An introduction to the flying in Piedrahita

Here is an summary of everything you need to know about flying in Piedrahita in the form of a list of questions. Click on a particular question or scroll down the page to find out what you need to know.

What do we we offer?

We offer a way of maximising your airtime, XC distance and learning potential during your stay. Multiple daily flights with retrieves and an experienced guide in one of the most important soaring venues in the world.

Who are Steve and Puri?

Steve Ham

Photo of Steve Ham

Steve has been flying hang gliders and paragliders for over 26 years, he has been flying in Piedrahita since 1991 and from here has achieved the Spanish Paragliding Record on 4 separate occasions, he also held the UK paragliding record for almost 10 years. A member of the British Team, he has been competing for over 20 years and was British Champion in 2002.

Read more about Steve in 'about us'

Puri Almansa Arribas

Photo of Puri Almansa Arribas

With over 17 years of flying experience, Puri was amongst the first to fly the Piedrahita sites. As a member of the Spanish paragliding team she has flown in both the World and European championships events. Puri was the ladies Spanish champion in 1998, and was amongst the top ten overall ranked Spanish pilots in 1997.

Read more about Puri in 'about us'

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How good is the flying in Piedrahita?

For many decades central Spain has been considered one of the best gliding venues in the World. Important distance records have been achieved in sailplanes, hang gliders and paragliders. The consistent soaring conditions, high cloud bases and the famous convergence along the 400km long dividing range have made the area a Mecca for gliding of all disciplines.

It is one of the areas in the world where most flights of over 1000km in sailplanes have been made. Unlike many record venues, where bold pilots must confront strong winds and difficult terrain, the use of the convergence effects allow pilots long XC flights with light winds and in conditions suitable for low airtime pilots.

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What is the area like?

The Central Dividing Range

The central dividing range (Sistema Central) runs through the central tablelands from south west to north east. The dominant winds, which normally come from west to north east, allow good ridge and thermodynamic lift when flying the northern side. The flat tablelands in front of the mountains are excellent thermal producers and provide for easy landings and good road systems for quick retrieves.

Old Castile

We are in the heart of old Castile, dotted with its castles and monuments. You will likely get to fly over some of the historical gems of Spain such as the walled city of Avila and Segovia with its unique Roman Aqueduct

Photo of Avila City Walls

On a long XC flight there are many contrasts in the landscape, plants and wildlife both as you move along it, and move from the mountain to the plains. With the seasons there is a dramatic change in the plains from green to gold after harvest at the end of June, and in the mountains from May to June the hills are yellow and fragrant from the gorse flowers

Photo of Steve Ham with broom on hill
Gaps and Spines

The Chain of hills is interrupted along its length by gaps and spines running perpendicular to the chain. These divisions generate interesting soaring microclimates particular to each section. Piedrahita lies at the foot of a long rounded mountain ridge, with easy thermodynamic soaring along a 15km of its unbroken length. Behind launch to the south there is a plateau, which then drops into the Tormes river valley, before rising to the Gredos Mountains behind: with the highest peak in the chain (Almanzor 2595m) set in the Circus of other craggy peaks and lagoons

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When is the best time to visit for paragliding?

Central Spain has perhaps the most consistent soaring weather in Europe, however, we still have seasons and the character of the flying changes during the year. We operate during the most reliable months of June to September. Many of our guests know the best month for their particular needs and level of flying. We hope the information below will help you decide the best time for you.

The Conditions

Winter and Spring
The quarry with epic sky

Although we fly frequently during the winter months the conditions are not sufficiently interesting or reliable for what we hope to offer - thermal soaring and XC flying.

By February we start getting good thermal conditions with light to moderate thermals, but with bases rarely going above 2300m. Flights to the pass and just beyond become possible, but the days are short and the reliabilty not high enough.

March generally has good thermal flying and when the Azores high sets in it is very reliable, but with weak climbs and low cloud bases. Conditions are particularly suited to low airtime pilots, new to thermal flying.

April is often a mix of conditions. We can have big convergence days with 100km+ potential with bases approaching 2800m, though the norm is abundant Cu at no more than 2600m, the flying is similar to a good spring day in the UK. There is also more chance of snow and rain.

