Coupe Icare – Once in a Lifetime

by Ben White

Coup Icare is a fantastic event to attend, especially as a pilot who has never traveled abroad for paragliding. Experiencing a new culture of freeflight in a new location can certainly make a pilot feel more worldly. The celebration of freeflight and powered flight is second to none, drawing 80,000 spectators in 2019, 10,000 of which were freeflight pilots. Traveling abroad as a paraglider pilot, witnessing wonderful displays of flight, and touching the latest and greatest gear as it is announced is not

How to get there

Flying internationally comes with a few challenges even before showing up to the airport.
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A kit of gear is often under 50lbs, and can easily be checked on any airline. The thought of an airline losing a glider is pretty scary, but taking pictures of the bag claim tag can help in the recovery process. Getting hurt abroad is also a daunting thought, and Gavin McClurg continually updates his website with information about the best travel health insurance plans that cover paragliding

From the United States, the closest major airports to St. Hilaire are Geneva (GVA) and Lyon (LYS). Drive time from Geneva is about an hour and a half, and from Lyon is almost two hours. It is often less expensive to get a flight to Paris, but the drive is close to six hours long. If flying into Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG), Terminal 2 houses the train station for taking a 200mph bullet train (called TGV) to Grenoble.

There are many options to rent a car in Paris, Lyon, and Grenoble. If planning to arrive in Geneva, renting a car from the French side of the city will avoid the high Swiss taxes.

The event is held primarily Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the town of Saint Hilaire du Touvet, about 25km away from Grenoble. There are multiple other Saint Hilaire villages in France, one of which is almost 500km away from where Coup Icare is held. In Saint Hilaire du Touvet, there are many AirBnB’s within walking distance from launch. The landing zone is in the village of Lumbin, also an option for many AirBnB’s. There is a shuttle for pilots going from Lumbin to St. Hilaire that runs all day long, and plenty of people hitchhike as well.

​Crolles is the nearest town with options for hotels, and his about a five minute drive from Lumbin. The most fun option for accomodations is probably camping in designated camping areas for the event. Paragliding related activities extend well into the night.


One of the best parts of Coup Icare as an American is experiencing another culture of paragliding. The largest paragliding event in the world may skew the perspective, but a few things remain the same when all of the festivities are packed up. Launch is an astroturf ramp specifically built for freeflight. More people show up to the Coup Icare event than there are registered pilots in the US. There are brands at the tradeshow that do not have any kind of presence in America. The town of St. Hilaire organized an event to celebrate free flight in 1974, and in 2019 there is an event that hosted 80,000 participants, of which 10,000 were freeflight pilots. Experiencing a mass celebration of freeflight is something to behold.

The event takes place on the Plateau des Petites Roches, approximately 600m/ 2000 feet above the valley floor. In the mid to late afternoons, freeflight is forbidden in order to clear the skies for organized airshows. The variety of aircraft performing is quite wide, and the launches quickly turn into ideal spectator spots. Wingsuit pilots jump off the Dent de Crolles and fly overhead into the valley below and acrobatic paraglider pilots jump out of helicopters in front of launch. Airplanes fly from Grenoble and perform loops and stalls over the valley below, making interesting shapes with their smoke displays. The weird and wonderful fly by, and everybody smiles.

One of the most popular segments of Coup Icare is the concours de déguisements, or costume flying contest. A huge bank of prizes go to the best costumes in a number of different categories, such as best hang glider, best paraglider, best tandem, and best group. There is also a prize for best costume in a certain theme each year if participants are looking for inspiration, but any self-inspired costumes are encouraged to attend. The theme for 2019 was Leonardo Da Vinci, but a crowd pleaser and 3rd place group winner was the family of ducks. A tandem, two mini-wings, and a solo paraglider all flew with inflatable pool toy ducks, and launched by having friends pull them down a slippery watered surface they rolled out just before launching.

The most inspiring freeflight films are premiered at the Icare Cinema, a film festival held for thirty seven years in a row at the Coup Icare. In 2019, thirty eight films totalling fourteen hours of viewing were shown. The crowd favorite was Playing With The Invisible, centered around Aaron Durogati and his quest to find a new perspective. Shots of flying in the Dolomites and Aaron’s thoughts on flying and life were a sensation to the crowd.

