Speed Riding, Les Arcs France

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FILMED – Adam Colton, Ryan, Lance

EDITED – Adam Colton

Back home after an 8 day trip to France learning the art of speed-riding.  What is speed- riding?  Well, speed-riding combines skiing with flying.  Check out this video of myself, Philip, Lance and Ryan as we take a hectic run together down the mountain. 

Below is a write up about the sport a bit and such.  Everything I am saying here is what I have learned and interpreted.  I however am no expert of flying and just a student learning so take everything I say here with a grain of salt.  A true professional will know more.


ginfly Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Photo Courtesy of Gin Gliders

A speed-riding wing is usually between 9 -15 meters which is specially made for fast controlled descents.  These wings drop you out of the sky.  They have wide and big cell openings which make them easy to inflate and when flown, they are under much more pressure and because of it, they are more stable in the air.  Though these should only be flown in good conditions, turbulent air can collapse your wing and since you are usually flying close to the ground it could be a bad day for you.  The handling on them is like a sports car, very responsive and fast.  Air speed can be anywhere between 35- 60 mph.  The smaller the wing, the faster it is going to go and having a tail wind will add to airspeed as well.  It is best to begin with a bigger wing and as you get better you can  downsize but again it really depends what you want to do.  If you want to stay in the air longer having a bigger wing helps. If you want to go fast and follow the terrain, a smaller wing helps.  I like the idea of having something in-between that works with my weight.


I have already done some speed-flying which pretty much uses a similar wing but instead of skis (speed-riding) you launch the wing by running off mountains.  You should never have to hike down again, hahah.  Though beware these wings usually have a glider ratio of 4 to 1.  Meaning every 4 feet the wing goes forward it drops a foot.  Though this is in a no wind situation, if there is a head wind your glide ratio will be reduced.  Also, if you do turns especially deep spiral turns your glide ratio is also reduced.  That is why before each speed-flying flight you have to do your research and plot the glide ratio off the mountain.  We usually fly off mountains with a 3:1 to 2:1 glide ratio.  This gives us more than enough opportunity to make the landing and allows room for turns.  With your first flight off any mountain it is best to be conservative and come in with plenty of altitude to make the landing.

This is the exact flight of wheeler Crest we plotted here.  You plot your glide ratio as such using GOOGLE EARTH.

Find your launch, you want a nice clear launch. Drop a pin at the Launch, label it LAUNCH –Mountain name, if you scroll over you pin it should say the elevation as well.

wheeler launch Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Wheeler Crest- LAUNCH – 10,854ft

Find your landing.  Now you may find something that looks like a decent landing but you need to go there in person really to check it out.

wheeler land Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Wheeler Crest LAND – 5,532ft

Subtract the elevation difference of the Launch and the Landing to get the difference.

10,854 – 5,532 = 5,322 ft   meaning you will descend 5,5322 feet.

Once you got your Launch and Landing descent value use the ruler tool and plot the distance in feet from the Launch to the Landing.

WHeeler ruler Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

16,421.42 feet is the distance from the Launch to the Landing.

Divide 16,421.42 (distance between Launch / Landing )  / 5,322 (elevation drop) = 3.08 glide ratio.  So the gilde ratio for this flights is pretty much 3 : 1.

With speed-riding you can ride on hills that have greater than a 4 : 1 glide ratio because you can touch down with the skis at any time and carve it up.  The best slopes for speed-riding in my opinion are steep slopes combined with mellow slopes, fly down the steep parts, touch down and ski on the mellow parts, you get best of both worlds.


school Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Looking outside our school at our training slope and Ryan about to pack up his glider.  Our training slope is amazing, it has lift access.

If you want to learn how to speed ride DEFINITELY go to a speed-riding school.  You will get proper instruction and you will be in a place that you can get a lot of flights in and really learn the sport.  We attended on of the best speed-riding schools in Les Arcs France.  We went all the way to France because really there are no speed-riding schools here in the USA at the moment, plus flying in Europe is where it is at.  Les Arcs is a resort in France and the speed riding school is located at Les Arcs 2000.  There you can take a 5+ day course and they provide all the flying gear for you.  The instructors Arnaud and Gerome are definitely characters. Arnaud is more of a hard ass with tough critiques at first and then smiles and laugher later.  He will have no problem telling you, you are an idiot and his famous saying “What the F***k” always came as well, hahaha.  But then he would smile and laugh after.  Gerome was the sweet heart of the group. He talked in a much softer voice and kept it pretty chill when you screwed up.  The school is pretty much a run and gun course, meaning the instructors are not going to hold your hand. They show you something once and they expect you to get it, so you have to ask lots of questions.  You also have to stick up for yourself a bit and really go over the flight plan with them since at times it can be confusing.  Other than that, they really give you the opportunity to fly a lot and they will challenge you.  If you are a clumsy person, hahah this class will be hard for you.  If you are coordinated, driven and like a challenge this class will be very rewarding for you.  Basically the class was so damn fun and so many rad people in it that I am looking forward to going back next year.  Our class graduated and we got our beginner license which basically allows us to legally speed-ride at any resort in France that will allow it.

