The traditional start of the race takes place directly in the city center of Salzburg. The city’s famous Mozartplatz sings a new tune as athletes and fans toe the start line before running towards the Gaisberg. The first few steps of this 1,138 km journey are easy because adrenaline is high – but they’re definitely not slow. Tradition almost requires athletes take off running – rarely will they run this quickly during the long haul across the race route. Situated in the Northern Alps far to the East, Salzburg is the perfect jumping-off point for the race, as it offers easy access to numerous paragliding ‘super-highways’ that will allow the athletes to move quickly through the air. The city start makes for a perfect day-long excursion for fans of Red Bull X-Alps – action begins at mid-day, allowing time for spectators to travel in – and the start of the race is easily accessible by public transportation or with a 15-minute walk from the main station. Following the start everybody rushes to the next turnpoint (and first take-off!) the Gaisberg. But be warned: if you want to see the start at the Mozartplatz – get there early to claim your viewing area – there’s always a crowd, rain or shine!
The Salzburg ‘Hausberg’ offers a first hand view of flying action. Just a 30-minute bus ride (or two-hour hike) out of Salzburg, it sits nearly 1000m above town, Making it the perfect spot for the first flights of Red Bull X-Alps. It’s flying in (almost) any wind direction, offers big, wide fields for easy viewing, and is sure to be scene of some action on race day. With two mountain huts on hand to serve and a festive party atmosphere, it’s an event not to be missed for paragliders or adventure sports fans. It’s a great chance to see the athletes up close while excitement is still high from the start. Few hold back at the start – they’ll have been trying to make their best time up from the Mozartplatz, and they arrive, uh, pretty sweaty. Then it’s a question of whether to immediately launch, or wait for even better conditions – the strategy starts right away before they head off to Wagrain – Kleinarl.
Please note: while the summit is normally accessible by private car, for race day, public transportation will provide access to the summit via busses. There’s no parking or access for private vehicles that day.
This small mountain holiday town will be the second Turnpoint, after athletes clock close to 60km off the map. If good flying conditions are present, they might come in from the air – but the Red Bull X-Alps signboard they’ll have to scratch their name on will be down in town at the paraglider landing zone. And don’t be fooled – even though it’s not far from Salzburg, they’re already in the thick of the race with the high mountains of the Tennengebirge and the tight airspace of the Salzburg airport squeezing them in from all sides. The good news? They’ll be well acquainted with this area after flying the Prologue there just days before. This is a great place to camp out – athletes won’t be too far stretched out across the field as this Turnpoint is still relatively close to the start of the race. If you’re thinking of catching the action, we recommend arriving early for a hike on the hill or a ride in the bike park before the athletes arrive late in the day – unless it’s absolutely dumping rain, expect almost all athletes to make this Turnpoint on the first day of the race. Then they’ll take off to Aschau-Chiemsee, by foot or flight, as always!
One of the two most northerly Turnpoints of the race, just south of Chiemsee in the Chiemgauer Alps. A ‘booming’ start to the race may see some competitors arrive on the first day – but for most, it’s likely they’ll arrive early on day 2. Standing in their way is the Hochkönig mountain group – a challenge either flying or hiking. In Aschau, they’ll need to pencil their name in to the signboard at the paragliding landing – then they can easily hike back up to the launch at the famous Kampenwand. For spectators, it’s a great spot – convenient to the A8 autobahn, and near enough to the start that you can catch a good bit of action in a few short hours. We recommend following the athletes on Live Tracking to estimate when your favorite athlete will touch down in Aschau – then getting to the Turnpoint early just in case the athletes get the chance to start moving fast. It can be tough to catch a paraglider!
After Aschau – Chiemsee, the contest aims south, towards the first BIG challenge: crossing the main alpine ridge on their way to Kronplatz, Italy.
Deep in the Italian Dolomites lies the Kronplatz – and don’t let the name fool you. The ‘platz’ is not a town square, rather, a mountain top – albeit a pretty flat, friendly one. There’s a few big plusses here for athletes: if they can approach via the air, top-landing is super easy – as is taking off again, as the mountain terrain will let them launch in any direction. However, there’s some challenges: they’ve got to cross the main alpine ridge to get there, and even the mountain passes are at well over 2000m. It’s not going to be easy, no matter what.
With the signboard at the top of the hill, and such an easy launch, competitors will probably move in and out of the Turnpoint quite quickly – but in those few minutes, there’s definitely plenty to see. For those looking to watch the race, the Kronplatz lift will get you up to the summit to see the action – so you don’t even have to hike like the competitors do.
To continue on, the athletes turn almost 180 degrees to head back North, direction Zugspitze – crossing back into Austria and once more over the German border, to arrive at Germany’s highest peak, then fly down into Lermoos.
It’s back across the main alpine ridge – crossing numerous valleys to get to the Zugspitz Arena. While there’s good cross-country flying, there’s often strong northern winds slowing you down. Then the athletes have to avoid the airspace restricted zone around Innsbruck – meaning a diversion no matter what. They’ll need to get all the way around the Zugspitze in Germany from the north side – then glide back down across the Austrian border to Lermoos in Tirol, Austria. The good news: if conditions are good, they can do the whole route (up until the signboard) in the air, meaning it could go quickly. The bad news: they’re only allowed to cross the line going from east to west. For spectators, another prime location – easy access to the signboard and great visibility as the athletes approach. However, by this time, there’s going to be some pretty big gaps in the field – so definitely take note of the Live Tracking and see where your favorite Red Bull X-Alps athletes are on the course!
Leaving Lermoos, it’s time for the third border crossing as they head to Davos, Switzerland.
