Local paragliding sensation Yael Margelisch invited Verbier Life’s Maev Cox on board her glider for a chance to understand what drives this young woman to such giddy heights.
Our feet begin to pound the ground but for a few seconds only. I’m diligently following the pre-take off instructions to press forwards, resisting the pull back, trying to keep traction with the earth, but before I know it we’re in the air and Yael tells me to sit back and as I do, a weird wave of emotion sweeps over me as I’m engulfed by the breathtaking tranquillity that exists up there.
“For me, flying is freedom”, Yael Margelisch tells me in an interview preceding our flight, “There is greater freedom in progression. I love it because you can always get better, you’re always learning”. It’s obvious that this 25-year-old who was born and raised in Verbier has a maturity beyond her years. Yael got her paragliding licence when she was 19, after a small problem with her eyes forced her to abandon her dream of becoming a helicopter pilot. “My parents didn’t want me to do it, I was always hurting myself as a kid,” she explains, but her dogged determination saw her progress from a first jump in 2009 to acquiring her licence just a year later. Since then, she has worked for local paragliding school Gravité 0 teaching and operating tandem flights and for the past two years, Yael has been competing seriously in distance flying. This has taken her to incredible locations around the world such as Mexico, Brazil and India where various stages of the World Cup have been held.
Yael describes the competitions as being like a sailing race with the difference being that the paragliding pilot flies a virtual course using GPS-enabled flight instruments to plot their route. At the outset, pilots are given a number of “turnpoints” (invisible vertical cylinders stretching from the ground up to the sky for an unlimited distance) which they need to enter into in a specified order before arriving at the end point, in the fastest possible time. Yael has improved her position each year achieving a second place in the female category this year. “Next year I will be seeking first” she tells me, “my goal is to be the best pilot in the world… not only in distance but in acrobatics”. This discipline, often referred to as ‘acro’, requires the pilot to perform an array of aerial tricks and is judged in a similar way to freeride competitions, with difficulty and realisation of manoeuvres as top criteria. Currently, Yael trains mostly by herself and has not taken to competing. She’s excited to tell me that recently she carried out her first Infinity Tumble, the holy grail of acro manoeuvres, so I figure it won’t be long before this determined lady is turning heads in competitions.
While she may sound like an adrenalin junkie, Yael’s persona is very measured and balanced. She’s had no serious accidents to date and can count a handful of tree landings which she assures me are “all part of the game”. The game, currently, is dominated by men. Out of roughly 120 pilots competing in the last World Cup, only ten were women. “For a woman to get really good, it takes more time, generally men do not have the same fear of risk that we do” Yael explains. “I am more cautious. When you force things, that’s when you make stupid mistakes. I believe that a woman who takes her time can one day compete in the top ten”. Having had an early entry to the sport, Yael has the huge advantage of youth on her side and the time to hone her skills and patiently work her way to the top.
Sponsorship is a big element and key to Yael’s ongoing involvement at a professional level. Sponsorship money is predominantly used to fund equipment and flights to competitions. In exchange, the sponsoring company’s logo is emblazoned on the glider which travels across the world. Additional incentives are tandem jumps for co-workers and business partners and the option to use paragliding images in corporate advertising material. Anyone interested in discussing this with Yael can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yael and I spend a good time soaring above the forests and cliff bands stretching down from Ruinettes, the mountains around us brought to life in all their stunning detail, clouds and their shadows dancing lazily, and the valley floor stretching out like a miniature model of idyllic rural life beneath us. Our landing is gentle and before I know it, we’re mere humans again, bound to the ground and limited. I have been mesmerised by the serenity of this whole experience and now I begin to understand how this whole paragliding gig might become addictive.