2015 Red Bull X-Alps

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We are in the Alps and the expedition is full steam ahead!! Click here to see my Red Bull Journalclick here to follow the live tracking, or follow along on my facebook page by clicking here.

Every two years Red Bull puts on what has been coined as ’the toughest adventure race in the world’, which is a 1,000+ kilometer hike and fly race across the Alps. This high level event has been running now since 2003 and takes place every other year, drawing in most of the world’s top adventure and vol biv pilots to come test themselves against each other and the Alps.

From Red Bull-

”The Red Bull X-Alps is the world’s toughest adventure race. It’s a bold claim – but one it surely deserves. It’s difficult to think of another race that demands such a high level of fitness and technical skill – or lasts so long. 

The rules are simple. Athletes must race across the Alps, by foot or paraglider, a straight-line distance of 1,038km. Over the years, the race has attracted and tested to the limit some of the world’s top adventurers. It demands not only expert paragliding skill but extreme endurance. Some athletes will hike over 100km in a day and will cover hundreds of kilometers on foot – and 1000’s of meters in altitude – by the time the race is over!

Each team consists of one athlete and one supporter. No technical or outside assistance is allowed. The supporter is just there to help with logistics, strategy, food, medical support and provide psychological assistance. (The role of the supporter is hugely important – they are the unsung heroes of the race.)

Athletes can race between the hours of 05:00 to 22:30. Since 2013, athletes have been able to pull a Led Lenser NightPass that allows them to push-on through the night on foot, normally a mandatory rest period. The race starts on July 5th, 2015.”

Since the first running of the race in 2003, the course has more or less crossed the Alps from east to west every time, but each year the organizers change the course and turn points to keep it interesting. Each year it seems the course gets longer, more involved, and more technical. This year is no different, and we are seeing Red Bull unveil their biggest challenge yet- to get from Salzburg in the NE corner of the Alps, all the way to Monaco in the SW corner, while having to tag ten turn points along the way on this year’s 1,038 kilometer (645 mile) course line.

Here is the trailer for the race:

Hats off to the organizers, as this year’s ‘race track’ is bigger and badder than ever. Now I will take a moment, and try to break the route down and give some perspective and opinions on strategy, coming from a race rookie but a veteran of 3 Alps crossings of my own.

Here is a look at Red Bull’s route for 2015:

But before I start to describe the route, I must first mention that this year there are a few changes to the rules.

*There will only be one ‘official’ supporter allowed this year, not two like last year. But you can have multiple people helping you out with logistics if desired.

*There are two wild card athletes this year instead of one ( I am one of these two).

*And finally- There is a pre-race event three days before the actual start of the X Alps, and this is very new to the game. This ‘Prologue’ is a one day race around some local peaks just east of Salzburg, and the three fastest athletes to complete the challenge get a five minute head start on the field during the real race on July 5th. The three winners of the Prologue also are rewarded a second night pass, which allows them to keep moving through our mandatory rest periods each night from 10:30pm to 5:00 am. This is a big deal, and we will see how it plays out…

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From Red Bull-

NEW IN 2015: POWERTRAVELLER PROLOGUE 

”New in 2015 is a one-day Prologue on July 2. Athletes start and finish in Fuschl am See, passing the Turnpoints of the Zwölferhorn and Schafberg peaks. The first three athletes each gain a five-minute headstart on the main race start and an additional Led Lenser Nightpass to keep racing through the night. ”

Click here to open a new window with the entire course in topo map format, with turn points marked

First four turn points from Salzburg: Gaisberg > Dachstein > Aschau > Zugspitz

This section is my biggest question mark at this point, and I will have to dedicate a large portion of my time and energy to research and explore this portion of the race. These first four turn points represent only about 1/4 of the entire course length, but will be extremely important for strategy and positioning during the first days of the race to have this section dialed in. My supporter Krischa and I will be taking extra time to go over this section as neither one of us know it well. So then, sorry, but I can not give much personal viewpoints and insight to this section as we have not flown it yet!

What I can say, is that this section will be the lowest and most northerly set of turn points of the entire course. The nature of the flying for this section will be different from the rest, and is one of the reasons why it will be so important for us to get figured out.