The home of the World Economic Forum gets a little more adventurous with the arrival of some of the best adventure athletes in the world. To get there, they hope to take a ride on the paragliding super highway of the Engadin Valley, almost all the way to Davos – if it’s a good flying day, they can make that trip in just a few hours – maybe as little as three or four. There’s a beautiful landing spot right by the lake, so a few athletes will for sure be having a short refreshing swim before they take off hiking. The Turnpoint signboard is at the valley landing – but there’s lots of easily reachable take-offs for them to continue on. When will the athletes actually arrive in Davos? At this point, it starts to get really difficult to predict their timing – it all depends on the weather.
From there, they’ll keep moving towards Engelberg – Titlis – one of the highlights of the race thanks to the incredible viewing available from a high-alpine location.
Another nasty one: if you reach it flying – you can just touch down, and take off again. If the weather isn’t working, it can be a huge challenge to access the Turnpoint at the top of the mountain. Red Bull X-Alps regulations will put some no-go zones around this unique Turnpoint – the summit is accessible by foot only from the town of Engelberg –meaning a huge diversion from the straight-line route if athletes can’t get in the air. The good news? There’s a big, huge, mountain station at the top – meaning a bite to eat and a refreshing drink is sure to be on top for the athletes that have just made a long haul to the summit.
For spectators, it’s a unique high alpine environment, accessible by cable car, that will offer some incredible views on a good flying day. Upon arriving here, the athletes will have covered just over half of the straight line distance of the race. The next Turnpoint: the infamous Eiger.
The Eiger – a name grabs the attention of adventurers everywhere. Home to one of Europe’s most daunting north faces, this icon of alpinism strikes a uniquely identifiable visage on the horizon – the athletes will see it long before they get there (and you can bet the Red Bull X-Alps photographers will be waiting!).
Unlike previous Turnpoints, the Eiger has no signboard, and doesn’t even require the athletes to land (if they’re in the air) – they’ll need to confirm on their race-issued instruments that they are within the 1500m-radius virtual cylinder – then they’re off towards Europe’s highest mountain: Mont Blanc.
We don’t want to call Mont Blanc a ‘side note’ on the Red Bull X-Alps… but despite being the highest mountain in Europe and one of the most famous… it will be a fleeting sight as pilots (hopefully) soar by. The highest peak in Europe at 4810m, presiding over the Chamonix valley, on the border between France and Italy. The good news for the athletes is that they need not summit the actual mountain – merely make sure to pass it to the North, leaving the mountain on their left-hand side. That may mean staying to the sunny slopes on the north side of the valley, and since there’s no signboard, they never have to put their feet on the icy ground.
Following Mont Blanc, the athletes take off towards one of the spiritual homes of free-flying – St. Hilaire!
St. Hilaire is a small town on the French countryside, positioned perfectly for frequent, easy take-offs. It’s home to the legendary Coupe Icare free flying festival, where pilots of non-motorized sky craft come together for a week of, well, gaining some altitude. (And putting together some crazy costumes. You’ll never believe what makes it into the sky!) On a good flying day, the athletes will come in high and hot, tag the Turnpoint from the skies and move on to the next one without touching ground. For paragliding fans – of which there are many in this part of the world – the St. Hilaire stop is a great place to see your favorite athlete in action. However, remember that by this time in the race, the competition field is extremely spread out and guaranteed to be a little thinner – check the Live Tracking to see if your favorite athlete is on his way.
Photo © Benoit Morel
From St Hilaire, the athletes will head almost directly southeast, across numerous mountain valleys – aiming at Monte Viso, on the edge of the Piemont. This in-the-air Turnpoint requires them to pass through a 2,250m virtual cylinder – no landing (if they’re in the air), no signboard – just lay down those easily verifiable GPS tracks. While this particular peak is by no means as famous as the other Turnpoints, race director Christoph Weber says tagging it could actually be quite hard. “It’s one of the big challenges in the late race – With many big mountains and valleys to cross, there will be a lot of strategy to get to the cylinder above Monte Viso!”
After this, it’s normally a straight shot down towards Monaco. But this year, it’s uncharted territory as the athletes – and the race route – head back southwest to Cheval Blanc.
Photo © Flickr
Taking the race into unexplored areas late in the game might throw a major twist into the plot. You might associate the name ‘Cheval Blanc’ with a fine wine, but it’s a 2,323m summit in the French Alps.
With rookies and veterans exploring this area under racing conditions for the first time, anything can happen – and mistakes this late in the race have serious consequences. They’ll have to avoid the airspace over some national parks, adding to the challenge. Like many previous Turnpoints, it’s only required to pass Cheval Blanc from the west, in the air or on foot. Skip the wine – it’s gonna be a tough flight to get to Peille.
Photo © camptotramp.org
Monaco is the finish – but the clock stops at Peille before a ceremonial flight down to the beach. Compared to the great summits the athletes have passed along the way, Peille hardly seems impressive – it’s merely a few hundred meters above sea level – but it is not easy to get to. Especially from the last Turnpoint, Cheval Blanc. Preceding it are countless ridges and valleys, without a clear path to the Turnpoint. It’s tough flying in small hills – and landings and launches are few and far between. Sink out, and you’re on foot – where it’s easy to get lost, even with the aid of a map. But make it here, and you’ve basically finished Red Bull X-Alps.
For the 9th time, Monaco’s famous beaches will be the finish for Red Bull X-Alps – the landing float awaits paragliders as they come soaring down from Peille to claim glory as finishers of the toughest adventure race in the world. Whether they end up in the water or on the sand, pilots will be sure to be all smiles as they realize they’ve accomplished something so few others have. Who will be the first? We’ll have to wait until June to find out – but what we do know is that finishing is a feeling so good, it keeps athletes coming back again and again. Whether you can make it to the beach in Monaco, or simply watch along with Live Tracking, this is a moment you don’t want to miss.