Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wing arrives, Swiss League Cup

My X-Alps wing arrived on Friday! Thank you Axis UK! She's a beauty: 6.3:1 flat aspect ratio and racing trim giving her accessible comp wing performance and weighing just 4.8kg.

No simple top-to-bottom to get to know her, instead I took her to Frutigen near Interlaken in Switzerland for a round of the Swiss League Cup. For me it was an opportunity to discover a new flying area, get to know the wing, try out the X-Bus and meet a few of the big names in Swiss paragliding.

Saturday, day 1. Conditions were expected to be tricky and indeed they were! Although the airmass was unstable, rising atmospheric pressure restricted their upward movement. The result was small, weak, snotty thermals that seemed to form randomly and then peter out after a few turns. You'd occasionally hit a 2m/s thermal, but most of your time was spent grovelling over the trees in 0.2m/s. The Task Committee set a 49km task around the local area. Most of the field, including me, bombed out at around 20km, simply running out of options at the third turnpoint, but a few pilots persevered. PWC Champion Anja Kroll won the day, getting to goal in 3h20m and 35 minutes ahead of the only other pilot to complete the course.

I was really happy with the wing. I was flying in my normal cocoon harness which put me 5kg over the top of the weight range and yet I was still able to climb well. The air was turbulent behind the spurs in the lee of the valley wind and yet on a day when two wings ended up in the trees I had nothing more than a tip collapse.

On Saturday night I got to test the X-Bus, my first night in the support vehicle. It's brilliant! Comfortable, plenty of space to stand up and cook inside, light, heating, music, and a warm night spent in my down sleeping bag. It's a home away from home.

Sunday was forecast to be marginal: sunny in the morning but with Foehn winds in the Valais and moderately strong SW'ly winds at altitude. Fellow X-Alps competitor Chrigel Maurer was here today (he lives just down the road) and I was eager to find out more about his preparations. He's designed his own wing and sewn his own harness: the combination is very compact and weighs only 10kg. As we arrived a take off the race committee realised that with the strong winds it wasn't going to be taskable and made a quick and correct decision to can the day so we could get a short free flight before conditions got too bad.

Many launched quickly (although a few decided to take the bus down) and those who did fly were rewarded with a stunningly beautiful flight. The weak thermals of yesterday had been replaced with solid two and three metre per second climbs. I took one to over three thousand metres and with stunning views in all directions, including the lakes of Interlaken and the unmistakeable 4000m trio of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks, one of the turnpoints in the 2007 race: see the photo at the top of the post.

The forecast was spot on, however, and with a Foehn wall visible tumbling over the cols between the peaks, a brisk 30km/h wind at 3000m, lenticular clouds forming, and a forecast of storms in the afternoon it wasn't a day to hang around so I spiralled down to land back at base.

It was a real pleasure to meet Anja Kroll, Joerg Ewald, and Swiss paragliding guru Martin Scheel. The organisation by the local school Cloud 7 paragliding was excellent, and thanks to all of the pilots who made me feel so welcome. While I was walking back on Saturday a car full of pilots spontaneously stopped for me and I had to explain that, in fact, I didn't want a lift and actually wanted to walk back...

Update: Martin Scheel's beautiful photos of the event are now online at his site