Chamonix draws people from all around the world with interests in a variety of different sports and activities and over the last 35 years, paragliding has become increasingly popular. No longer just the sport of one person and their wing, it's something that all ages can enjoy throughout the year.
One person that has seen the sport (and the valley) develop over the years is Sean Potts, who has been living here for around 25 years. Whilst he spends a lot of time in the skies above Chamonix, he's also partial to a spot of mountain biking, climbing, motorbike riding and skiing.
Hi Sean, Tell us a little bit about your business and how it started out…
Fly Chamonix is a small paragliding school that specialises in tandem paragliding flights. Despite my being Irish, the school is fully registered in the French system & is declared with the French Sports ministry and after six years of perseverance and working as a trainee instructor in the French system, I now hold the French Brevet d'Etat paragliding qualification.
How long have you been in your current role and how long has your company been around?
I have been living in Chamonix since around 1990 & learnt to paraglide here in 1991. I created Fly Chamonix in 2006 after having spent three years working for a local paragliding school.
What makes Chamonix a special place to be for someone in your profession?
Chamonix has been at the heart of paragliding since the start of the sport around 35 years ago. The steep and high mountains lent themselves well to the early days of our sport but perhaps the adventurous nature of Chamonix folk played an even bigger part. This passion is still very present here and it is a real pleasure to be surrounded by fellow enthusiasts.
What are the best bits about your job?
A few years ago I would have said that flying was the best part, after 24 years flying, I am still very passionate about flying and am probably the instructor in the valley who makes the most solo flights for myself when not flying professionally. My answer now would probably be meeting lots of great people & sharing my passion with them; anyone who is up for flying is someone with a little sparkle and it is always interesting to behold the different reactions of my passengers.
And the worst bits?
I would rather be flying than doing admin but I have learnt that a good flying experience for my clients starts with the booking process, where there is an opportunity to start instilling confidence & to show a professional approach to people. Poor weather is a nuisance as I can spend a lot time disappointing people by having to explain that it is not suitable to fly.
What is in store for the future with your business, any exciting projects in the pipelines that you can share with us?
For the moment I am happy to keep things compact & to attempt to offer the best possible level of service. I have a personal contact with all of Fly Chamonix's clients and feel that working with a small team of instructors keeps the client experience at the fore. It is not so easy to keep a big team motivated and all going in the right direction.
What are you personal and professional goals for the future?
Fly Chamonix has been highly rated & awarded Trip Advisors Certificate of Excellence for the past four years consecutive , its a useful indication that we are generally doing a good job and I would be very happy to see this continue but there is always scope to improve. As pilots, myself included, get very familiar with our environment, it is sometimes easy to get overly confident, I want to keep a keen & watchful eye on the safety aspects of our activity, this is a goal in itself as it is easy for pilots to become complacent.
What's your favourite piste or off-piste area & top tip to go skiing?
As a keen off piste skier, I would like to say Les Grands Montets or Plan de l'Aiguille as both areas have great off piste with such good slope orientations. Unfortunately things have changed since I first started skiing here around 26 years ago & now I prefer Le Tour for its great, varied off piste & the more relaxed pace of the backcountry skiers that go there. My top tip would be ski (or fly) where you have most fun & resist the pressure of having to impress others, the person with the biggest smile at the end of the day is the best skier (or flier) for me.
Your favourite place for lunch or dinner?
Lunch would be a sandwich up the mountain whilst doing something interesting, I have a pathological hatred of blocking the day for lunch, but if the weather is bad then we are often to be found at Le Cab, Moo or Chambre 9.
For dinner - well my girlfriend is French so I would be crazy not to say at home!
Where will we find the best coffee or hot chocolate?
What has been your best ever day in Chamonix?
There have been too many fantastic days to mention! Things that stand out are: First tracks down Rectiligne on a deep powder day was a pretty special day, perfect Spring snow at La Flegere, paragliding from Mt Blanc for the first time, being dug out of an avalanche after 25 mins below… None of these experiences would have meant much without the friends, some of whom are sadly no longer here, to share them with.
Do you remember your first trip to this resort?
I can vividly remember being blown away by the quality of the snow just in front of Plan Joran on my first visit to Chamonix.
What's your favourite thing to do in resort when not skiing or snowboarding?
Which is your favourite shop in resort?
I would rather not say names but I really appreciate the mountain sport shops that are not one brand stores, there is something special in seeing diversity with shops stocking what products will be of interest to their customers. I have fond memories of a more hard core (mainly climbing) Chamonix before the days of glitzy fashion shops like Chanel & Co. that for me have no place in Chamonix.
Where are we most likely to find you for après-ski?!
In front of my Mac replying to e.mails or given half a chance, on my mountain bike before it gets too dark to ride.
Skiing or snowboarding? What's your preference & why?
As long as everybody respects each other I am happy with all the different mountain activities. I am a committed skier but if boards had been around at the time when I started skiing I could easily have become a boarder. In the skies we have various different disciplines ranging from speed riding to paragliding acrobatics to wing suit base jumping, there is space for all, we just need to be a little tolerant.