Economy Minister Vaughan Gething has been soaring over the peaks of Snowdonia – without ever leaving the ground.
Mr Gething was given a taste of a UK first virtual reality paragliding experience during a visit to Adventure Parc Snowdonia in Dolgarrog in the Conwy Valley.
The two Fly Snowdon paragliding pods were created especially for the pioneering adventure complex – which also boasts the UK’s first inland surfing lagoon – by VR innovators Frontgrid who are based in Llandudno Junction.
A grant from the Welsh Government helped get the idea off the ground thanks to development funding from the Creative Wales agency that was set up in 2020 to support creative industries.
It has also benefited from further funding from the Clwstwr project that’s designed to put innovation at the heart of media production in Wales, as part of research looking at how to use virtual reality to connect people to real world places.
Using cutting edge gaming technology, they’ve faithfully recreated the glacial valleys and the towering peaks of Snowdonia, including the Glyderau, Tryfan, Crib Goch and the mighty Snowdon itself.
Wearing VR headsets, customers can either fly solo or as a pair – purely for pleasure or in competition against each other – in two ParaDrop VR pods which are side by side.
As with a real life paraglider, the pilots sit in a harness and use steering lines to bank left or right, combining virtual reality and motion-based hardware to simulate the movement.
The idea came from a conversation with Adventure Parc Snowdonia director Andy Ainscough and his father and fellow director, Martin Ainscough, 18 months ago.
Frontgrid co-founder Matt Wells, an ex-paratrooper, said: “We got talking about developing some content which would allow people to fly over Snowdon and the National Park which we then fitted to our machines.
“What that’s done is allow Adventure Parc Snowdonia to offer the UK’s first location based flying experience.
“It’s very exciting to see the ParadropVR Pod live and people coming off the ride and saying ‘Wow’.
“As the experience is multi-player, you can literally fly with your friends and see them in the VR environment.
“You feel like you’re fully immersed in a 360 degree environment. It’s about as realistic as it can possibly be.
“You’re connected to machine that gives you motion and that combined with the virtual reality allows you to steer yourself around the environment and feel the sensation of flying in the canopy.
“It enables the virtual paragliders to enjoy the incredible landscape that surrounds us from a completely new perspective.
“You can go where you want to go and the beauty of the product is that you are master of your own journey. You can decide where you want to go, when you want to fly low and when you want to stay high and cruise around.
“Snowdonia area is one of the darkest areas of the UK where you don’t have much influence from external light so, as well as a daylight version, you can also fly at night and see the constellations and the stars and experience the mountains in a different way.
“The product is manufactured at our base on the Tre Marl Industrial Estate in Llandudno Junction and we’re now seeing a lot of interest in the ParadropVR product.
“We’re getting orders from as far afield as North America and the Middle East. It’s really taking off.
Andy Ainscough said he was very grateful that Mr Gething had taken time out of his busy schedule to visit Adventure Parc Snowdonia.
He said: “We are very proud of what we have created here on what was the site of a redundant aluminum factory.
“Since creating the UK’s first surfing lagoon when we launched in 2015, we have added a host of adrenalin fuelled attractions, both outdoors and indoors and the opening of the onsite Hilton Garden Inn Hotel last year was a game-changer.
“Our aim is to tap into the corporate market, providing a venue for conferences and team building courses, so we can extend our season and create more all-year-round employment.
“In the meantime, the Fly Snowdon pods are a fantastic, ground-breaking addition to the activities we can offer.
“We’ve all seen the queues of people waiting to get to the summit of Snowdon but now you can swoop over Wales’s highest peaks and the rest of the spectacular range of mountain without ever leaving the ground.
“So, as well as being a thrilling ride, it’s also eminently sustainable.”
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “I’m delighted that Creative Wales has been able to support the development of this brilliant VR – and that these two local companies have joined forces for Adventure Parc Snowdonia to be the first place in the UK to offer Paradrop VR, it’s another exciting development to the wonderful adventures on offer here.”