I'd love to be able to write that Spring is here in the Alps, but it isn't. Despite rearing its head two weeks ago, when we had some glorious weather, the temperature has plunged again and wind, rain and snow seem to be the order of the day at the moment. Nevertheless, the X-Alps is a flying race above all else and I've written a lot on this blog over the winter about my physical training, so now it's time to update you on the flying side of things.
In recent years (non X-Alps years) I've been guilty of being rather slow to get back into flying after the winter hibernation. The good XC days come early in the Alps, normally in April, and it doesn't do to be feeling rusty when setting off on a 10 hour epic XC in bubbling spring conditions. So my approach since the beginning of March has been to fly whenever possible. 2 weeks ago I was in Chamonix for warm and glorious, but dissapointingly stable conditions. Last weekend, despite a mediocre forecast I managed to fly on both days. Saturday was more for physical training than flying, I walked up our local hill, the Saleve, and flew back down before walking 2 hrs home. Nothing but a top to bottom but the take off was tricky with the wind cycling between 0-10kph down the slope! Sunday however saw the first glimpse of proper spring flying, as I spent an hour exploring good thermic conditions on the Saleve. Very unstable air meant the plain in front was flyable, but Geneva TMA rather limited me on that front, I also thought about making the transition to Annecy but in the end I chose to stay in the local area and just enjoy the happy sensation of banking over hard in 2.5m/s thermals. It feels nice after the long winter months.
This weekend was again an unpromising forecast. Friday had seen good conditions, but like most people I was stuck in the office. Saturday's forecast was to start sunny but with high cloud coming in during the afternoon and very strong South wind starting to blow from the middle of the day. The south wind is called a Foehn wind in the Alps and it brings dangerous conditions. So I decided to head in the other direction - to the Jura mountains on the other side of Geneva, to a lowish south facing site called Vesancy. This is the opposite side of Geneva to my house and it took a frustrating 2 hours to cross Geneva by public transport before I could finally set off up the mountain from the town of Gex. A serene 1 hr and 40mins walk up through the forest, on roads still deep in snow and trackless, saw me reach the beautiful take off overlooking Geneva, the Saleve and Mt Blanc (see main picture). The wind was already blowing, but it wasn't too strong so I launched into what turned out to be very rough and turbulent conditions. Despite the strong wind on launch there was precious little dynamic lift and I was left working broken and turbulent thermals that were blowing me to the NE in the direction of Yverdon les Bains. If the climbs had been more consolidated I'd have turned and headed that way on a wind blown, UK style, XC flight. But, they were turbulent, the wind was strengthening and the sky was becoming quite grey so I settled for a exploration of this new site for me and landed back near Gex before walking most of the way back home.
So, my philosophy from now on in is to take every opportunity to fly, in as many different places as possible. I believe there is no substitute to being current on the wing and in the air. Flying in even marginal conditions helps to drive confidence and build and hone skills needed for this challenge. So, as with my fitness training, I'm taking the flying part very seriously too!