We talk to Thomas Aichner and Florian Oberst from Salewa who collaborated with Skywalk to produce the unique Fly Jacket.
Tell us about the new Fly Jacket
Thomas Aichner: It all started with a specific athlete request from Chrigel Maurer some years ago where we created a unique prototype for him. From that we thought to create also a commercially available product, which was then realized in a collaboration between Salewa, some of our speed hiking / paragliding athletes and the Skywalk team.The project was starting from the idea that in paragliding you have specific needs and all those down jackets on the market do not really fulfil them. For example, the arms need to be longer because you raise your arms. You don't need a hood because you have your helmet. You don't need the padding on the back because you have the bedding of your paragliding seat, but you need a lot of padding in the front. And so we have been collecting all these features that a paraglider needs and made a few prototypes, which have been tested by our athletes. And finally, together with our colab partner Skywalk, we have been producing this jacket, which is now being sold since few weeks through Skywalk Paragliders and their partners, and also from ourselves.
What’s it like to work with Chrigel?
Thomas Aichner: We have been collaborating with him for more than ten years. He's giving a lot of input because he's a really technical oriented guy, and therefore he was very helpful in giving us really detailed input in the very first phase of the earliest prototype developments. On that we were able to build as well with Paul [Guschlabuer] and Elisa [Deutschmann] who contributed then a lot in the final product for inspiration, feedback and testing.
What’s the story behind your collaboration with Red Bull X-Alps?
Thomas Aichner: It's quite a long collaboration (since 2015). The Red Bull X-Alps has quite bright visibility, probably because it's one of the last real adventure races. There are not so many competitions that are so free – normally competitions are in a specific area. And here the area is the whole Alps. Maybe this is the reason why many people are watching Live Tracking on their mobile devices! We get a really good return not only media wise, but also being in contact with athletes from the whole scene. And this is also the reason why we continue.
What is it about the event that that fits so closely with Salewa’s DNA?
Thomas Aichner: The key word here is adventure. We see a general development of many mountain brands in a direction towards urban style and fashion. And so do we in a certain way. But we still have a really strong mountain DNA, which we are proud of. And the Red Bull X-Alps is really an event where adventure is important, where product has to be very reliable and robust. This is the promise we also give for our products. Maybe another keyword is team playing. I mean, Red Bull X-Alps is all about these teams. A single athlete never could win. Chrigel Maurer’s recipe is also to have a strong supporter team. And we think that mountaineering is generally a team game. We live it also here in the company. A good output is always teamwork.
What’s the direction of travel with the evolution of gear. Is it all about getting lighter?
Florian Oberst: There were different phases. There was a phase where everything was about being the lightest. Of course this has the contrast of some things not being as durable as consumers would expect. We have to be aware that we are creating products not only for pro athletes. When they rip their jacket, they can go to the brand and say, ‘Hey, I need a new jacket!’
We still have expectations from consumers on reliability and durability. And this is also a key element of sustainability to use the items as long as you can. So we still have the possibility now to go lighter than previously. Also with new manufacturing techniques and new materials that still can make things lighter, but keep the same performance as before in terms of durability.
Tell us about the relationship with Skywalk
Thomas Aichner: We have a really strong personal relationship. We are also friends with the owner Arne [Wehrlich], but of course we have also a formal relationship which touches different points of collaboration. One important point is that Skywalk is a distributor of our Pedroc hike and fly collection through flying schools. Flying schools are a really attractive distribution channel where people purchase not only paragliders, but also apparel. And we don't have the connection to these flying schools, but of course Skywalk does. Another important pillar of the collaboration concerns the athletes, with quite a few who are Salewa and Skywalk athletes.
Where do you see the race going in the future?
Florian Oberst: The visibility of the event will definitely increase. The Turnpoints are getting more awareness. I was really impressed that so many people came to Kitzbühel! So there is a huge growing scene that is actually very interested in the event. Secondly, what I personally see is definitely the involvement of women. There are more and more really passionate women doing what was until now a really male dominated competition, but there are some strong paragliding pilots. The race is super hard, but I think it's not a hurdle for women to also enter.
Lastly a word on your athletes, who are the ones to watch?
Thomas Aichner: Well, we have really two generations. We have clearly Chrigel Maurer, Aaron Durogati and Paul Guschlbauer who have been in the race since it's existing. And I see that Paul and Aaron are approaching the race much more relaxed than the young ones. Then we have Simon Oberrauner, who is a bit younger, but not too young, and we have some young strong athletes growing up, like Tommy Friedrich. I think he really will perform well in the future. Also, Elisa Deutschmann (who supported Chrigel in 2023) – she wants to do it and has a good chance. Also Chrigel has some guys who are training and hanging around with him, who are not Salewa sponsored but who are really doing well. Some French guys, some Swiss guys. I think in the next edition there will be a generational change in the race. The young ones will take over from the first generation of participants!
The Skywalk Salewa Fly Jacket is available to buy from Skywalk dealers and online here.
Top image © Robin Issartel