Setting aside for the moment the fact that I am pretty scared of heights, I have recently found myself thinking that if I had my life to live over again, I might go ahead and get my high school degree because I might need something to fall back on, but then move to Switzerland and become a para-glider guide. From my vantage point, those dudes seem to lead a pretty good life.
Paragliding is that sport where you rely on updrafts to lift you (and a partner, for a tandem flight) up off the earth as you basically run off a cliff. For all the hiking I do, I can probably count on one hand the times that part of the adventure didn’t involve hanging out and watching people run off a cliff strung to a flimsy strip of colorful nylon.
Here’s what a launch looks like. I shot this video up on the Salève. It takes a little while – you have to wait until the updarft is just right – but the para-glider manages to lift off at about :28 seconds into the video.
Here’s another shot I took from up on the Salève, this time from the side of the mountain that overlooks Geneva. Notice how the para-glider in this video GAINS altitude immediately after lift off. That’s a real nice view of the city and Lake Geneva from up there, I am guessing.
Think this looks easy? Guess again. Sometimes the conditions aren’t quite right for a successful launch. Take this poor guy in the video below, for example. He tried and tried to lift off, but to no avail. I felt bad for him so I eventually stopped documenting his extreme humiliation, put my camera away, and went over and asked him if it would help if I were to give him a push. He replied, “Yes, that would get me up in the air a little bit, but it wouldn’t keep me up there!” Which I thought was a pretty compelling point. I think what he was missing was the cliff. He was just trying to sort of launch, which I’ve never witnessed. Most everyone I’ve seen is aided by the fact that they just run off a cliff. (By the way, look at those mountains!)
So here is where the career opportunity part comes in to play: Novices to the sport don’t fly solo. That would be flippin’ crazy. They fly in tandem, with an experienced guide. One time I overheard a guy buying a tandem ride, so I know how much it costs. In France, it’s 150 euros. That’s the equivalent of about 150 swiss francs, or 150 US dollars. It’s complicated international high finance, I know. Take a look at this video, which I shot during one of my visits to Lauterbrunnen. These tandem para-gliders are taking off from Mürren and flying down into the valley toward Interlachen, in the shadow of the Eiger. It’s awesome.
I’m mean, think about it. These guys earn 150 a pop to strap in some unsuspecting tourist and fly around the Swiss or French or wherever Alps all day long. And from the sound of that last video, I get the sense that it only takes a minute or two before the uninitiated is able to stop screaming, secure in the knowledge that there is a pretty good chance she will survive the adventure. So that sounds to me like a pretty good gig. So maybe I’d make a different career choice if I had it to do all over again. After all, what’s the worse thing that could happen? Death, I suppose. But at least people would be able to say about me, “He died doing what he loved: … flailing helplessly while plummeting to earth.”