Explainer: How to launch like a pro

Athletes need skills to launch their paragliders – here's how they do it

USA1 performing during X-Alps in Lechtal, Austria on June 25, 2021

In the Red Bull X-Alps athletes hike up, launch, fly, land, hike up, launch again. In this way they stitch together the kilometers and cover distance.

athletes will often need to launch many times a day, and usually from a mountainside where people don’t usually launch from.

That means their launching skills have to be perfect. You can’t afford for something to go wrong when you are launching in the wilderness, miles from any other people or possible help. 

So what do pilots need for the perfect launch?

1. First athletes must work out where they can launch from. They will often look at their digital maps first before scouting it out in person.

2. Athletes must launch into wind. This is the number one rule. So they must find a slope that faces the wind. This is why you will often see athletes on Live Tracking hiking for several kilometres to get into the right position on the mountain.

3. If the wind is light, or there is no wind, or if there is even a light wind from behind, then you will see athletes execute what is called a ‘forward launch’ or ‘Alpine launch’. This is where the athlete faces forwards, with the glider laid out behind them. They run forwards, the glider comes up above their head, and they keep running until they take off.

4. If the wind is stronger – say more than 5-8km/h - then athletes will carry out a ‘reverse launch’. This is where they turn to face the glider, and then inflate the wing a little on the ground. They pull the glider above their head until it is stabilised, then they turn and run off the hill.

In all cases athletes must think about the wind, the glider, the terrain, other air traffic, potential hazards in their way (trees, powerlines, cows, traffic) and themselves.

Only when all the elements come together will an athlete launch. It may be hurried, it may be from an incredible looking location, and it may look heart-stopping at times. But Red Bull X-Alps athletes have excellent launching skills, and they know what they are doing and how to do it.

Check out the social media clips and the daily highlight videos, and see if you can spot how an athlete is launching. 

And keep following all the action on Live Tracking!

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