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Turn points 4 to 5: Zugspitz, Germany > Cima Tosa, Italy

Ok, here is the first really difficult section of the course, and we will most likely be seeing the leaders pull away at this point. Up until the Zugspitz, the course is keeping us in the far northern Alps, always near the borders of Germany and Austria. But once we head south from the Zugspitz, the nature of the route changes drastically- we leave behind the lower northern Alps, and have to cross an extremely high and wild section heading south, and go all the way to Cima Tosa which is almost to Lake Garda. Wow.

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I believe that in this section we will see who the real players are. Decisions will have to be made, and with multiple options, choosing the correct route for the conditions that day will be crucial. There are basically three main ways to go from the Zugspitz: the west route through Nauders and past Watles, the central (and probably shortest) route through the Oztal Valley and Merano, or the eastern route through Innsbruck and Bolzano. Now it would seem by looking at a map that the Oztal route will be the ticket, but if flying conditions that day dictate that another route might be best, you could see the field take different options south. No matter what the route, unless we are flying high and direct, we will have to make our way from the main Bolzano Valley up into the Tosa region. Heading past Lago di Santa Guistina will probably be the ticket once we are past Bolzano, as I think we need to tag the NW side of Tosa for the turn point, but we will have to see about this.

This section will be tough. For the entire leg, we will be heading due south, with the Trentino Mountains in our sights.

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Personally, I have traversed or flown parts of this leg many times. My previous three crossings of the Alps have all either crossed or connected parts of this section, so I already know the area quite well. From Bolzano north, I have been on all three options for routes through here (but not the Oztal itself). I hope this previous knowledge helps me, and gives me a slight advantage over the other athletes.

I have found this section of the Alps to be very different, when comparing the northern half of this leg with the southern half. While in the northern half of this section you will find deep green alpine valleys with beautiful meadows and farms. The middle section is some of the highest and most wild section of the Alps with big glaciers and high passes, while the southern section is characterized by dense apple orchards, crazy power lines, very low valleys, and hot stable air below mid mountain altitudes. The Bolzano valley is very low, and tagging Tosa and heading higher back into the Swiss Alps will be nice.

 

Turn points 5 to 6: Cima Tosa, Italy >  Piz Corvatsch, Switzerland (St Moritz)

I have only been south of Bolzano a few times, so I do not know most of this shorter section, especially the first two-thirds from Tosa. So the Italian section of this leg will need some investigating on our end, but at least I know the St Moritz valley from previous trips. Last year I went through the Zernez-St Moritz Valley, but turned north from La Punt and headed for the Rhine from there. This year we will be further south for the course, and once we make our way around the north side of Piz Corvatsch, I will be back in a somewhat familiar valley again. But not for long, as the next turn point will take us through a new area for me- heading for Bellinzona.

This section will most likely see the field follow the Oglio river past Edolo, turn north through Poschiavo, and back west past the northern side of Piz Corvatsch once in the St Moritz Valley.

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Turn points 6 to 7: St Moritz > Matterhorn, Switzerland/Italy

The mighty Matterhorn. Iconic peak of the Alps, and one hell of a turn point.

Will we see the field split here, and some head north for the big ‘super highway’ Swiss valleys while the others take a shorter route south through the Italian Alps? This we will have to see, as both options seem valid- but for sure it is shorter to just stay south and head for Monte Rosa. But how will we get into the Zermatt valley if we go south? Will some try to cross into the Zermatt valley, or will some try to hook around the south side of Monte Rosa and tag there Matterhorn from its southern, Italian side? Or will the Swiss side be the call? These are all very important questions, and this one turn point will cause a lot of issues for the field.

I know this area quite well, but mostly from the north, west, and south- not the east, and this is the direction we will be coming from. I have even crossed the Matterhorn Pass from the Zermatt side, and flown to the Italian side with Tawny on the tandem. So for Krischa and I, we will have two parts to work on for this section- the big, low valleys of Italy to get towards the Matterhorn, and then somehow getting close enough to the peak to tag the cylinder. Not easy, but looking forward to this section.

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Turn points 7 to 8: Matterhorn > Mt Blanc, France

The Swiss are the supposed masters of the cheese world, but something about that awesome French brie has me looking forward to entering France again! And this section of the course will put us in France in good style- we have to turn the infamous Mt Blanc on its northern side as we pass this iconic turn point on our way past Chamonix.

