The local Meteorology
In order to understand the local meteorology of the area around Laragne and Sederon it is necessary to consider the physical geography of a much wider area than the local one. The influence of the Rhone valley some 100km away to the West and the Mountains 50km East and North have a huge bearing on the weather and the winds, not to mention the influence of the mediterranean 100km south and the whole chain of the High Alpes running from Monaco to Geneva.
Laragne sits in the Durance valley just North of Sisteron where the Buech joins the Durance. South of this point the Durance valley runs North/South to the mediterranean, whereas to the North of Laragne there are two valleys, the Buech which continues North and the Durance leading up to the higher alps to the North East.
To be continued ... ... ... ... ... ...
Laragne is the best known of the local sites . Many Paraglider and most Hang
glider pilots will have heard of Laragne Chabre, but only recently have paraglider
pilots discovered how good it is. Although it is better known to the Germans,
Swiss, Czechs, Belgians etc. even the Brit paraglider pilots have now started
to match numbers with the hang gliders, Conditions are often strongly thermic
in early afternoon, especially in mid summer, as is the case with most other
popular French Alpine sites. The site has enormous XC potential, particularly
to the North and North East and is a great site for ridge flights to the West
and back to land either to Laragne or Sisteron.
The site has a Balise on top giving weather information every 15 minutes on the FFVL frequency, 143.9875MHz this information can, however, require interpretation. There is a forest road to take off, which it is hoped will be upgraded in 2005.. Please do not park in the turning circle as it is also the emergency helicopter landing!
The main, South East, take off at Laragne only really works in thermic conditions. Flying in soaring mode means flying in relatively strong wind, not generally advised on a spine back, Take off is huge with plenty of room to lay out lots of gliders, the 30 or 40 hangliders (or more) often found on take off in July and August set up clear of the main paragliding launch and tend to launch later than the 'floppies' they often regard as wind dummies. With three take off spots and room for at least 10 paragliders to lay out, take offs are happily not overly pressured, unlike some sites further North. The site often has gentle breezes in the mornings and is often used by schools. However thermals become strong from midday hence the site's enormous potential for cross country flights (see tales of Bob, Marcus and Sophie's 110km flight over the Ecrins from here climbing to over 4000m or Rachael's regular 80+km XCs on her DHV1 Atom). The terrain to the North West through South East consists of big flat open valleys with lots of fields for a 'Vache' (out landing) between the Orchards, but with big hills in, amongst and around them to find that second thermal source the site is ideal for safe departures from the hill. Indeed a recent article in a French magazine listed Laragne to Aspres (and back), as one of the five best 'cross countries for all', the article title having been changed from 5 easy cross country's.
For those days when the first thermal proves elusive or you miss the cycle there is a huge bottom landing beside the access road allowing rapid retrieves and a second attempt (Top to Bottom 500m). Like Bergies (see below) Laragne can suffer from dust devils on some days and care needs to be taken, also the wind generally shifts Westerly at some point in the afternoon necessitating a quick change of site if you don't get off soon enough.
The North take offs at Laragne are more committed and, while fine for hang gliders, require a level of confidence and competence on a paraglider. Happily the wind generally blows from the South and if it doesn't then there are several gentler North facing sites in the area. Laragne North has no less than three huge official landing fields (two are big enough for light aircraft and used for such).
XC from Laragne
Sederon is approximately 30km to the West of Laragne, (a good cross-country home), and has the advantage of 7 take off and landing sites catering for all wind directions. Like many local sites it has its own weather pattern (see above) and a good day's flying can often involve flights from three different take offs. (A morning flight from Le Fort or Bergies South, a lunchtime XC from Bergies (North) and a nice evening restitution flight from Buc. Sederon is blessed with very friendly locals, farmers included, enabling a 'vache' (out landing) in almost any non-crop field, of which there are plenty. A local farmer is more likely to offer you a lift than tell you off. The local school here trains well over 200 pilots a year and has excellent training slopes and sites for first high flights (all of which can be used by other instructors by prior agreement of the local school).
Specifically the main Sederon sites are;
Bergies (North and South)
Bergies too has a Balise on top giving wind direction and strength every 20 minutes. It is generally flown in North West to North East winds. The Northerly take off is gentle and grassy and used as a morning training site by the local school and was described as the nicest in France by one famous British instructor, there is a road to the top mainly tarmac, and the North landing is an easy glide some 560 metres below. The northerly take off is also the main take off for cross country flights from about midday on when the thermals start. The wide open valley to the East makes this site excellent for first cross country flights, lots of landing options and an easy and gentle glide to 6 or 7km is possible even if that second thermal remains elusive. The more ambitious can emulate Ingmar or Rachael and fly to Colmar or St Andre les Alpes just over 100km away or just head for Laragne or Sisteron.
Bergies' South take off is steeper with a cliff below which warms nicely in the morning sun so allowing earlier take offs for longer XC flights when flown in a Southerly wind. As at Laragne, the wind usually turns Westerly in the early afternoon and caution is required during and after this transition. This is the time to head off to Buc or go for a coffee and wait for the evening restitution to establish itself so you can soar for the rest of the day.
XC from Bergies
For English pilots Buc takes a bit of understanding but does give the feel of a British hill. Due to the influence of the Rhone valley to the West, the wind almost invariably veers Westerly on the site in the late afternoon, even on an Easterly day!, and at any time from about 2pm onwards (earlier in a Westerly or NW flow) Buc starts to work. After an initial couple of hours of thermal chasing, which often leads to a successful XC, the air smooths out giving the opportunity of an evening of gentle restitution flying, ideal for confidence building for lower airtime pilots.
XCs from Buc generally involve either flying over Bergies and then east towards Sisteron or via Lachau and on to Ribiers. There are a multitude of variations on these routes including crossing onto the Laragne Chabre ridge.
Landing areas are numerous with official landings at the foot of Buc, beside the school at Villefranche, or at the church at Lachau. But again there are innumerable fields owned by friendly locals in between.
XC from BUC
Aspres has 3 take offs South, West, and North but only the southerly gets much use. This take off is a large grassy bank at the top of a huge (800m) hill with enough room to lay out dozens of gliders. The site is regularly used by the local schools for morning and evening training flights both on paragliders and hang gliders, however the site also has lots of XC potential and Grenoble is only some 50km to the North! There are a couple of landing fields in the large valley below: one directly below take off, the other at the sailplane airfield. There is also a lot of outlanding potential but a few, unusually for this area, not all the locals are friendly! The site is also used by sailplanes from the airfield below, not to mention aeromodelistes, but is plenty big enough for all. Top landing is relatively easy, unusual for a French site. T the Balise is generally the most reliable around. Again the wind often goes West in the afternoon in summer but, due to the shape of the ridge this is not so much of a problem as the other take off faces West, unless of course strength increases.