The Art of Thermal in Paragliding: Techniques and Tips


Paragliding is one of those thrilling sports that push your adrenaline levels and give you a taste of the skies. It’s an embodiment of freedom, where you fly like a bird over breathtaking landscapes, feeling the wind in your face. But even more exhilarating is the technique of ‘thermaling’, an essential skill in paragliding that allows you to gain altitude and extend your flight duration.


Thermaling involves utilizing thermals – columns of rising air – to ascend. These are created by the sun heating the earth’s surface, which in turn warms the air above it. Warm air, being lighter, ascends, creating a thermal. Mastering this technique involves understanding weather patterns, temperature gradients, and many other subtle elements of the natural world.

Techniques for Thermaling in Paragliding

Identifying Thermals

  1. Visual cues: Look for large, flat, dark objects or areas, like fields, parking lots, or bodies of water, which heat faster than their surroundings, creating thermals. Birds circling without flapping their wings can be another excellent indicator of a thermal’s presence.

  2. Feel the air: If you experience a sudden change in temperature or a strong gust of wind, it might indicate a nearby thermal.

  3. Varometer: This essential tool beeps faster when you’re ascending in a thermal and slows when you’re not, helping you stay in the lifting air.

Entering a Thermal

  1. Bank and turn: Once you’ve located a thermal, bank your wing to the side and start turning to enter the thermal. Try to maintain a consistent banking angle and turn rate.

  2. Controlled turn: It’s crucial not to turn too steeply or too flat. A good rule of thumb is to have about a 45-degree angle of bank in your turn.

  3. Listen to your varometer: The varometer helps you identify the thermal’s core, the area with the strongest lift. If the beeping gets faster, you’re moving towards the core. If it slows, you’re moving away. Adjust your path accordingly.

Centering in a Thermal

  1. Feel the wing: As you circle in the thermal, pay attention to your wing. If one side of the wing lifts more than the other, it means that side is closer to the thermal’s core.

  2. Weight shifting and brake input: To re-center, gently shift your weight towards the side with more lift and apply a bit of brake on the same side.

  3. Fly a straight line: Another technique is to fly straight for a few seconds in the direction of the lift, then start circling again. This can help get you more fully into the thermal’s core.

Exiting a Thermal

  1. Plan your exit: Before reaching your desired altitude, plan your exit strategy, considering wind direction, glide ratio, and your next thermal or landing spot.

  2. Smooth exit: To exit the thermal, simply fly out of it in your desired direction. Try to make a smooth transition from circling to straight flight to maintain as much altitude as possible.

Tips for Efficient Thermaling

  1. Patience: Thermaling takes time, especially when the lift is weak. Resist the urge to rush or make abrupt maneuvers.

  2. Observation: Always be aware of your surroundings and the signs of thermals. Look for other paragliders climbing in thermals, birds soaring, or clouds forming.

  3. Practice: Like any skill, thermaling improves with practice. Start with small, easy thermals and work your way up to larger, more challenging

Best Place to Learn Thermaling: Valle de Bravo, Mexico

Selecting the perfect location for learning to thermal is crucial, as it not only provides the right conditions for practicing but also a safe and supportive environment. One location stands out from the crowd in this regard: Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

Located about 150km southwest of Mexico City, Valle de Bravo is a small town nestled in the highlands of central Mexico. It’s often referred to as the ‘paragliding paradise’ because of its unparalleled conditions for this sport. The reliable sunshine, the landscape’s geographical features, and the prevalence of thermals make it an ideal location for aspiring paragliding pilots to practice and perfect their thermaling skills.

Valle de Bravo’s paragliding season runs from November to May, and during this period, it provides consistent thermals and predictable weather patterns. The beautiful blue skies and large bodies of water contribute to a strong thermal generation, creating an excellent learning environment. It’s not uncommon for beginners here to experience flights longer than an hour, even in their early days of training.

Moreover, Valle de Bravo is home to numerous paragliding schools that offer thorough training programs for pilots of all skill levels. They provide professional instructors who prioritize safety and are well-versed in teaching thermaling techniques.

But Valle de Bravo isn’t just about the paragliding. This charming town also offers a rich culture, fantastic local cuisine, and beautiful vistas that add to the overall experience. The cobblestone streets, white-washed buildings, and serene lake make it a great place to relax and unwind after an exhilarating day of flying.

Contact Us to Learn More About Thermalling in Mexico!