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Speed Riding – an extreme where Europe outranks the Americans

This is an extreme sport we have blogged about before but we feel has not been given enough column inches, enough exposure – we are talking about speed riding. It is young – only conceived in 2003 and it is therefore still very young. You can take off from 9,000 feet above sea level and be on the valley floor in less than five minutes. It is fast – very fast – furious and will give you a rush like you have never experienced.

It is also exclusive – born in Europe, more specifically France – it is Europe which far outranks the United States in numbers of participants. Europe affords the space of where to go which you will find is more restricted in the US – whereas up to 4,000 can be found practicing the sport in Europe the numbers in the United States are only a few hundred.

Further more it is claimed to be safer than a number of other pastimes but in the same breath it is also said to be safe – see what you think in the video below from r1g2b3 which shows action from……….well the Eiger of course, where else would you go for a buzz after lunch on a quiet Sunday afternoon!

A combination between paragliding and skiing we went in search of some info for you and were rather chuffed to find that Wikipedia did not have an entry for speed riding (at least not in the top 10 of our Google search!). It was to the www.Telegraph.co.uk where we turned and found this article by Mike Peake.

‘There are few extreme sports to which you could realistically ask for a gentle introduction. ……but speed riding, which is best described as falling down a mountain with grace, is one adrenalin rush that your grandfather could experience and hope to live to tell the tale.

Not that this new French addition to the thrill-seeker’s repertoire isn’t dangerous: hurtling down a snow-covered mountain at 60mph can only be risk-free when you’re at the controls of a Wii console. But this bizarre fusion of skiing and flying comes with an incredible get-out-of-jail-free card that has given it a safety record that’s hard to beat. When you see a rock, tree or Prince Charles and his entourage on the slopes ahead of you, all you have to do is yank on a cord and the paragliding canopy above your head will hoist you straight up and out of the danger zone.

“Base jumping is so extreme that there are no margins,” says 35-year-old François Bon, one of the paragliders who invented the sport at the end of 2003. “You have to be 100 per cent precise and base jumping is little more than a cascade. Speed riding is something that you can learn, slowly. It’s not something you have to throw yourself off the top of a mountain to try out.”

Designated speed-riding slopes and classes started springing up on the Alps three winters ago and since then hundreds of people have been certified as bona fide speed-riders (or speed fliers, as they are sometimes called) by the French Paragliding Federation. There are between 3,000 and 4,000 speed-riders worldwide and the sport has found friends in America, Japan, Scandinavia and New Zealand, although Bon insists its home is on the slopes of Les Arcs in the French Alps, where it was first conceived.

“When we started many skydivers and paragliders wanted to try it,” he says, “but now it’s mostly skiers. They’re not used to flying or using canopies, but that’s no problem because it’s better to be a good skier than a good flier. The rest you can learn.”

An adventurous speed-rider is looking for height, good snow and an exciting descent and the hardcore elite hire helicopters to drop them in places that would otherwise require a week off work. Kit consists of a pair of skis, helmet, goggles and a specially-designed canopy that is closely related to the traditional paragliding rig.

The idea of following the contours of a mountain while paragliding isn’t new: paragliders have been skimming mountain tops for years, sometimes with tragic results. But once Bon and his friends latched on to the idea of doing it with skis over more fall-friendly snow, they were onto a winner.

“We knew that the chance to fly fast and close to the snow would be very exciting,” says Bon, a paragliding test-pilot and former member of the French national team. “So we started to play with some existing canopies that we modified. By 2005 we were designing products specially.”

With just one fatality and a smashed back to date, speed riding is proving insurable and a surprisingly low-risk “danger” sport. “When you see our videos on YouTube, it looks pretty intense,” he says, accurately describing footage of one of his own hair-raising descents of the Eiger. “You’ll see that we’re going very fast and that there’s lots of flying, but when you start out there’s a lot more snow than air.”

But just like every sport, speed riding does have its golden rule. “It’s all about controlling your speed,” says Bon. “To run out of speed makes the glider fall down. You don’t want to be on a big slope and totally reliant on your skis if there are cliffs and the risk of avalanche. I’m only happy when I can see that canopy above me.” ‘

So where do you go if you want to give it a go and what do you need:

  • probably a very good idea about how to ski to a proficient level
  • equipment will be provided by your instructors
  • training essential
  • in Europe try www.speedriding-school.com
  • in the US try ………..uh – we cannot find a teacher – now there’s an opportunity

Now watch this totally crazy footage from nimpO of Antoine Montant – another Frenchman – speedriding his way out of the path of an avalanche that would have swept all else before it – awesome.

… yet another thing you can do with a kite!

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