One of these highlights is enough to get curious about. Flying at a world famous site in a typically fantastic time of year raises a second eyebrow. Putting together thousands of fellow pilots, amazing displays of aeronautical skill, and a great film festival all warrant a trip at least once in a lifetime to Coup Icare.


From the weird to the wonderful, vendors use the largest paragliding event in the world to show off their wares and announce the latest and greatest. The tradeshow is held in two large tents at the bottom of the training hill, and is hard to miss when walking from one launch to the other. It is a small enough show that independent and inventive companies can show off their wares next to the major players releasing the most cutting edge technology. Some were selling super simple solar powered variometers the size of a large marshmallow. Other companies were selling 250cc paramotors. Everything in between was on display including the most effective reserve parachutes, most comfortable harnesses, and best performing wings.

The 46th Coup Icare dazzled patrons with a huge array of sights and sounds. Between the acrobatic paragliding demonstrations, wingsuit flybys, and airplane stunt shows, paraglider manufacturers had a chance to show off their latest and greatest to the general public.

Advance Impress 4

With the Impress and Lightness growing more similar, Advance announced the Impress 4 at Coup Icare as a more race oriented harness. The most immediately noticed parts of the new harness are the windshield and the aero tail, neither of which are on the Impress 3. Two subtle changes are four adjustable harness straps in the lumbar region as opposed to two from the prior model and the option to have a seatboard or not. The Impress 4 weighs 6kg and comes in three sizes for pilots 155cm tall to 200cm tall.

Gin Yeti Ultralight Reserve

Gin announced not only a new product but a new technology in the field of reserve parachutes. By flattening the center of a square parachute, the effective surface area increases, allowing less material to be used. The end result is a smaller packing, lighter weight reserve made of less material. It is the ideal tool for those looking for a reserve for their hike and fly missions, or to reduce weight and volume as much as possible for vol-biv or general travelling activities. Three sizes are rated for maximum loads of 85kg, 100kg, and 120kg


Nova Doubleskin

Available for a select few to demo, the Nova Doubleskin was a delight to see in action. It is the lightest weight EN-A/ EN-B paraglider ever built. With ease-of-use and hike-and-fly in mind, this glider is simple to inflate and fly after a long hike. The full two surfaces provides assurance for the pilot that wants the passive safety of an EN-A wing. Newer pilots in the 55-80kg range will appreciate another EN-A option in 17m2 size. More experienced pilots in the 75-90kg range may pick up the 17m2 option and appreciate the more dynamic flying associated with higher loading, but still enjoy knowing that in their weight range the glider gets an EN-B rating.



Stodeus GPS Bip+

The Stodeus GPS Bip+ variometer is a small package that packs a punch. It has a very rapid response time, responding sooner to a sensation of lift than many other varios on the market. The beeps are easily customizable, allowing users to match tones with whatever climb rate they desire. While flying, the GPS Bip+ stores the flight as a .kml files, which can immediately be opened in Google Earth. No extra software is needed in order to look at a flight track and share it with friends. All of this fits into a package that weighs 35 grams and is smaller than a helmet camera. For real-time information, pair it with a smartphone and see plenty of information. The price point is also ridiculously hard to beat for such an advanced and compact instrument.


Kortel Karver + Tandem unit

For costume flying, this was the most popular tandem harness seen. While not a new product announced this year, it certainly made a mark at Coup Icare. Pilots seemed to like it for the simple design and ease of which costumes can be built around it. By itself, the Karver is a fairly minimal harness, offering no back protection or reserve container. The tandem module easily attaches, providing both a place to store a reserve as well as some foam padding for lower spine protection in a compact unit.

White Sunglasses and Parapants

Thousands of pilots attended Coup Icare,
showing off the latest in fashion trends.
A pair of pants with black butt fabric as well
as a pair of white sunglassesseemed to be the
standard uniform of Europeanparaglider pilots,
male and female alike.