Eduardo Garza shares the highs, lows and scary moments of his 2021 campaign and explains why competing in the Red Bull X-Alps makes you a better person.
So, how was it the second time?
The competitive level was higher for sure. If you had a really bad day, you could drop way behind since every team was well prepared and firing on all cylinders. This time around the weather was more challenging and unforgiving, but we still found a good flow and were making distance more consistently day after day compared to 2019. It was also great seeing old friends and familiar faces.
Did you make fewer mistakes or just different ones?
Fewer. As a team we were able to gather and process more information, which helped us make better decisions on the ground and in the air. For example, during the 2019 race we unknowingly got into hazardous situations (riding gust fronts comes to mind), and this time around we knowingly jumped into these, which is more of a risk management decision since you are already expecting it and can plan ahead, instead of it being a nasty surprise.
“We were getting drenched by rain and at points struck by large hail.”
Was it too windy this year?
The weather was certainly more challenging this time around with strong winds combined with strong foehn and usually good lapse rates (strong thermals). It was flyable, but you had to be on top of your game at all times. I usually don’t like to use all my knowledge, all my skills and all my luck to get out of situations, but this happened a few times during this race.
Talk us through one incident
After Turnpoint 5 Lermoos I launched from the Grubigstein and saw that the sky on the northern route was looking ominous with dark clouds and low base, so I headed southwest towards the Arlberg Pass. I was flying with Théo de Blic and Nicola Donini and after a few kilometers of scratching the high peaks together, conditions just turned on. Around Imst we got in this monster thermal that I gladly took towards cloud base, until I realized that airspace was getting dangerously close. I spiraled lightly, but I was still going up at 5 m/s, so I now went into a deep spiral. My instruments were going crazy with airspace alarms and beeping from thermals still pushing me upwards.
“I went into a deep spiral. My instruments were going crazy with airspace alarms and beeping from thermals still pushing me upwards.”
Suddenly cloud formed around me so I was now spiraling with no reference of where I was, with high peaks in the vicinity, and the wing being trashed around violently. By this point I’m amazed that the gear hasn’t ripped apart, and almost on cue I hear a loud snap and feel a sharp pain in my lower back. (The supporting rod for the back rest broke in half due to the high G-force.) I shift my weight to alleviate the sting, and keep the spiral going. After some very tense moments I finally dropped behind the thermal so I could keep going along the course line. I was still shaking for the next few kilometers, but my mind was so focused on pushing ahead that by the time I landed I almost forgot all about it. It wasn’t until we stopped for the night that it all came back to me.
The flight from the Rhone valley to Bellinzona was very eventful for the right (and wrong) reasons. It was Day 10 and we were heading to Turnpoint 10 Piz Palü. We did three glides between Verbier and Sierre, and after the Sion airspace conditions turned on so I crossed the valley. I was very tired by then so on one of the glides I just fell asleep, deeply and soundly. I was literally dreaming when hail woke me up. Air became unbelievably turbulent due to the strong north foehn and strong west wind so after that point there wasn’t even a single moment to rest.
“I was getting closer and closer to the trees, with the airspace just a few meters away. At the last moment, barely above the tree tops, I ducked under the airspace.”
Every now and then, the wing was being tossed around like a piece of paper, with me along for the ride. My team communicated that the southern route was looking like the best option for the remaining days, so I headed towards the Simplon pass. I was doing 90+ kph when I crossed into Italy. Thermaling while going backwards I got to the Domodossola area where a huge sink put me in a canyon with absolutely no landing zones. I scratched my way out and then headed to Lago Maggiore. The wind forced me to take the southern line over it, and I crossed after some really sketchy flying. Heading east I now had the Locarno airspace squeezing me into the mountain side, and the only landing at this point was underneath the airspace, leaving only a tiny window between its floor and the trees. So I was descending, getting closer and closer to the trees, with the airspace just a few meters away. At the last moment, barely above the tree tops, I ducked under the airspace and landed a few seconds afterwards. That flight gave us a few positions, and was easily one of the trickiest I have done in my flying career!
“You had to be on top of your game at all times.”
What do you love about the race?
The concept is really very simple but has deep implications. If you succeed, that’s great, you get your dopamine rush and you push on to the next challenge. If you fall short, as long as you go back and analyze why it happened (as painful as this may be), you will have learned a very valuable lesson. For this particular reason, the experience for me was a win-win situation, and I feel grateful to my team and the organization for giving me the opportunity to participate. This is not only applicable in flying, but also in life, so I’m convinced that by applying it consistently throughout all our activities won’t only help us become better pilots, but also better people.
“We couldn’t see more than five meters in front us.”
Were you happy with your performance?
Even though I would have loved to finish the race, participating was a challenge in itself given our circumstances. We are not an Alpine based team and we didn’t have an opportunity to fly in the Alps since the 2019 race. We are also office bound people with 9-5 jobs, which meant we could only train during late afternoons and even afterwards we needed to take care of air transport, ground vehicles, gear, sponsors, nutrition, route planning, checklists, insurance, logistics, etc. So in a nutshell, I am certainly satisfied with our performance. A big shout out to Jason Wallace, Anton Zalutsky, Peter Greis, Bianca Heinrich and Paul Van Liew for their commitment and amazing support!
“I was wonderstruck by the formidable and desolate landscape.”
Lastly, give us a real high point from the race.
Mont Blanc! The day started with a long hike to Col d’Enclave under nice weather, but it quickly turned to the worse with a storm rolling through the area. At one point we couldn’t see more than five meters in front us, and we were getting drenched by rain and at points struck by large hail. To our surprise, skies opened up briefly, so we rushed to find a launch and get ready to “escape” from the lee side of these massive peaks. Winds were blowing at 40 kph from the back (North), so we had to walk to a lower slope and wait for a thermal cycle to push through. It finally came and after going across some really turbulent air around the Col de Miage due to the strong winds, I had the most surreal flight along the whole Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif. I was wonderstruck by the formidable and desolate landscape, and even though I was racing, I took my time getting video of the impressive sights. That was not the coolest part of the day though. We ended up heading to Verbier, where the local pilot community (Yael’s buddies) met us with a lot of enthusiasm, feeding us pasta, chocolate and beers. They even found us a place to stay and gave me tips on where to fly the next day. These are the moments that really make this race special!
Top image © zooom / Vitek Ludvik