Château d’Oex: Still Up in the Air

Events, Things to Do, What's New — By Sonja Holverson on January 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm

There was fresh snow in Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland today during the International Hot Air Balloon Festival.  to dust the Swiss pre-Alps which were a little bare at lower elevations. There is now even more snow on the slopes for skiing next week. As promised, temperatures are rising. It was a high of 32° F but mostly sunny and some afternoon clouds came in.

Château d’Oex, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Flickr by Joy Coffman

Precisely on Swiss time the hot air balloon pilots ascended this morning for their races and in-flight performances and some of the spectators crowded into the chalet “Vol Passagers” at 8:30 AM for the morning Chateau d’Oex hot air balloon rides while the sun was out although passengers were advised to take warm clothes. It’s possible to float in the sky and have a 360° panoramic view of the Swiss Alps and valleys with tiny villages below. Isabelle of Château d’Oex shares her photo/video album here so you can also experience ballooning over the Alps.

The ride of a lifetime. Image by Dominique Schreckling

Brazilian aviation pioneer Albert Santos-Dumont captures well this experience flying in a hot air balloon in 1932: “The hot air balloon seems to stand still in the air while the earth flies past underneath.”

Santos Dumont shown in Vanity Fair magazine in 1901. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons

You will find that the Château d’Oex Balloon Festival is not only about hot air ballooning There are other ways of conquering the Swiss skies over the Alps. All week there are exciting air shows of a great variety. Those aircraft still in the “hot air” category include smaller versions of the hot air balloon which are remote controlled (and with a string attached just in case the work of art flies away from its grounded pilot). Are you more of a loner and want to fly (at lower attitudes in smaller balloons of 24’700 cu. ft) in a single-seated “Sky Chariot”? You will feel at one with the sky.  Or perhaps you would prefer to be harnessed to a “Cloud-Hopper” with a gas canister on your back. These are available at the Balloon Festival in Château-d’Oex. Let yourself get carried away…..

Also in the hot air category are the dirigibles, the hot air or thermal airships with their passenger baskets and motors which help them fly against the wind. A newcomer at the festival is the Minizepp, a smaller helium-inflated blimp about 30 feet long propelled with a hybrid engine which is also a remote controlled aircraft. It can fly over 2’600 ft above the ground (but Swiss law restricts it to 500 ft.) The inventor, Philippe Elmiger, who created it while still a student, intended it for advertising, aerial photography and meteorology. He now even has a project with scientists at NASA.

Minizepp. Image courtesy of rcuniverse.com

But it’s Para-gliding (also known here as Parasailing and “Parapent” in French) that I find so graceful and colorful as I watch the expert pilots fly their feather-light wings around the snow covered Swiss Alps. It must be exhilarating for them especially since the ones at the Balloon Festival in Château-d’Oex always provide amazing stunts for their audiences. Some gain altitude by hanging onto the baskets of the ascending hot air balloons and some go up into the higher altitudes by helicopter. Take a virtual flight with them here and see how they do it.

Parasailing in the Swiss Alps: image courtesy of twistair.ch

Hang-gliders smoke in Château d’Oex. Image courtesy of Ricardo Hurtubia, flickr

Normally, hang-glider pilots launch themselves by running off a cliff. However, during the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Château d’Oex, they launch from hot air balloons. Of course!  Imagine the complexities and practice required which would imply serious collaboration from all parties involved. The pilots are just dangling by a rope until they feel the right moment to let go.

Hang-glider going up for air. Image courtesy of Ricardo Hurtubia, flickr

By foot, by balloon or by helicopter, there is nothing like the adrenalin rush (so they say, personally I just watch them jump off whatever). But that’s not all. Then they go into their acrobatic routines. Well, experience it for yourself here and see what I mean!

If you see small spots in the sky growing larger and then exploding into parachutes, you will know that Base Jumping is also on the program. Here they wear “Wingsuits”, bat-like costumes which provide more volume and drag which slows down the descent so that the base jumper can really fly (like a bat?)  before opening the parachute.

Wingsuit of a Base Jumper: image courtesy of gadgetcloud.de

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
– Leonardo da Vinci

For more on Château-d’Oex and Switzerland visit Nileguide.com and follow me on Twitter.

Image in the upper right hand corner is courtesy of Ricardo Hurtubia, flickr

Tags: Base Jumper, dirigibles, Minizepp, Switzerland, Wingsuit, “Albert Santos-Dumont”, “Château d’Oex”, “Cloud-Hopper”, “Hang-gliders”, “hot air balloon”, “International Hot Air Balloon Festival “, “Sky Chariot”, “Swiss Alps”

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