Everything you ever wanted to know about the world's toughest adventure race. What is it, when is it, why's it so tough – and why you need to follow live!
The toughest huh? Really?
Shoulder a 10kg rucksack, hike 2,000m up a mountain, fly for several hours through complicated weather systems and over treacherous terrain. Land, now run for 30km and climb another 1,000m. Repeat every day for almost two weeks. Tough? We think so for this reason – no other race is as physically demanding and also requires such a high level of expert technical skill for such a sustained length of time.
Ok, we believe you! What are the details?
Athletes hike and fly across the Alps, navigating their way up and over the mountains via several Turnpoints. It's a straightline distance of about 1,100km but athletes can expect to cover double that during the race. One thing that is fixed: every kilometer must be covered either on foot or by paraglider.
Not a walk in the park then?
It's a formidable challenge that requires expert paragliding skill, years of mountaineering experience and an extraordinary level of endurance fitness. It's not uncommon for athletes to hike up to 100 km in a single day. On top of that athletes must be mentally strong to make good decisions under stress, when they're tired and in difficult mountain situations.
Woh! So not everyone can do it?
Absolutely not. The athletes who take part are the toughest, fittest, most talented and daring adventurers and paraglider pilots of their generation. These are men and women who know when it's time to put the foot on the gas and when it's right to come back another day. To take part, they go through a rigorous selection process.
What's faster, flying or hiking?
It all depends on the weather. In 2015, incredible flying conditions meant top pilots could fly 80% of the distance and a new record time was set as well as a record number of athletes making Monaco. But when there's bad weather, that means hiking and running. You can still do well on foot though. In 2011 the Romanian running legend Toma Coconea managed to come 2nd, despite hiking over 50% of the way.
Do most athletes reach the goal?
No! 2015 was a record year, seeing 19 competitors (just over half of the lineup) make it to goal, but on average only 12% of competitors make it to the float in the Mediterranean sea.
What must they carry?
Athletes must carry their paraglider and mandatory equipment at all times. That consists of an emergency parachute, helmet, mobile phone, GPS tracking device and a distress flare as well as other items. Add to that emergency mountain weather clothing, food and water and that equals a rucksack weight of around 10kg that has to be carried at all times.
Yes. In the early days athletes could race non-stop but since 2011, a mandatory rest period was introduced between 23:00 and 04:00 to let them sleep. As of 2013, the break has been extended by 1.5 hours, from 22:30 to 05:00 for safety reasons. Anyone caught trying to gain ground in those hours is subject to a 24-hour time penalty.
Yes. 2013 saw the introduction of a ‘Night Pass’, which allows athletes one opportunity to hike through the night. It can provide a strategic advantage, but all depends on when athletes choose to use it, as it can be used to devastating effect. In 2017 the three top-placed athletes of the Leatherman Prologue will receive an additional ‘Ledlenser Night Pass’.
Official supporters are just cheering them on right?
Wrong. Every athlete has an official supporter and they are the unsung heroes of the race whose job is almost as challenging as doing the race itself. Job description includes driver, chef, nurse, psychologist, meteorologist, race strategist, coach, mentor and probably a few others as well...
Where does the race go?
The Red Bull X-Alps 2017 route covers a straight-line distance of more than 1,100km and can be found here. For the first time in Red Bull X-Alps history, there will be a Turnpoint in Slovenia.
Okay, so who will be the winner?
The first athlete to touch down at the goal wins. The race then officially ends 48 hours later. Athletes who have not finished before the clock stops are ranked according to the distance left to the goal. Confused? Check out the 2017 rules.
So all the action's at the front?
Actually no. The 'battle at the back' can be just as fierce as athletes seek to avoid elimination. After three days and then every 48 hours the last team is pulled from the race.
How dangerous is it?
While every effort is made to ensure the Red Bull X-Alps is a safe race, every athlete has to appreciate the race takes place in the mountains and accept that inherent risks are involved. “It demands more than flying ability and endurance power – the ability to strategize and to make difficult decisions under pressure, while exhausted and completely at the limit is the key to being successful; but also to manage the risk of this extreme sport,” says race mastermind Hannes Arch. In order to make the race as safe as possible, the committee has restricted the gliders permitted to only those that are EN certified and only harnesses with certified protectors.
Who’s the mastermind behind all of this?
That would be Austrian pilot, Red Bull Air race champion, BASE jumper, mountaineer and adventurer Hannes Arch. He developed the concept for the Red Bull X-Alps when he saw a TV documentary in which German pilot Toni Bender hiked and glided his way across the Alps. The first Red Bull X-Alps was held in 2003.
The Swiss seem to have a knack for this thing?
Seems so. Swiss domination has started with Kaspar Henny in 2003 and has continued with Alex Hofer claiming victory in 2005 and 2007 and then Chrigel Maurer in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Who else should I look out for next to the Swiss?
As Chrigel himself acknowledges, anything can happen in a race of this magnitude. Look out for German Sebastian Huber and Austrian Paul Guschlbauer after their historical close finish in 2015. The 2015 edition saw 19 athletes of the 32 that competed make the goal – a record number since the first race in 2003. Incredibly, 12 rookies crossed the finish line.
What about the girls?
Yes, for the first time in a decade the 2015 edition saw some female athletes, Yvonne Dathe (GER2) and Dawn Westrum (USA3). “Paragliding and long distance trekking are two sports where men and women can compete almost equally.” So says Dawn.
What is the Prologue?
The Prologue is a mandatory one-day race around the mountains and lakes of Fuschl am See, Austria – an area instantly recognizable to fans of the Sound of Music, which was filmed here. The first three athletes are each given five-minutes on the main race start and an additional Led Lenser Nightpass to use during the race.
How can I follow the action?
The Red Bull X-Alps is uniquely suited to following live. Thanks to Live Tracking, you can see all the action unfold as it happens, follow your favorite athlete, check out their distances, rankings, 3D flight tracks and more.
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