In the morning, the wind begins to whisper through the grass. It tickles the trees. By noon, it tugs at the flags and nudges the umbrellas at the café. Landing is easy: point into wind and touch down. But by afternoon, it’s blowing over 30km/h and you’re getting worried. You had a long flight and now you’re dangling over the town. What’s a good approach when the wind is strong?
Why is there more wind in the valley?
It’s the sun’s fault. It heats the surface of the earth. The more angled, exposed bits (mountain slopes) heat up really well, and the warm air from the valley also tends to run upslope, so the mountains become ‘heat pumps’ sending happy paragliders up and up towards the cumulus clouds above the peaks. This moves a lot of air upwards, so the air in the valley flows towards the mountains to replace it, and the air from the plains gets drawn into the valleys. At peak heating time (mid afternoon) the whole mountain chain will be working in concert.
The air has mass, so it doesn’t go over obstacles unless there is no other way. So it runs up the valleys, producing a basic flow of perhaps 20km/h. But in some places, the wind will accelerate, because there is a narrowing in the terrain.
If you have the option to choose another landing field, look for a point where the valley is widening, so the wind splits / diverges. That will reduce the speed. Alternatively, you might consider landing on a slope above the valley, and walking down to town.
Where should I set up?
If the wind is strong, it’s best to set up ahead of the landing field. It is very easy to hook a turn and glide fast to a final landing position. It’s impossible to fix the situation where you are pushed back from the downwind end of the field, and often that forces you to land in the turbulence of obstacles. So move to the upwind corner of the field, using your speedbar while you are still high.
Check out our video for an example of landing in a valley wind.
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