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Verbier: Paragliding

"Do you want to go paragliding tomorrow?" I think the question took me by surprise. A morning on the slopes of Verbier was being rewarded with fuel at the piste restaurant, a beer taking the edge off the crushing feeling my hired boots were punishing my feet with.

Verbier: Paragliding
Paraglider, Verbier. Image: Getty Images/Hemis.fr RM

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“Yeah, why not?” I replied without really thinking. And that was that.

If our guide Yael paraglides like she skis then surely a tandem flight offers nothing to worry about. And strangely, I’m not worried; maybe I should sign up for the parachute jump I’d always thought about. But definitely not the bungee jump; never the bungee jump…

A large rucksack accompanies us up in the cable car the next morning — it seems a bit big for a picnic lunch — and is mysteriously dropped off before we continue skiing for the morning. The sky is already full of paragliders. Well, I say full; there’s at least 10 circling the skies above us. The fear still hasn’t hit me, shouldn’t I be nervous?

In due course, that rucksack reappears and Yael attaches it to me. Standing on the edge of a slope in my skis, she then attaches herself to me, and fastens on our chute. It really doesn’t feel like enough: some straps, some fabric and a bag. Still, I place my trust in Yael. I’m not sure why I’m feeling so trusting.

“How long have you been doing this?” I ask, more out of interest than fear.

“Five or six years,” she says nonchalantly.

I remain remarkably calm. We push off down the slope and then suddenly we’re up. And I still remain calm. This is strange; I’m floating high above the ground and my adrenalin seems to have short-circuited. Maybe my body’s gone into shock.

Circling over the forest, somewhat close for my liking, eventually we hit the thermals that will take us higher and higher. And before I know it we’re hundreds of feet above the ground. If being up the mountain is peaceful in itself — the fresh air, the panoramic vistas — this is positively serene. I’m pretty sure my heart’s still beating.

Like sitting in an armchair watching a HD TV or the widescreen IMAX Theatre, the views are impossibly, spectacularly amazing. And yet it feels perfectly natural, normal even, to be gliding above the tiny ants skiing below.

Mont Blanc almost comes into view, so Yael tells me, the snowy peaks and depths of the valleys stretching out in every direction. And Verbier from above looks nothing like the giant, world class ski resort that it is, the traditional wooden chalet-style architecture resembling a pretty Swiss town.

I’m not quite sure what she’s doing or how she’s manoeuvring the chute, but we’ve climbed higher up the mountain and we’re now above where we took off. And when the time comes to land, Yael picks her spot and we drop precisely, delicately down to the slope. If you’re in the hands of a professional this, I decide, is the best kind of après-ski.