There are many ways to get your ‘adrenaline surge’ in Tignes – Val D’Isere, but today’s was entirely different – it was the first time I had taken to the skies (deliberately) over our mountain paradise in a microlight (or ULM in French). Tignes Air Experience is run by 2 brothers, Loïc and Félix, who are mad passionate about flying. It is fair to say that aviation is ‘in their blood’. Both their parents are ULM pilots and over the years have been pioneers in developing new techniques, such as landing a ULM on water or, as today’s flight, on skids (or mini skateboards!).
After a quick, but thorough, safety briefing I was strapped in by Félix, given a helmet (shades required!) and checked for any loose bits and bobs that could fall out and interfere with the propeller behind you. Both brothers speak immaculate English, so as soon as we started to taxy the running commentary started, and nothing came as a surprise. The Aeroclub de Tignes hangar is situated at the bottom of the Grattalu Chairlift and the ‘altisurface’, or runway to you and me, is a sloping one below the imposing Face de Grande Balme.
A quick check of the instruments was followed by a muted roar from the engine behind me and in seconds we had left the runway behind us and were soaring over Val Claret. Suddenly all the skiers looked very small and it was time to play hunt the apartment! After passing over Lac de Tignes we flew over the Lac du Chevril, now very much empty. Even though our speed was 90kph or so, there is plenty of time to spot your favourite run or mountain. The sensation of speed only comes at lower levels, which was to come……
With the Grand Sassiere to our right we traversed the Col de La Davie, now pretty much empty of snow and into the Revers de Doume, a narrow, wild and deserted valley. As we descended to low altitude the valley walls and ridges seemed to rush past. We experienced the ‘g forces’, nothing too dramatic, as spectacular view after spectacular view bombarded the senses. After a quick call on the radio to all the other fliers we emerged over the Dam to look down on Les Brevieres and Les Boisses.
All too soon it was time to return to Planet Earth but not before Félix had brought us up ‘close and personal’ with the Grande Balme before a smooth landing back on the snow, barely a hint of a bump.
So, how did it compare to my previous career flying in an RAF Tornado? Clearly the two are different; flying in a microlight is much more elemental, the wind is in your hair (literally) and you feel the changes in the atmosphere due to the hot air rising off the rocks. Certainly it is not as fast, but that gives you time to enjoy the view but there is no room for an overnight bag! But for putting a smile on your face, honours even!
Sadly, we didn’t see an eagle today, but for tremendous views and an exhilarating experience I can thoroughly recommend a flight. For the price of a decent meal (€80) you can give it a try. So whether it be a present, a treat for yourself or even a formation flight where you and your chosen partner can fly close together, check out what’s on offer by popping into ‘The Departure Lounge’ near the Grattalu Lift, calling 0033 (0)6 78 31 41 91 or visiting www.tignesairexperience.com.