The winter is almost over. The blossoms are out in Cipieres and the trees are in bud. The local ski resort is closing at the weekend, but I jumped in the van with Verity Sowden and Anthony Green and we sped up to Flaine, to take part in the last vol et ski event in the French calendar this season.
Anthony is a seasoned vol-et-skier, well-known on the circuit and usually on the podium at the end of an event. Verity and I are at the other end of the scale. My total experience amounts to less than ten launches and landings and not much else, so I’m expecting very little of myself when it comes to a competition.
Vol et ski is a kind of accuracy flying. I’ve never taken much interest in accuracy flying before, but it’s great fun, especially above snow as it’s nice and soft. I’m sure that getting to grips with it would be a real asset when it comes to general glider-handling skills.
You have to fly low around an obstacle course consisting of sprayed lines and targets in the snow, and flexible sticks placed at strategic points. The course is altered slightly on each round, and remembering what to do with each section is a challenge in itself. You might have to ski across a line painted in the snow, between two sticks, and then kick a stick whilst in the air, touch down on a target and then fly along a row of sticks, kicking each one.
Being in the air when you are supposed to, and then on the ground at the right times is difficult in itself. The good pilots were doing lots of flapping and almost-stalling to manoeuvre themselves into position, then letting the glider dive and dabbing on the brakes to get the touch-downs right. It was impressive to watch.
Not in my case though. The first few flights I don’t think I contacted the ground much at all. The second I landed mid-course and had to re-launch (you are allowed to do this). I decided to just try to get low enough at the right times to kick any sticks I could, not worrying too much if it was on the ground or in the air, which would have done little for my points score but I felt was challenging enough for my level of inability.
Anthony and Verity won the tandem category on the Little Cloud Bidule, with some impressive flying.