speed ridingwebsite Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

http://www.speedriding-school.comhttp is the website.  Most of it is translated in English.  This is the school.

arnard Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Arnaud showing me the spine protectors.  A spine protector is a damn fine idea.

radios Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Radio are key so the instructors can communicate with you.

earpiece Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Connecting the radio ear piece to the helmet so Arnaud could yell at me, hahah


Turning Learning Speedriding  Adam ColtonPhoto Courtesy of Gin Gliders

You don’t have to be an excellent skier to do this sport, though being a good skier helps.  You don’t have to be able to fly to take the course as well, but having flight experience helps.  The hardest part to this all is pretty much carving on the skis with the glider.  It is very easy to get into a carve with the glider and collapse the glider because you are pulling too much or too little brake, it is easy to go into a turn and not be able to control your speed and you take off not wanting to.  It took everyone in the class awhile to dial turns even the really experienced skiers.

From what I took away: have your hands and toggles all the way up, this speeds up the gilder and puts more weight onto your skis before your turn.  When doing your turn, pull the inside toggle to turn the glider while still pulling some outside brake pressure.  You have to turn the glider more than you think.  Look VERY far ahead when making your turn, this helps a lot.  Once out of the turn, traverse the mountain and try to slow down a bit with your skis before the next turn.  Playing with the brakes will help, but you should usually ski with the glider with hands all the way up.  Make your turns wide and commit to them.

MUSHROOM (wing preparation for flight)

mushroom Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Philp made a damn good mushroom.

Making a proper mushroom, wing preparation is tricky.  You basically are on the side of a slippery mountain with skis and gloves on.   You have to gather the wing in your hands, try to fluff it up and expose the leading edges, make sure lines are not tangled around the trailing edge and throw the glider down the hill slightly behind you in a nice organized mushroom shape.  Usually what happens is you throw your mushroom and it looks like a piece of poop, leading edges not exposed and pointing downwards.  The trick I learned at the end was to coil up the glider and fluff up the leading edges with your hands and then wind up and throw it like a frisbee across your body and to the ground.


flying Learning Speedriding  Adam Colton

Ryan, Lance and Philp flying off our training slope.

The flying part is easy especially if you just go straight.  Weigh shift turn, i.e. turning the glider just by applying pressure to one butt cheek or the other is really fun for doing some fine adjustments in the air.  Flying and touching down and taking off again is one of the best feelings.  I kind of wish I had touched down more thinking back.  Though when you touch down make sure you apply some brake to slow down and level out the glider.  Have your skis together knees bent absorb the touch down and slowly let up your hands up to speed up the glider and put weight on your skis.  If you touch down and the pull more break you are likely to take off again.  There is a fine delicate touch to touching down.


Each glider has its best glide ratio option.  This had to deal with how much you pull the toggles.  For the gliders we were using, the best glide was pulling the toggles quite a bit.  This changes the shape and angle of attack of the glider making it more prone to floating in the air longer, though don’t think these gliders float well, instead of dropping super fast you drop kind of fast, hahaha.  Hands fully up, toggles to the pullies would make the glider decent very quick.  So when flying, it is constantly playing with the best glide and full fast (hands ups) mode.  It is best to fly as much as you can at full fast because it speeds up the glider and gives you energy to flare, which means you can always enter best glide to pop over obstacles or give you more options if you need it.


This is an amazing sport which combines two amazing things.  This sport is more popular in Europe right now where there are speed-riding competitions and such.  Speed-riding really allows you to ski any terrain and it gives skiing a whole new sense.  Hopefully this sport will become more popular in the USA, there are only a couple hundred speed-riders here total.

Go out there learn something new and be safe about it.  Remember learning something as safe as you can means you can live longer and have more fun.

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