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City feeling

Close to Heaven: Paragliding over Salzburg

The Gaisberg isn’t only one of Salzburg’s beloved local mountains. It is also a recreation area that enchants visitors in summer and winter alike. You have a somewhat different view of the Gaisberg, and of the City of Mozart below, from high in the sky. That’s where paragliding comes in.

The last few minutes before take-off are nerve-racking. One last time, making sure that your harness fits just right, adjusting your helmet, checking shoelaces. And then, my “flight attendant” Harti gives me final instructions. “When I say run, run. Straight down the mountain – and keep on running, even when you don’t feel the ground under your feet anymore. And don’t stumble!“ So far, so good. Then Harti gives me the signal to run. My heart pounds even faster than the pace of my step, and the mountainside gets closer and closer. Thoughts whirl through my head – what if I do trip and we get stuck on the slope in a confusion of arms, legs and glider parts. Will he ever give me a second chance? Suddenly, my feet lose contact with terra firma and my thoughts freeze. For a breathtaking moment, I only hear the rush of blood through my ears and the wind whistling in the paraglider above me. Then, my head reports back for duty and I become keenly aware of the beauty that stretches out before, below and above me, My eyes roam from the city of Salzburg, right there at the foot of the Gaisberg, to the Salzburg lake district and neighboring Bavaria, with the Göll Massif and rugged Tennengebirge mountains extending out to the south.

The “Gaisberg Aviators” and their mountain

There is actually a long tradition of paragliding on the Gaisberg. The 1st Hang- & Paragliding Club Salzburg, which has its own launch area on the Gaisberg at 1,280 m above sea level, has published a short history of aviation on Salzburg’s favorite local peak on their website. According to their chronicle, originally it was glider pilots who used the mountain in the 1920s and 30s, until their place was taken by hang-gliders in the 1970s. After them, it was the paragliders who set up shop on the Gaisberg. The “Gaisberg Aviators” have now been active on the mountain for more than 20 years. If you are in Salzburg and look out towards the Gaisberg, you will often be able to make out colorful swatches floating in the sky, gliding elegantly towards the city or gyrating through the air in acrobatic spirals. For many an observer, the sight sparks a personal longing to hover between Heaven and Earth, held aloft only by air and wind. Nowadays, the opportunities are many – from clubs where you can learn the art of paragliding from scratch, to providers who specialize in one-day adventures: such as the tandem flight I was fortunate to experience for myself.

New impressions, glorious views

My time hovering high in the sky is all too brief. The city below slowly grows larger, accompanied by the bustling sounds of the City of Mozart. Though suddenly, on our leisurely landing approach, a young bird of prey first begins slipstreaming us, then circles elegantly below us, its golden-brown plumage glistening in the sunshine. A few moments later and we lose sight of it. Yet the magic remains. Along with the anticipation of my next foray into the skies above Salzburg.