Serena, 28, won the Women’s class in XContest 2021 with flights of 264, 288, 293, 319, 310 and 316km in northeast Brazil

Serena Ronchi: Going Big in Brazil

Friday 21 October, 2022

Serena Ronchi won the 2021 Women’s XContest after flying more than 10,000km in a year. She explains how she learnt to fly cross country so quickly, and why she has her eye on the new Swiss hike-and-fly league.

By Ed Ewing

How did you start flying?

As a child I always dreamed of flying. The feeling of levitation and liberty is addictive. I did two tandems in 2013 and 2015 but I only clicked in 2018 when I saw two guys flying down the mountain after a via ferrata. That was magical. I called a paragliding school near where I live in the Pre-Alps in Switzerland and started flying.

How was your progression?

From the start I always liked to stay in the air for as long as possible, and I found it easy to explore new mountains and valleys. But understanding the air mass was very difficult. A year after I got my licence I joined the Swiss League and started XC training. It helped a lot. In 2020 I met pilots from the Alpsfreeride Team and got really motivated. Like them, I wanted to maximise the potential of each flying day.

Is it true you logged more kilometres than any other pilot in Brazil in 2020?

Yes. I spent three months in the northeast and then two weeks in Governador Valadares. I took eight months off and I flew more than 10,000km and 400 hours. I was flying the AirDesign Soar (EN B+) and Volt (EN C).

Children in Brazil

Making new friends after a flight in Brazil. Photos: Serena Ronchi

How was it learning to fly the flatlands?

In the beginning very difficult. I had to learn alone and sometimes it was discouraging. But I loved flying with the wind, without airspace. And meeting lovely people after each landing.

You’re also active in hike-and-fly at home…

Hike-and-fly attracts a lot of people in Switzerland, and since November 2021 we have had a new Hike-and-Fly league, managed by Bernhard Senn. There is also the X-Alps Academy where the focus is on new adventures as a team and on preparing for competition. The group is kept small so the team feeling can be lived.

What have you learnt?

To manage my limits and my emotions better. And to trust myself more. On the physical side I learned how to plan training, and I gained in motivation to train hard! Meeting other pilots of the group helped me a lot because they have allowed me to widen my field of vision. Chrigel Maurer is always ready to give advice. The most important thing he has told me is to always listen to my own feelings.

You had an accident in 2021. What happened?

It was just before landing. There wasn’t a lot of wind but then I saw some trees moving a lot and I thought, “There’s a big thermal over there, hold your wing”. A few second later I had a big collapse. I think I flew into a dust devil. I broke my back and am going through a lot of rehabilitation, but I expect to make a full recovery. I am so grateful to have had the best possible care.

Looking ahead, what’s your ultimate adventure?

I dream of vol-bivouac adventures and taking part in some of the hike-and-fly competitions.  And I want to finish my tandem licence and do some XC competitions. And I’d love to fly big distance in Brazil again!

This article was first published in the Cross Country Adventure Guide 2022

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