We had two super windy days after the Riederalp/Interlaken flight so I trained down to Verbier to pick up my bags, spent a night with Mike and Stu and celebrated with their graduating group of new pilots, who were all pretty thrilled with their new-found sky skills. Then the next day I carried on to Geneva to meet with Patrick Roser, the Swiss Niviuk dealer who had a couple very special presents for me- the new F-Gravity 2 acro wing, and the Peak 3 X-Alps (ie light weight version). I tried to control myself from just ripping open the bags right at the train station. I think Patrick could hear my heart beat for the next hour as we caught up on all things Niviuk and paragliding at a nearby cafe.
Back up to Visp and Bruce had a plan- Scuol was looking on the windy side, but doable on Sunday. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to give the new baby a spin.
The trip across Switzerland was unfortunately more eventful than it should have been. Instead of driving over the Fluela pass from Klosters we thought we’d save a lot of time and put the Niviuk mobile on the train. Easy, and as our clutch was about to give up the ghost, a safer option. A few minutes into the trip and suddenly there’s a big BANG! I look over at Bruce and he looks at me and I go “what the hell was that?” Then I look forward and notice there’s easily 30 extra feet in front of us that wasn’t there before. I’d put the hand brake on, but not enough and we’d rolled back and slammed into the carriage, which destroyed our awning. A few minutes later I grabbed a Red Bull out of my harness, which we store in the bathroom and then put my harness back down on the flushing mechanism of the toilet, which poured an entirely full tank of water on Bruce’s harness and wing. He’d have to fly with a wet reserve tomorrow as we didn’t have enough time to dry it out…Sorry dude!
We got to launch early the next day, a gorgeous grass covered wild-flower extravaganza hill above town. With SW winds forecasted at 20 kilometers a triangle wasn’t going to be an option, so we planned to head towards Innsbruck, about 120 kilometers down the range and see if anything else presented. Maybe we could get out on the Bavarian flats away from the wind?
The sky didn’t look very encouraging. Plenty of nice popping cumulus clouds, but they were all wind blown. Wind isn’t much fun in the big mountains. The launch was totally cross, but cycles coming up the hill provided the gap needed to get off. I launched my crispy new wing, took one turn and my mind was made up. INSANE wing. Pure and simple. Super easy to handle, responsive, provides incredible feedback and just looking at it makes your heart sing. Niviuk has nailed it with this one. I’m no designer, but looking at it and how they have changed huge things like the location of the air intakes (back a LONG ways), and the line attachments, and the genius of the two-liner with an additional cascade with 4 attachment points. All of it just works, and given the ratty air and difficult flying, I was very very happy to be on the Peak 3 today instead of my Icepeak.
We spent nearly an hour trying to get away from launch, but the thermals were a mess and more than once I thought…I don’t like this. But the wing seemed much happier than I was and I was keen to fly this new site so I gave up on getting high and headed downwind, hoping for some improvement. Bruce had tried to push into wind so was a few kilometers behind me and I had a local pilot, a friend of ours named Thomas out in front to hopefully give me some ideas.
The rattyness and wind continued but the climbs started to gel and a few ridges down the valley I found myself at cloudbase, just above 3,000 meters marveling at this piece of incredible engineering over my head. Clearly this is a remarkable XC machine that I will be having a ton of fun with in the coming months. Superb climber, crazy fun to fly.
The kilometers started to click away. What had seemed like a maybe 10km day was now looking like a possible chocolate (100km), and if we could get into the flats, maybe a huge day. Up high the winds were indeed strong, well over 20km so the going was fast but safe as long as you could stay away from the terrain. But as soon as you would drop below 2000 after a long glide there seemed to be reasonably strong valley winds from the East (coming from Innsbruck). Not having any local knowledge in the Alps is a huge impediment. You can be having an awesome flight, but then make one wrong route decision and you’re on the dirt. It’s one of the reasons Chrigel is so unstoppable in the X-Alps. He knows every single valley and ridge, and he can call local pilots from one side the alps to the other while in the air and get a spot update on the weather.
When I got to the town of Landeck we had the option of carrying on towards Telms and staying in the main valley, or skipping over a range and heading towards Germany. I figured our only option of going big would be to push out onto the flats, still a long ways away, but the wind was making things pretty dicey in the mountains, so I pointed NE.
Bruce caught me up about 30 km’s short of Innsbruck after I got stuck on a windy west facing flank and we ridge soared out and popped over the back towards the German/Austrian border. Then the flying got really, really fun. We pinged down through this high valley that looked to have an awfully long retrieve if we didn’t get through, but the going was easy- nice climbs on all the west facing slopes and a few hikers below waving at the nutters cranking by over their heads. Of interest was on one glide when I was right next to Bruce. It’s always hard to gauge speed in dissimilar air, but it seemed like I was going considerably faster. I asked him where he was on bar- he said 2/3rds. I was 1/3rd on bar. His UP Trango XC is a great XC wing and very very fast for a ENC, but the Peak was blowing it away.
We got a nice climb, stuck our heads into the clouds a bit and went on glide to what looked like monumentally good flying. It was barely past 3 pm, we’d been in the air just over 5 hours and easily had 4 hours of good flying left. We’d pocketed the chocolate and 200 or more seemed well within reach.
5 minutes later we were both on the ground. We should have turned around. Had we done so, our hopes of a 200 might have gone down, but that local knowledge thing killed us. As soon as we made the glide we ran into a wall of wind coming off the flats and from Innsbruck and we got flushed hard. We landed a few km’s from one another and when I landed Bruce says on the radio “I don’t even know what country we’re in!”. I couldn’t help- I had no idea (turns out we were in Austria).
We’d managed to turn a pretty average day into a phenomenal day of flying, I got to see a whole new part of the Alps, and I got to know the Peak 3 pretty well so it was indeed a great day. The wing is flat-out phenomenal. For anyone interested in a truly high-performance, bad ass, kick ass XC machine, get your hands on a Peak 3 and let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to throw some adjectives your way.