went with it, relaxed and let out a huge “wooooot!”
In our final approach, we cruised over Hopfgarten, providing a fantastic birds-eye view of the village and its network of narrow alleys and traditional Austrian houses. The pilot then gently set us down in a field across the road from town. If you want to see the Austrian Alps the way they’re meant to be seen, definitely book yourself a tandem ride with a paraglider.