Skywalk into the future

An interview with Skywalk CEO Arne Wehrlin

Skywalk Fly Jacket

Skywalk has been a partner of Red Bull X-Alps since 2015. CEO Arne Wehrlin looks back on the big changes he's seen and how their collaboration with Salewa has resulted in products like the new Fly Jacket.

"Everybody is fighting with the mental and body part. It's an incredible adventure." An interview with Skywalk CEO Arne Wehrlin.

What have been the biggest changes you've seen in the race?

When we first started looking at the Red Bull X-Alps, we already had some athletes there, the Italian Andy Frötscher and Uros Rozic who was Slovenian. They were among the first to participate (in 2003) and they were carrying around 20 kilos. Now it’s extremely professional. You have no chance unless you change your life and focus on this kind of competition because you need to train every day for at least one year. The skills for paragliding must be really high. The athlete skills for being fit is extremely high. And the team behind is very professional. I have also great respect for people like Reto Reiser or Ferdinand van Schelven who have a normal job beside their training.

How did you come on board?

We started in 2015, the same time Salewa started. The cooperation with Salewa started together – we were discussing if a cooperation would be a good idea, and then we heard that Salewa was going to join the Red Bull X-Alps and we thought that if we do that together, we (Skywalk and Salewa) can strengthen our cooperation. Red Bull X-Alps was for sure one of the most famous competitions worldwide. Everybody knows this competition and hike and fly was getting more and more important in the Alps. With Salewa, we started to communicate to their customers that paragliding is not just a risky sport with crazy people! That it's also for serious people who have children and that you can do this sport in a safe way, contrary to that impression.

Red Bull X Alps 2023 Skywalk Arne Wehrlin
Skywalk CEO Arne Wehrlin. © Skywalk

"You need the wing to work in the hardest flying conditions"

Wings, gear and equipment have evolved massively. What's the direction now?

Generally, for sure pilots are getting better, and the material is getting better. The  wings are really stable to fly in all different kinds of conditions. I think you cannot have a better proof and better feedback if a wing is working than Red Bull X-Alps because the athletes fly in all conditions. Nobody will make so many flying hours in such a short time, and also with so much running and hiking. You get so much proof on all the products from the rucksack to the harness and the wing.

The flight behavior must also be excellent to control in all hard conditions. It’s not like a competition where you fly mostly when conditions are good – you don't fly in the rain! Here at Red Bull X-Alps you need the wing to work in the hardest flying conditions you can have, and the pilots must be able to manage it. At regular competitions you would not expect flying in these conditions, but in Red Bull X-Alps, the athletes are doing it. On the other hand, the wings are becoming so stable and high performing with such light fabrics that even this year pilots said it would have not been possible to fly like they did with the wing from two years ago.

Where do you think glide ratios are headed?

We are already over 10:1 (meters of horizontal distance vs loss of height) and when I started paragliding  35 years ago only hang gliders had 10:1 we never thought that a paraglider will be the same. But the glide ratio is only one part which makes a good wing. Other parts are stability, handling, easy to fly, speed and climbing. If you don't climb for sure you have a problem at Red Bull X-Alps cause then you hike more.

Where do you see the sport going generally?

I think for sure hike and fly stays interesting in the future, especially for young people who are athletic, already in the mountains who do ski touring and are sporty people. They get more and more interested in our sport, as it is great to be outside, to walk or climb up and then fly down especially when the snow is getting less and less year by year. Most people like to hike up but not to walk down. Therefore, the easy light beginner gliders are perfect to get these people into the sport. On the other side worldwide not everything is about hike and fly, in the Alps it’s very important but in hot rough countries the world market is different. They want often just resistant materials to start paragliding. They have rough starting places with a lot of mechanical stress for the products.

Red Bull X Alps 2023 Skywalk Paul Guschlbauer 2
Paul Guschlbauer wearing the new Fly Jacket. © Robin Issartel

Tell us about your collaborations with Salewa

We thought that it would be good to take the competence of Salewa and us and see what kind of products we can do together. The hike rucksack is a regular hike and fly rucksack, and the back part is really good. A little bit more weight makes it much more comfortable. We could have not made a rucksack with this 3D shaping back part and they could have not made it because they don't have the know-how of the wing, the harness and everything which needs to fit in. We also did the Pace rucksack together and the Fly Jacket which is only possible to get through us. I think it's really cool. Both brands have the passion while everyone from management to owners lives their sports from hiking and flying. Beside that we are friends. This makes it even easier and a lot fun to work together.

How do you see the future of Red Bull X-Alps?

Everything is getting closer. You see how many athletes reached the goal in such a short time. It's just incredible that this happened. There are other events today but Red Bull X-Alps is for sure still the biggest worldwide. It's clear that it's a great competition. And even if people complain sometimes, everybody's still sitting a lot of hours per day on Live Tracking.

Are you happy with the Skywalk Team?(It includes Paul Guschlbauer, Simon Oberrauner, Tommy Friedrich, Markus Anders, Reto Reiser, Tim Alongi, Laurie Genovese, Jordi Vilalta and Lenart Oblak.)

It's a cool team. We were several times on the podium. Paul was four times third, Simon was third. Chrigel was first on our wing in 2017. We are very successful and we are happy about that. But this race is so narrow that you don't know what's going to happen. I'm happy with the team because we need a team which likes each other and that also makes it fun to work with all of them.

Tim Alongi (FRA4) celebrates in the finish of the Red Bull X-Alps in Zell am See, Schmittenhöhe, Austria on June 18, 2023. // Christian Lorenz / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202306180299 // Usage for editorial use only //
Athlete Tim Alongi during Red Bull X-Alps 2023. © zooom / Christian Lorenz

What a race Tim had!

He is really an extraordinary guy. Very nice and a great character. One of the best acro pilots who made the move into hike and fly. I think it's just the beginning because he's still young. But all of the team is good not only one. Everybody has their story and this is what I like at this race. Everybody is fighting with the mental and body part. It's an incredible adventure. Other young athletes are coming too.

Final word on the 2023 race?

It was amazing. There were conditions where nobody would fly and they made hundreds of kilometers in these conditions!

The Skywalk Salewa Fly Jacket is available to buy from Skywalk dealers and online here.

Top image © Skywalk

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