What Is Paralpinism?

Did you know that majority of mountaineering accidents happen during the descent? One way to cut out this risk would be to paraglide. But is it safe?

So what is paralpinism? In short, this is an activity that combines classic alpinism or mountaineering, and paragliding. In other words, you climb a mountain in the usual way, but instead of a classic descend, you paraglide from the summit.

This is a growing activity in which you use a sail to descend from the peaks, and it is clearly becoming popular among younger mountaineers. 

What Is Paralpinism top picture showing a paraglider.

Is paralpinism dangerous?

Perhaps you did not know, but the first who was taking off from Mount Everest was Jean Marc Boivin in the 1980s. In paralpinism you have two dangerous activities combined, so what could go wrong, right?

But is this really so, is the risk doubled or something similar? If you plan a paragliding descent, this is possible only in excellent weather conditions at the summit. As you know, winds at high altitudes can be harsh, and you also have to take into account the wind direction.

To have a safe landing, you must also know weather conditions in the valley. The reason for pointing this all out is that such a paragliding descend can take time, and weather can change quickly in the mountains. I have read somewhere that you need around 45 minutes to descend from Mont Blanc.

As mentioned above, the two activities have each their own separate dangers, so let’s see what you can expect.

Danger of mountaineering

In my text about dangers of mountain climbing, you can read that mountaineering is by far the most dangerous of all outdoors activities. It is about 3.5 times more dangerous than paragliding. If you see the given link, you will see a table showing this.

But did you know that most accidents in mountaineering happen on descend. For example, only 15% of fatalities on Everest are on the way up. This is reported in an article entitled Death on Mount Everest: The perils of the descent.

In one another source dealing with fatalities in Swiss Alps, almost 66% of fatal falls occurred while descending.

I guess you see the point, this is where paragliding becomes interesting to consider. Namely, this could be a way to avoid the most dangerous part of mountaineering.

Danger of paragliding

I have already mentioned one source above which shows that paragliding is far less dangerous than mountaineering. Though, I have seen quite different numbers around about percentage of accidents.

So it seems it is hard to tell exactly how dangerous this activity is. From one side, it looks really cool. But from the other side, if it is far more dangerous than classical alpine descend, then it is better to forget it.

It is interesting that some claim that paragliding fatality rate is lower than the driving fatality rate. But in a scientific paper, I read to following:

  • The paragliding injury rate varies from 26 to 360 per 100 000 jumps.
  • The mortality rate of paragliding jumps in that study was 7/100 000, but they reported about some other source where this number is 45/100 000 in paragliding jumps, and also 0.06 – 0.035% in some other sources.
  • They also found that the injury rate of paragliding was lower than in other adventure sports, but the accidents were more fatal.

So you get some idea. It looks far better to me than what I expected to see. Therefore, even if this is about safety alone, it could make sense to combine it with classic mountaineering.

In other words, a combined ascend-descend danger and accident risk that you have in this new paralpinism activity may be far less than in the classic mountaineering.

But think also how cool it is, you get some feeling after watching this video, so please have a look:

 

This is about alpinism and carrying stuff, so how heavy is a paraglider?

From what I can see around, a paraglider with a full sized reserve and harness, plus all other accessories weighs around 45 lb (20 kg). But there are superlight options of about 25 lb (11 kg). My guess is that in time this will be even more improved and the equipment will become even lighter.

So does this looks like a future of alpinism? Would you want to carry this to the summit in addition to all your stuff that you carry for the climb? For most potential users it will be hard to give an answer before trying it in practice.

What is the weight limit for paragliding?

So yes, there is a weight limit. It seems that the biggest paragliders can take up 265 lb (120 kg) of weight. In the case of tandem paragliders, this should be about 529 (240 kg).

My guess is that there are no many alpinists that would exceed these limits and it could work fir many. Though bear in mind that you also have your mountaineering pack and gear with you.

Is paralpinism the future of mountaineering?

To conclude, paralpinism is a new term, in fact, I could not find it in Merriam-Webster dictionary. When I searched in Google with “what is paralpinism?” I got “Did you mean: what is parallelism?”

But there is no doubt this is an activity that is here to stay. With increased technology it will be even safer, and equipment will be lighter to carry, and I feel this activity has a bright future. What do you think? There is a comment box below so let us know.

For more texts of this type, please check under the category Mountaineering. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

 
Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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