Hot Tips for Ski Launching Newbies

There's No Gliding Like Snow Gliding

Chris McDougall rides his Ozone Fazer in the fluffy stuff.
Chris McDougall rides his Ozone Fazer in the fluffy stuff. Image by Chris McDougall, Image Courtesy Ozone

Surprise! Winter is not the end of the flying season.

Once snow is on the ground, it’s high time to try the toe-tingling frankensport of para-skiing: ski-launched paragliding. Here’s what you need to know to take your glider out for a well-deserved snow day.

Walk In With Earned Confidence

Before we begin, a word of caution: any ski-launched gravity sport, whether it be para-skiing or speed riding, requires strong intermediate skiing skills as well as skill in the air.

If you blow your launch, you'll need to automatically and confidently maneuver into a sudden turn or stop. The aforementioned blowing of the launch can go south fast, too: if your wing comes up crooked, you'll need to be comfortable on those sticks, because -- unlike a running start -- you'll find that it's much harder to execute those subtle shimmies to center yourself.

Refine your flying chops, too, before you combine your sports. Because steep, tall mountains are the best place to do it, most para-skiing and speedriding launches occupy high altitudes -- actual-factual mountains, where you can expect conditions to be challenging.

Gather Some Special Equipment

If you're a properly experienced skier, you likely have everything you need to enter the backcountry environment. If you discover that you really enjoy para-skiing (and you don't already have a backcountry skiing kit), pick up a few accessories.

  • Use alpine touring bindings, allowing you to free your heels to use your speed bar stirrup in flight. (Locked-heel bindings, of course, do not, requiring you to increase descent with methods like trim tabs and "big ears.")
  • Carry telescoping ski poles that fold up neatly into three sections in your backpack during flight. Experienced para-skiers note that full-length poles are awkward at best and line-snagging at worst -- not the best idea to use for this discipline. 
  • Pick up a pair of ski safety straps to keep your skis from dropping into the void (or onto an unsuspecting person) below.
  • Don’t use your shiny new skis. You may have to land on a patch of dirt or grass. You’ll take a core shot if you do, even if you flare as fully as possible.
  • Take an avalanche safety course and carry all the gear you need to be ready for one. You'll need to understand how the gear works before you're in the wilderness.

Get Started Right

On skis, a pilot has the advantage of speed; on snow, no-wind and even tailwind launches become easier. Keep some of these ski launching tips in mind to navigate the challenges posed by the white stuff.

  • Set yourself up for success. On gentle slopes, set up the same way as for a normal running launch but with a bit of slack in the lines so that the wing is primed to inflate crisply (rather than dragging in the snow on the way up). 
  • Shore up against slipperiness. On a steeper slope where the snow is dry, the canopy may slide around. You may need a buddy to anchor it in place. Alternatively, a few well-placed snowballs along the trailing edge are often sufficient to hold the wing in place.

Continued In Part 2 >>

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O'Neil, Annette. "Hot Tips for Ski Launching Newbies." ThoughtCo, Jan. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/hot-tips-for-ski-launching-newbies-1240275. O'Neil, Annette. (2016, January 17). Hot Tips for Ski Launching Newbies. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hot-tips-for-ski-launching-newbies-1240275 O'Neil, Annette. "Hot Tips for Ski Launching Newbies." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hot-tips-for-ski-launching-newbies-1240275 (accessed November 24, 2017).