The rules state that we must pass north of Mt Blanc for the turn point to be complete, and this is not a very easy task. The north side of the mountain is nothing but a compilation of jagged ridges, high glaciers, man-eating crevasses; or a long way around to the north to avoid these hazards. We will most likely see some tricky flying through here, and different strategies will probably emerge. Will some have to turn back north to the Rhone after tagging the Matterhorn to get around to Mt Blanc? Will Maurer do another circumnavigation around the south side of Mt Blanc with magical prowess? Or will many pilots jump the north running ridges between Matterhorn and Mt Blanc like they did in the 2013 race? We will have to see.

I love this section. It is some of the highest and most spectacular peaks that the Alps has to offer, and all three of my Alps crossings have gone directly through this section in one way or another. But even though I know this section well, I am not sure on which way will be the default plan. I guess it is really dependent on the flying conditions that day. One good strategy would be to head over south into Italy from the Matterhorn, cross over Paso San Bernardo back into France after flying over Valpelline, and then curving around the north side of Mt Blanc and leaving Switzerland one last time on the way to Chamonix. There is no cylinder on Mt Blanc, we just have to pass due north of it in one way or another.

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Turn point 8 to 9: Mt Blanc > Annecy

For this section we will have to leave the high Alps, and head out to the western foothills to the famous paragliding destination of Annecy. One of the issues with this is that during the summer in the high Alps, the thermals generally live up high in the upper mountains. Down low during the summer it can get hot and stable quite often, leaving the pilot without many usable thermals to get up back into the high peaks with. So this part might see some of that happening, with the pilots being forced out front and then scrambling to get back deep after Annecy. But we have to get to Annecy first!

After leaving Mt Blanc’s north side, we will most likely cross over Chamonix on our way west. The Aravis Chain is a chain of peaks running SW to NE, and we will either be crossing them on our way to Annecy, or passing just south of them and passing the famous ski town of La Clusaz on the way. Either way, we will have to pass though a gate in Annecy on foot, as the rules state. For those in the air, this means a mandatory top land and hopefully a quick re-launch to continue on.

I have been to the Chamonix, Aosta, and Courmayeur zones, but never to Annecy. Even though this is not a particularly long or complicated section of the course, we will have to study it nonetheless as heading out into the low Alps will have its own difficulties and issues.

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Turn point 9 to 10: Annecy > Peille

The glory leg. No more turn points, just a straight open shot to Peille from here. Point it south, smash down the speed bar, and give it everything you have left in you- because from here on out it is a mad dash to the finish line above Monaco.

I love the French Alps. For some reason I just feel very at home in these complex massifs, and of course I will be getting my brie and baguettes along the way. But, the French Alps are also complicated, and we will probably see competitors take different routes on this last leg. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw some going back deep into the high Alps before heading south again, while some might decide to head for Grenoble before diving back in. For the second option, if you go this way you had better hope that you dont get stuck with stable conditions down low. But, dive back deep towards Modane and Braincon and you will be having to deal with the famously strong valley winds that the sailplane pilots love, but we hate. I have had some high wind conditions on all of my previous trips through here, and know the risks of choosing this route. But in the ned, this will probably be the way, but we will have to see about that.

Either way, the athletes will eventually get to the Maritime Alps of Southern France, and Peille. For this last section, we will see what happens. I remember the valley through Isola being extremely tight, windy, and without good landing options. You could avoid this valley by heading more west by St Andre, but then you will have to traverse way east past Greolieries to get back on track towards Monaco from there.

I see myself diving back into the deep mountains after tagging the Annecy turn point, and heading for Briancon. I do not want to get stuck out front in the low Alps, and then have to deal with getting back east enough to have a somewhat straight shot to the finish. The French pilots will have a huge and obvious advantage for this leg, as local knowledge of the valleys will help quite a bit through here.

 

Turn point 10 to Finish Line: Peille > Monaco Float Raft

Yes, this is it, the last ceremonial fly-down to the sea and the awaiting fans. The clock officially stopped when the athlete reached Peille, but flying down to the float is the real finish to this amazing adventure. Who will make it here? Not sure, we will have to see. But I can say that over the course of the race’s history, only about 12% of the competitors have ever made it to Monaco. That figure alone shows how demanding and difficult this race really is, as having so few top pilots/athletes finish makes one see the true difficulty in a race like the Red Bull X Alps.

I hope you enjoyed this little insight to the 2015 race course. The route for this years’ race is tougher than ever, and we know it. Krischa and I will be headed to the Alps in mid May to fly the course before hand, and try to get it dialed in. I will try to update my website with further reports, on this difficult and bumpy road to the X Alps.