The 'summertime effect'

In the UK and the rest of Europe, the best days are those following the passage of a cold front; the atmosphere is 'cleaned' and humidity allows good Cu development. As days progress, the air 'stagnates' and thermal climbs are capped by progressively stronger inversions. Curiously, in summertime in the northern plains of Spain, we have the opposite. The day after a cold front, the conditions are comparably good, but with a low base due to the lower temperature. However, over the following days, the solar heating of the ground increases and although there can be strong inversions formed, the heating is sufficient in summertime to form thermals which break down the inversions and provide thermal ceilings often in excess of 3000m. Thus conditions will get better and better with often a truly outstanding day just before the the passage of the new front.

In March and April (and end of September and October) heating is not generally strong enough for this summertime effect, so flying is similar to the other parts of Europe and during a long period of high pressure, although flyable, it can become quite stable. May and early June are often similar, but the heating and the length of day are greater so cloud base gets higher, often with good Cu development and flights of 150km+ are possible (i.e. 198km in May 2002).

The launch window

During March, April and May (also September and October), it is usually possible to launch throughout the whole day. It is often possible to stay up by 11:30 am and although the thermal winds increase during the afternoon, safe take-offs are still possible. From mid-June through to the end of August the summertime conditions come more into play. Often, it is inverted early in the day so a later launch is required to stay up. When conditions do start to work, the conditions at take-off will soon become strong. There is normally about an hour of easy launching after it has become easy to stay up, but if you land during that time you will usually have to wait for the evening to fly again.

Summer conditons

From mid-June to August, cloud base can go above 5000m, but it is more common to find bases between 3000-4000m. There is less Cu and especially in August there are many blue thermal days. The famous convergence is particularly evident (even on blue days) and on unstable days Cbs become a risk. Flights of 200Km+ are usually done during these months with SW winds and a marked convergence in the plains.

The autumn months

Towards the end of August, things start to cool and high pressure inversions become more persistent. September is once again a transition month, generally with a return of good Cu's but with flights over 100km becoming more challenging.

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How much experience do I need?

Low airtime pilots

For those just starting to learn to soar, March and early April, late September and October usually provide the more mellow conditions throughout the whole day.

Intermediate pilots

If your thermalling ability is not yet that advanced and you still find yourself going down when the others can stay in the air, then sometime before mid-June or after mid-August is best. You then have the opportunity to try again if you go down on your first attempt, not always possible in the peak summer period. This will give you more opportunity to get away on an XC and practice staying in that first climb.

More experienced pilots

If you are confident you can stay in the air in light conditions and are comfortable in stronger climbs and turbulence and particularly want to improve your XC flying, setting personal bests etc., any time mid-April to mid-September is fine, though perhaps with may to August being most appropriate.

Useful article

Read Frank Goodman's Skywings article about his visit to Piedrahita and if you still have any questions please contact us.

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How much airtime and distance will I get each day?

This will obviously depend upon the weather conditions and skill level of each pilot and very much upon the time of year of your visit.

During the stronger months of summer the thermal wind at take off increases to become too strong for safe take offs by early afternoon. It is therefore important to choose the best time to launch for the XC at a time when conditions are both easy for launching and also good for staying up. Since the turnaround time from the landing fields back to the take off is over an hour, we run the risk missing out on the XC flight if we try to fly a early thermic flight. Also, as the XC thermal conditions run normally from mid day to 9pm in high summer and you may be many hours flying XC, so it is rather foolish to tire ourselves out with an extra early fly down before the main event.

However, early in the season and late in the season the condition often remain mellow throughout the day which enables us to make multiple attempts throughout the day. These multiple flight opportunities are perfect for those who are only just beginning to learn thermal soaring and who also benefit from more take offs and landings.

The morning flight

Early conditions

We normally take off around 11am, before conditions are easy to stay up in. By this time there will be a gentle anabatic wind up the slope at take off. It will not be possible to ridge soar, pilots will need to use the light thermals generated on the slopes and valley.

Learning key XC skills

Effectively using light scratchy thermal climbs is one of the key skills for XC flying. Practicing these techniques without the stress of missing out on the day's main flight (we expect most pilots to go down on this flight) is useful for pilots of all levels. Those pilots who climb out may choose to stay in the air until conditions are suitable to embark on the XC, or may go and land to start again with the others.

