Aug 29 2010
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What is Speed-Flying ?

What is Speed-Flying ?

Speed Flying is a new winter sport created by paraglider pilots and skydivers looking for a new sensation and to create a link between gliding by ski and gliding through the air. For a few years, pioneers have used skydiving parachutes or modified kites. Now there are a specially designed SpeedFlying wings and gliders.



Linking the flight of a glider with the turn of your skis adds a whole new dimension to the descent from a mountain.



It’s an exhilarating sport which will excite and fascinate both participants and spectators. This new sport has taken the slopes by storm, quickly attracting more and more enthusiasts as the buzz of excitement sweeps across Europe! First in France, where Speed Flying was born, but now also in Switzerland and Austria with Italy and Germany not far behind. As it's an extreme sport in the same league as Skydiving and BASE jumping etc. it is also very dangerous with a high risk of injury or even death. Wings can reach speeds in excess of 100km/h in the hands of the top Speed Flyers but normally are flown between 35 & 70 km/h and unlike Paragliding you don't have a reserve/safety parachute if anything goes wrong.

Two similar sports have been around longer created by skydivers one is called Blade Running, this is where the rider exits an airplane then flys their open parachute down a marked course of Blade shaped flags. The other is Swooping where the pilot again exits an airplane and scores points for tricks and style marks for their controlled swoop landing which is often over water or grass.

Speed-Flying or Speed-Riding ?

2010 - Now the sport has been around for a few years the terms Speed-Riding and Speed-Flying have become the standard definitions when talking about the individual activities of both the Winter and Summer aspects of the sport.
Speed-Riding is flying down snow covered slopes with ski's with frequent ground contact.
Speed-Flying is flying down snow free slopes after foot launching with no ground contact until landing.

Speed-Flying is also the general definition which covers ALL the activities - both riding and flying and everything in between.


Speed Flying is NEW... Its not Paragliding, Skydiving or Swooping


Speed-Flying is...

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Safety First

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of proper safety in speed flying. In 2009 alone, nine people died during speed flying accidents. Well, it is an extreme sport, you might be tempted to think, and surely like all extreme sports there are people who try it every year who don't know what they're doing and end up making a stupid mistake and paying for it. Don't make that mistake. All nine of the people who died that year were expert speed flying pilots and knew exactly what they were doing. They had years of experience in the sport, and they still died. This is not a sport for people who want to act wild and crazy and have fun stories to tell. Speed flying can be a truly awesome, exhilarating experience and there is nothing else like it in the world, but it does come with a lot of caveats.

The major caveat is experience. Ideally, paragliding is an excellent background to have before trying to tackle anything like speed flying. But even then, the conditions under which you paraglide tend to be much different from speed flying conditions. Speed flying, for example, is much close to the ground, and while this might seem like a relatively trivial aspect of the adventure it matters a lot when it comes to necessary in-air maneuvering and changes in wind speed and direction. However, even with a lot of experience in paragliding, a very strong background in skiing is also required, because some of the trickiest parts of speed flying requiring expert skiing skills in order to land safely and make the required maneuvers. And with one last however, even with paragliding and skiing experience, speed flying still takes time to master, because it is a sport all its own and there are some skills that are unique to the experience. Needless to say, extreme athleticism and experience in extreme sports is a must before attempting something so dangerous.

So if you think that speed flying sounds like a sport you would be interested in, keep in mind that a lot of work is associated with it. You cannot just pick it up and start hitting all the best slopes. First, you need to look around for a trainer or speed flying organization you can join and get the required training before making any attempted launches on your own. Online forums and similar resources are an excellent place to start, because you can often find people who know the nearest slopes for speed flying and what conditions there are optimal, when you do build enough skill to begin. Fortunately, finding a nearby team is usually required because of the set-up and tear-down involved in all speed flying activities. This helps increase the safety of the sport, but you should still remember all the inherent dangers involved. The community of speed flying pilots is relatively small compared to even other extreme sports, and nine deaths in one year is a startling testament to how dangerous the sport can be.

What I Think of Speedflying

When the article says that speed flying is new, that's a really good point. When any extreme sport is so new, there are several different issues that develop as it starts to gain interest. First, location becomes a problem. As the article mentions, France, Switzerland, and Austria are all popular locations to practice speed flying. However, this is extremely limited when it comes to gathering attention across the entire world. In fact, it's pretty much limited to just one mountain range.

Of course, there are reasons for this. Speed flying is one of the most delicate extreme sports around. I don't mean that it takes a lot of finesse, although this is absolutely true. I mean that the conditions have to be incredibly specific in order for it to work at the level it needs to. You need the right type of mountain and the right type of snowfall. You need the right type of slope for the right amount of time, without anything like trees nearby to present hazards. You need a way of accessing the slope at the right time and at the right place in order to launch safely and have time to re-launch on the longer ski slopes, in order to get as much as you can from the run. And these are just the more static variables. You also need the right kind of weather, the right type of wind speed and direction, the right time of day, and any number of other variables that can quickly change.

What all this boils down to is a sport that's a lot of fun, but requires very specific slope conditions. You can't just set up a speed flying arena on any skiing or boarding mountainside and call it good. In fact, you can't really do it around boarders or skiers at all. So when while it may be generally located to central Europe, it is technically located to only a few slopes in central Europe. This presents a major problem when people from the United States, for example, want to start training until they reach a level where speed flying is a potential hobby for them. For one thing, flying to Europe is time-consuming if it isn't already in the plans. For another, the expense of the European slopes can be a major issue for those that have all the necessary skills but not the necessary cash to pay for anything.

Ideally, more and more slopes will begin to open around the world as speed flying becomes more popular and people began searching out a variety of places to hone their skills. Of course, as I mentioned this is a challenge because many of the safest and best slopes for this kind of activity are already taken by other mountain sports, and you really need as clear and smooth a slope as possible for speed flying. Other people are not a good variable, not at the high speeds required for speed flying.

Speed Flying is not just for

Speed Flying is not just for crazy kids, we insist. In fact, we really think that all paraglider pilots should try it, especially if they live someplace where wind can be a limiting factor for fun, or at sites where a lack of thermals tends to reduce your enjoyment of paragliding.

Josh Grown