What makes Chrigel Maurer so good?
How has Chrigel Maurer won four Red Bull X-Alps in a row? What makes him such a good paraglider pilot?
The first thing is natural talent. Chrigel was an apprentice bricklayer when he discovered paragliding in his teens. He took to it easily and was soon impressing his peers with his natural feel for the wing and the air.
The second is practice. Lots and lots of practice. Chrigel lives in the Swiss Alps and is a professional pilot. He works as a paraglider test pilot and flies 300 hours a year.
He’s also a highly skilled competition pilot. He was been Swiss national paragliding champion several times, and has won numerous high level international competitions in both paragliding racing and acrobatics.
The fourth thing is slightly technical, and is about how he picks his line through the air. If you compare his track with other athletes, he often flies straighter and with less turning in thermals. This means he flies fast. It is a natural and highly efficient way of flying, tuned by thousands of hours in the air over many years. It’s remarkably similar to how an eagle flies – taking the best line to maximise lift. Chrigel really does fly like an eagle.
Another skill is that Chrigel can land anywhere. If you’ve seen videos of him dropping down beside the road, or landing on a tiny patch of cleared forest on a mountainside you’ll have seen this skill in action. Just like parking a car, it can sometimes be quite hard to land a paraglider. Chrigel lands like he’s stepping off a bus – he steps down exactly where he wants to. He can land in a clearing in a forest the size of a squash court. If you have that in your bag of tricks, then you can go many places other athletes would consider ‘unlandable’.
Finally, it really is a case of preparation pays. Chrigel and his team approach the Red Bull X-Alps professionally. They train for it. And while Chrigel himself has said he can't possibly train for every eventuality, he does train for certain scenarios and conditions. So he will go out to fly on poor weather days and push himself to go further. Or he will practice taking off in progressively smaller and smaller spots until he can take off from a firebreak in a forest and feels comfortable with it.
He and his supporter also plan to succeed, and they plan to get the most out of every day. Before Chrigel, athletes in the Red Bull X-Alps would do a big hike and then wait for the thermals to start. Chrigel pioneered the tactic of stitching together numerous short flights into one big distance, using every hour in the day to keep moving forward. His average speed over the course tells this story – 31km/h compared to Guschlbauer’s (AUT1) 28km/h.
This combination – talent, skill, training, experience and planning – make him what he is. His nickname, Chrigel the Eagle, is truly well earned.