Waiting for conditions to improve

Occasionally, if all pilots stay up, we may go directly XC from the morning flight. However, often, although easy to stay up, it is worth waiting until a little later for inversions to break and make the chances of an early bomb out on the XC less. Depending upon how we expect conditions to evolve, we may go for a quick snack or drive directly to launch for the XC flight. A tutorial with hints on how to make the most of the early flight can be found here.

The XC Flight.

For this flight we will normally be in the air before 2pm, after which the strength of the thermodynamic wind at take off makes launching difficult.

Briefing

There will be a briefing on conditions and possible expectations and routes for the day. If we have climbed in thermals on the morning flight, we will already have a good appraisal of how things may develop. Steve will normally take off first and from the air will confirm the XC route direction, and safety of the conditions by radio.

Make your own decisions

You will be making your own flying decisions, which is part of the thrill and fun of flying cross country. However, Steve will make comments on possible thermal sources, routes, possible dangers, navigation, hints etc. Although flying in a group with other pilots, we don't expect you to fly in a tight gaggle, and it is normal that there will be some spread out along the course as the flight develops. Normally Steve will be towards the front, showing one possible route, but keeping an eye on those further back. We will be able to follow your progress with the live trackers even if we are unable to see you, so you can be confident that we will find you even if there is a radio failure or your decision making takes you away from the track of the others.

Airtime for pilots of all levels

We hope to give a good opportunity for all pilots of all levels to get plenty of flying. If the day is unlikely to offer the potential for personal bests, then the last pilots in the air may be asked to land at a certain goal. For example, there are many light wind days when we will land at Avila (55km) since at this point there will normally be a headwind if you continue to fly in the same direction. By landing early (this would normally be around 5pm), it gives us ample time to get back to Piedrahita to ensure that all those who landed early can be assured of their evening flight. If we have a larger group and we are using two vans, then we should be able to ensure return for an evening flight for those having landed early, whilst the extra van can continue to chase the others until sundown if necessary.

We have provided a series of tutorials on the main XC flights.

The Evening flight

Evening conditions

The dropping sun will illuminate the northwesterly facing main ridge until sunset. About two hours before then, the thermodynamic breeze at take off will begin to moderate, and on the best days pilots will be able to enjoy huge smooth restitution lift along the length of the mountain.

Ideal for low airtime pilots

These are ideal conditions for low airtime pilots to bump up their airtime, or for pilots relax after the more challenging and stressful XC flight. We do not normally retrieve on the evening flight, but it is easy to fly a ridge circuit of over 20km and land back at the town. If the wind is very westerly, not allowing easy soaring, we will often do a flight to the Long Bar (el Lavadero), a short 9km flight to this Garden Bar, to finish the day with a beer whilst watching the sunset turn the colour of the mountain a reddish hue.

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What clothing should I bring?

Cool evenings

The town of Piedrahita is at 1000m ASL, and a long way from any maritime warming effects. Towards the beginning and end of the season it can be quite cool in the evenings in town.

Freezing at base

Take off temperatures can vary, but especially in spring you should expect it to be very cold in the air on good days. The valley temperatures maybe near 30 C but expect freezing conditions at cloud base so dress accordingly. In July and August daytime temperatures can be very hot, but the cloud base will be often be correspondingly very high - normally in excess of 3000m and often rising to 4000m. You can get away with normal fleece gloves in the summertime, but for April, May and early June and September I would also bring winter gloves.

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What kind of retrieve service do you provide?

Flying cross country is what most of our clients want. As well as getting you up the hill three times a day, we will be following your XC flight both from the air and by a dedicated retrieve vehicle equiped with live-tracking. Not having to worry about getting back helps you to concentrate far more effectively on your flying decisions.

Our vehicles are an air-conditioned long wheelbase Mercedes Vito and a long wheelbase Renault Traffic, both equipped with 25W base radios. mobile phones and tablets set up for tracking using our bespoke tracking software.

Photo of Retrive Vehicle

Our old Ford Transit, now used as a backup vehicle after many years of faithful service.

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