Pilot Christoph Mühlemann and his passenger Amanda from Singapore walk a few steps down the slope, then they already lose the ground under their feet and glide calmly away. Above them the blue sky, below them the colours of autumn and in front of them the triumvirate of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. But one after the other.
Joy of the heart: A tandem flight in the Jungfrau Region
Shortly after 9 am we meet Ueli Bohren at the bottom station of the First Railway, in the control centre of Paragliding Jungfrau. The 53-year-old from Grindelwald founded the company 33 years ago. Today he is in charge of bookings and operations. That means, among other things, he takes all reservations. By phone, by WhatsApp, from hotels or via the website and various apps. "A few make their reservations half a year in advance, but the majority book one to four days before the flight," he says - in order to immediately take a reservation by phone. Most guests come from Korea, the USA, India, Singapore and China. Based on pilot availability and bookings, Ueli Bohren offers the pilots. He can draw on a pool of 22 pilots. All of them work independently. Equipment is also available for passengers to borrow at the base near the bottom station. "Jackets, gloves, but also normal shoes, because there are actually people who manage to show up here in high heels," says the managing director.
Small but nice: The office of Paragliding Jungfrau
Founder and managing director: Ueli Bohren
Ueli Bohrer points to the sky. "Some of our pilots are already flying with guests". Not so Christoph Mühlemann from Matten near Interlaken. He is only scheduled for the second turn today. After arriving in Grindelwald, he has a coffee like every morning at the Alte Post restaurant, the regular hangout of the paragliding tandem pilots. He took up paragliding ten years ago - thanks to his colleagues. The 38-year-old has now been flying for Paragliding Jungfrau for seven years, albeit with an unintentional interruption. "During the Corona pandemic, I was out of work from one day to the next," he recalls. The trained metalworker finally found an interim solution in construction.
It couldn't be better: Christoph Mühlemann's workplace
Christoph Mühlemann fetches his umbrella from the depot and heads for the bottom station of the First Railway. Here the first guests are already waiting. "Have you got a ticket yet?" he asks. This is not included in the price - the First Panoramic flight costs 190 Swiss francs. And so he helps with the purchase of the tickets if necessary. Now the other pilots who have already flown arrive. Today's head pilot is Pascal Imhof. He assigns the guests to their respective pilots. Eight pilots are on duty today. Caroline from Korea will fly with Christoph Mühlemann. Then the gondola takes us up to the First. The ride takes 25 minutes. When you consider that Christoph Mühlemann makes up to seven flights a day in the high season, he spends quite a lot of time travelling by train. He makes several hundred flights a year, depending on the weather conditions and the number of working days. Business flights, because Christoph Mühlemann also likes to fly privately. "I can't get enough," he says. And when asked if he has a dream job, he says: "Yes, definitely, I've turned my hobby into a profession." He continues, "I can give guests an experience with my work, put a smile on their faces, what more could you want."
Off to the launch site: the gondola ride is part of the daily business.
From the mountain station, it's a short walk down to the launch site. While walking down, Christoph Mühlemann studies the wind. "The conditions are never the same, every flight is different, so there's never a dull moment," he explains to me. At take-off, the pilot knows pretty much exactly which route he will fly. The evening before, he has already studied possible restrictions in the airspace on the app "DABS" (Daily Airspace Bulletin Switzerland). "For example, because of military exercises or the Axalp airgunnery. So it can also happen that flights are only possible from Schreckfeld.
Almost ready: On the way to the launch site
Christoph Mühlemann loosens the atmosphere at the launch site with a little small talk. "You notice pretty quickly who is restless and who is not – and how to deal with them." Most of the time he speaks English with the guests, "but sometimes I have to communicate with hands and feet." He hardly ever gives instructions at the start. "The more I talk, the more nervous the passengers get." To Caroline, who will be flying for the first time today, he only says: "Paragliding is teamwork, at the start you have to help me, walk with me." And: "Have you stowed the smartphone safely?". You don't want to imagine what could happen if someone loses their mobile phone on the way. Caroline puts on a red windbreaker from Paragliding Jungfrau before the launch check, the so-called 5-point check: 1. harness buckles closed, helmet closed, carabiners correctly closed - for the pilot and the guest, 2. riser not twisted and correctly hooked in, canopy lines OK, 3. canopy well laid out, 4. wind OK, 5. airspace clear => launch OK.
But before take-off it's still selfie time. And also later during the flight about 25 photos and two films are taken. These can be bought at the landing site for 40 francs. An offer that only very few people turn down.
Selfie time: Christoph Mühlemann and Amanda from Singapore
3,2,1, go. The two run down the slope, only to take off seconds later. I watch them as they make an extra turn towards the waterfall. Would I dare to do the same? The thrill is already there. I allow myself a break in the mountain restaurant. A short break, because then I'm already waiting for Christoph Mühlemann at the exit of the mountain station. His next flight is coming up. This time with Amanda from Singapore.
The flight from First to Grindelwald takes pretty much 20 minutes. "It's the most beautiful paragliding flight in the world," says the pilot to his passenger before take-off. And he is certainly not entirely wrong. In front of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, past a waterfall - even often accompanied by an eagle. No wonder Amanda finds only words of praise when she reaches the bottom: "The panorama was unbelievably beautiful." At the top, she was still a little nervous before her first flight. "My First at First," she tried to conceal the tension with a witty quip. "As soon as I was in the air though, the nervousness was gone and I just enjoyed it.".
3, 2, 1, go: The take-off in front of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau
Perfect flying weather: A selfie high above Grindelwald
Past the waterfall: Photographed from the launch site
Past the waterfall: Photographed on the way
As I take the First Railway back to Grindelwald, I probably cross Christoph Mühlemann on the way. While he is already on his way back to the take-off site, I head for the Bodmi landing site, 200 m above the bottom station. As soon as I arrive, I see the first paragliders of Paragliding Jungfrau in the sky. Christoph Mühlemann sets the landing precisely. His third passenger of the day is also completely satisfied. No wonder, together with her husband, who landed only seconds before her, she is spending her honeymoon in Switzerland. An unforgettable honeymoon after this flight at the latest.
Also on site at the landing site: Ueli Bohren. He takes the pilots' backpacks back to the bottom station so that they can set off for the next train ride without the 25 kg of luggage. I say goodbye while Ueli Bohren takes the next booking - and Christoph Mühlemann drives back up. Because in an hour it's already: 3, 2, 1, go.
Successful landing: Back on the ground again
Thumbs up: Pilot and passenger after the flight
Photos: Sina Fuchser and Christoph Mühlemann
Story: Raphael Hadorn
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