Official takeoff: 46°24’53″ N 8°06’32″ E 2140m ASL Orientation: ESE
Upper takeoff: 46°25’00″ N 8°06’26″ E 2230m ASL Orientation: ESE
Top takeoff: 46°25’01″ N 8°06’21″ E 2290m ASL Orientation: ESE + SW
The Heimat area comprises an official paraglider launch site and two alternative possibilities. It’s located 400m to the north-east of the cable car station at Fiescheralp, from where the picture below was taken. It’s clearly visible as you arrive in the cabin. The general area is also known as Kühboden, which literally means cow ground, hinting at the main hazard here – cowpats.
The official takeoff is where the local club recommends all paragliders should launch. It’s large and grassy, with windsocks and streamers, has a gentle, slightly undulating gradient, and is very much the safest and easiest option from which to get airborne. However, from here you will not (usually!) be taking off directly into lift and must fly out to connect with your first climb. The shoulder directly in front, where the slope steepens just a few hundred metres ahead, is usually a good trigger line, and thermals often release from the area around the white oval building (the bottom of the chairlift) to the left, and out of the big gully on the right. You will probably get a pretty good idea where it’s working on the day from observing other gliders, in particular, the local paid tandems which launch by the cable car station to your right, often before it’s possible to stay up, who know exactly where to go to find any early lift to prolong their flights.
The upper takeoff is not approved by the local club for paraglider use, which prefers that they launch from the official area, though it is not forbidden to start here. It used to be the exclusive province of hang gliders, but nowadays there are very much fewer than there once were, and they more frequently launch from the ramp by the cable car station, so it has become used more by paragliders, particularly those who are keen to start early. The terrain is irregular, rocky in places, steep, with an abrupt edge, and there are only a couple of streamers, but thermals often come through here directly, so (with good timing) you can often get off straight into lift, especially if you position yourself to keep an eye on the anemometers on the chairlift pylons to judge when to launch (see the first track log below). However, you may notice that some of the most confident pilots don’t bother to look for lift here at all, but immediately glide about 1km to the north-east for their first climb (see the second track log below).
The top takeoff is rarely used, as the terrain is even more irregular and it’s right next to the top of the chairlift. However, after a recent snowfall, use of the other two areas may be extremely difficult, and it has the option of a steep even slope with a south-westerly aspect (hopefully flattened by a piste machine) which facilitates launching in that direction. In summer, the extra height can very occasionally make a difference in stable conditions.
The header picture on this page was taken by my wife, as we were flying tandem together in 2002, when the demarcation between hang gliders at the upper takeoff and paragliders on the lower slope was generally observed. The large brown building, centre right, above the avalanche barriers, is the cable car station, where the hang glider ramp is located.
The track log above is taken from a flight when I launched from the upper takeoff just before 10am straight into a gentle thermal averaging about 1m/s, then headed 1km north-east for a second climb. This is a typical start for me at that time of day.
In this second example, starting a little before 11am, when thermic activity had become well established, I headed north-east immediately into a good climb which peaked at 3 m/s, enabling me to set off for Bellwald less than 10 minutes after launching – if only it was always that easy!
I generally aim to catch a cabin around 9.00am to start here in June and July, because at this time of year, as you can see from the details of the flights above, it will often then be starting to work by the time you are ready to launch . Later in the year, heading up around 10.00am is usually early enough. Unless there is a problem with the day, you can expect to find pilots around who will be happy to discuss the conditions with you (more at the official launch), so if no-one is around, this should ring an alarm bell in your mind. Make sure that they are regulars (usually Swiss who will tend to turn up on the day because they have assessed the conditions as suitable) and not overmotivated visitors staying in the village, as the latter may be less knowledgeable than you but still behave as if they’re experts! I have never had the brush-off from locals whom I’ve approached for advice; on the contrary, they respect pilots who seek guidance and are scornful of casual visitors who launch without the sense to ask for a briefing.
Air movement around here which feels consistent rather than thermic, especially if noticeable early in the day, is a bad sign, because any general breeze – whether due to the meteo wind or a valley flow – strong enough to manifest itself in this relatively protected takeoff area is likely to have a significant effect on conditions in the air. Also, be aware that dynamic lift in the vicinity of takeoff does not bode well for long XCs, as this is often associated with disruptive air movements at Bellwald and around valley junctions further afield.
On good days, keen XC pilots from all over Switzerland will arrive early at Heimat, aiming to get in the air as soon as they think that they won’t go down, determined to get the most out of the day. Lesser mortals will often launch after they judge from the performance of these experienced wind dummies that they should be able to stay up, so that if they bomb out, there’s still plenty of time to get back to take-off again and have a substantial flight.
The official takeoff is usually a reasonable place to start for a late afternoon flight, although you are very unlikely to find a decent climb around there then, as the sun will be at too oblique an angle; you will need to glide directly over to Bellwald for lift. The remnants of the south-westerly wind flowing up the main valley from the Brig direction usually produce a few gentle upslope gusts up the south-facing flank to the right of the windsock, enough to reverse launch. You are in an obvious lee situation in such conditions, so this is only an accessible point from which you can get airborne, and not somewhere to hang around.