Everything you ever wanted to know about the world's toughest adventure race.
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 and mentally 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 more than 1,000km 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 like in 2017, 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 14% 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, Recco reflectors 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 2019 the three top-placed athletes of the Prologue will receive an additional ‘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...
Are skis allowed?
The answer is simple: no, never – nor any method of traversing other than foot or flight. The race is to be completed via only two methods – moving by foot or by flight. They also can’t use a paramotor! Crampons are still allowed and are mandatory for crossing glaciers. The rules also allow normal showshoes (not the ones you can actually ski with!) for walking over snow.
Where does the race go?
The Red Bull X-Alps 2019 route covered a straight-line distance of 1,138km and passed 13 Turnpoints in 6 different countries - including Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and last but not least Monaco. With more Turnpoints than ever before, five crossings of the Alps and a complicated final leg to Monaco, it was once again called the “hardest route so far” by some of the athletes.
Okay, so who will be the winner?
The first athlete to touch down at the goal wins. The race then officially ends 24 hours later. Athletes who have not finished before the clock stops are ranked according to the distance left to the goal. Check out the detailed rules here.
Wait, when does the race end?
Confused? Basically, we want to give the closest challengers for the win a chance to finish – but the race isn’t supposed to be easy that a finish is guaranteed. So the race ends 24 hours after the winner touches down at the goal in Monaco.
It’s definitely the-journey-is-the-destination kind of race, so most athletes continue moving towards the finish even though they’re hours or days behind the winner, all the way to the race end. In fact, many have been known to continue their foot and flight journey to Monaco even after the race is officially over.
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 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 director Christoph Weber. In order to make the race as safe as possible, the committee has taken many actions: GPS tracking at all times, each athlete outfitted with a RECCO location device, and they’ve restricted the gliders permitted to only those that are EN certified – no prototypes – 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 who died in a helicopter accident in 2016. 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 6 times in a row in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Who else should I look out for next to the Swiss?
What about the girls?
Yes, in the past Red Bull X-Alps has seen 6 female athletes competing in the world’s toughest adventure race. “Paragliding and long distance trekking are two sports where men and women can compete almost equally”, says Dawn Westrum, participant in the 2015 edition of the race. The last edition in 2019 saw two female athletes, Kinga Masztalerz (NZL2) and Dominika Kasieczko (POL).
What is the Prologue?
The Prologue is a mandatory one-day race around the mountains of SalzburgerLand. The first three athletes are each given an additional Night Pass to use during the race. The overall rankings will also determine each athlete’s start time on day two of the main event. The 2021 Prologue will take place in Wagrain-Kleinarl and spectators are welcome to join at the start!
How can I follow the action?
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.
Can we see action?
Absolutely! Refer to the the Route page to get the most accurate information about how best to see the race – but if you can’t catch the athletes in person (and remember, they’re moving quick and often changing direction!) you definitely need to follow our social media channels, and of course, as mentioned above, the official live tracking.