Athletes' highs and lows
Three athletes open up about their personal top moments during the 2019 Red Bull X-Alps.
We asked three athletes for the special moments that stand out for them. From rogue cows, valley winds and dusk flights – this is what lingers in the memory.
CODY MITTANCK (USA3)
On day three Cody Mittanck recorded the second longest flight of the Red Bull X-Alps, flying 133.9km in three hours, nine minutes between Aschau am Chiemsee and Kronplatz. This is what he recalls:
“Let me start with a little build-up. The previous day was rough. I was having a great flight along the Hochkönig on my way to the Aschau Turnpoint, only to land early when I misread my maps and flew too far north. My hiking supporter Brian and I did a long hike and launched again around 8pm. I ended up landing high but Brian got separated and landed in a place with no service. My driving supporter Huntley spent three hours trying to find him but eventually gave up and left him to sleep in his wing. Meanwhile I was at around 1,500m curled up on the ground trying to stay warm when Huntley finally got to me.
“I never quite got used to the emotional rollercoaster.”
To cap that sequence of events, the very next morning we received a text at 5am saying Dominika Kasieczko (POL) was on the move and we were going to get eliminated. I leapt out of the van with no food or water and began racing up to the peak. By the time I got to the top Huntley realized we had gotten bad information. The elimination was not happening until the next day! There was no place to launch at the top and I knew it was going to be a really good weather day so I hiked back down and got some food in me and prepared to fly all day. When conditions turned on I was able to fly to the Aschau Turnpoint, land, quickly hike back up and then have an epic flight almost all the way to Kronplatz.
It took me from one of the lowest points in the race to one of the highest – I never quite got used to the emotional rollercoaster! By the way, the reason my flight was so long was because I got stuck in the valley winds in the Ahrnthal Valley. It was late in the day when I arrived and I couldn't stay in the high terrain. I ended up trying at least ten times to penetrate through the valley winds and made zero headway! I finally accepted my fate and walked into Kronplatz.”
NICK NEYNENS (NZL1)
“An incident that comes to mind was on day five. It was really tight. Out the door at 5am I decided the best option was to climb up the hill near the hotel and glide down the valley, landing just outside of airspace, before racing on foot past Innsbruck to get to a launch for the first thermals of the day. If I was late, I wouldn't get to fly to Zugspitze before the storms rolled in. Reaching a clearing in the trees at 6am, it was the best place I could find on the map but it was still rather doubtful. The trees are really tall, and I climbed to the very top of the clearing to have the best chance of flying over the top. A narrow tongue of grass extended just a little higher into the trees so I thought I could come out of the slot with a few extra metres.
Laying out the wing, the top surface blew over as the sinking katabatic winds fanned down the shady mountainside. Running at full speed, I almost made it. The top of a baby tree was just a foot or so too close, and snagged my wing. So there I was, conscious of the minutes ticking away, while I tried to be as patient as I could, swinging wildly on the thin branches of a small conifer as I hung off the top, pulling it down so I could reach the lines and flick them over. I got it out, but I was still worried the whole plan might fall in a heap and I might have to pack up my wing, now covered in evergreen leaves and wet with dew, take it down the mountain and what's worse, I'd be late. It was definitely worth another go.
“My path took me directly over a cow sitting in a hollow.”
A paraglider flies at roughly the speed of an Olympic sprinter, but if you have a tailwind, it's even faster. It sinks too. As I hugged the slope, skimming along the wet grass, my path took me directly over a cow sitting in a hollow. I glanced at it as I passed right over the top, looking at it and thinking, ‘Don't move!’
Once in the air it was all worthwhile and the sinking winds gave me a good push out towards Innsbruck. I landed by the road in the last paddock before the valley sank away into a tree-filled gorge. It was a great way to start the morning!”
KAORU OGISAWA (JPN)
“My first day was good. I took a night pass and the second day I was in quite a good position – I went to the front. On the second day I started hiking and crossed a ridge and flew down. I was so happy to follow this mountain.
Physically it was not a problem you know. My physical state was good, but maybe my brain was tired. I needed more energy for the brain! After 24 hours of walking it needed to wake up. Chrigel appeared and it was a moment of high tension. I thought, I can follow the guys, the top pilots flying together! But I had decided to go another way and follow my plan, and go north. That was a mistake.”
“I used this technique a few times and it really works.”
But Kaoru was happy to follow Chrigel’s example elsewhere in the race. “I’ve followed the last five editions and I know at the beginning and end of the day Chrigel uses this moment to fly far. I used this technique a few times and it really works. It was a good feeling, [instead of] hiking 10km, I could manage by flying. That was quite satisfying.”
Relive all of the action of the 2019 race now here.
Photos © zooom / Sebastian Marko, Harald Tauderer