 

Visit Red Bull’s X-Alps website for more details by clicking here 

And a big thanks to Ozone Paragliders for their continued support of my flying adventures.

 

After the initial athletes had all applied and been choosen, Red Bull added two more ‘WildCards’ to the mix- and this is how I got in.

DAVE TURNER, THE LONE WOLF ADVENTURER

Self-styled ‘lone wolf adventurer’ Dave Turner has clocked plenty of mountain miles. But when it comes to competition he’s still a rookie. Will it be enough to achieve success at the Red Bull X-Alps? Well, he does have a secret weapon…

  • Nationality: United States
  • Date of birth: 21. Jan. 1982
  • Profession: Paragliding Instructor, Tandem Pilot
  • Assistant: Krischa Berlinger
  • Glider: Ozone Enzo 2 or LM5
  • Website: www.sierraparagliding.com
  • Sponsors: Ozone

Dave Turner is a serious badass adventurer. Although he has only been flying for five years, he’s racked up some impressive flying time, including a 2,500km vol-biv flight across the Alps. Prior to that he was a big wall climber and has summited the iconic El Capitan 50 times. He may be a climber, but he’s got a mountain to climb to succeed in the Red Bull X-Alps.

When and why did you begin paragliding?
*I started paragliding through speed flying and snow kiting, back in 2010. I was really into climbing before finding flying, and after making my first few flights, I was hooked.

Do you paraglide competitively? List rankings and events.
*No I do not paraglide competitively. I have traditionally flown on my own.

What is your mountaineering experience?
*Extensive climbing and adventure expedition background. I lived in Yosemite Valley for ten years and climbed almost every day. I have climbed El Capitan almost 50 times, opened three new routes solo on that face, and have climbed it via its ‘Nose’ route in 7 hours. I have also lived in southern Patagonia for over two years, and still have the largest big wall climb ever opened by a solo climber, spending 34 days alone on Cerro Escudo. Multiple trips to the Arctic for solo big wall climbing, kite skiing, and alpine climbing. Piolet d’Or nominee.

What is your paragliding experience?
*2,500km vol biv double traverse of the Alps 2014 (solo & tandem), 800 km solo vol biv of California’s mountain ranges, solo vol biv of the Alps 2013, California distance record of 277km, and first complete crossing of California’s Sierra Nevada Range.

What is your adventure racing / endurance sport experience?
*No adventure racing background, but lots of endurance sports.

What does your typical training week consist of?
*I fly around five times a week if the weather is decent, with many of those being hiking approaches. I also try to get out and climb a few times per week as well. Mix into that some skiing, kiting, backpacking, fishing, anything outside.

What are your best and worst adventure/flying moments?
*One of my best moments was making it to Slovenia after 1,300 km’s of solo unsupported/assisted vol biv flying after only 18 days. I got to fly almost all of this distance, simply amazing. One of the worst moments on that trip was ‘landing’ the wing in extreme wind and turbulence in Bonaduz, Switzerland.

What are the sporting moments you are most proud of?
*My climbing achievements, especially climbing Cerro Escudo. Also flying the tandem with my girlfriend back from Slovenia to Nice, France, and sharing an adventure like that with the one you love.

When and how did you first hear about the Red Bull X-Alps?
*I have known about vol biv and Red Bull X-Alps ever since my flying buddy Chris told me about it back before I even flew, maybe 2008-9. It was captivating.

Have you competed in the Red Bull X-Alps before and if so, when?
*No.

What appeals to you about the Red Bull X-Alps?
*Flying across the Alps with some of the world’s finest pilots.

What will be your strategy during the race?
*Fly far, hike fast!

On average, over a third of the Red Bull X-Alps participants fail to finish the event. Why do you think you will make it?
*I have crossed the Alps three times now, and am getting to know the area and terrain pretty well. Not as good as the local pilots, but let’s see what happens…

What scares you the most about the event?
*Not finishing.

Have you ever done anything of this magnitude before?
*Racing, no. Vol biv, yes.

 

American wildcard entry Dave Turner has flown over 5,000km in training over the past two years, including big trips in the Alps and his home mountains of the Sierras. What makes them different? They were flown almost exclusively solo. The big-wall endurance climber takes self-supported to a whole new level. We caught up with him (it wasn’t easy) to get a learn a bit more about his exploits leading up the the 2015 Red Bull X-Alps.

You’ve never done a race, but you’re no stranger to adventure…
Nope. I’ve spent entire seasons climbing in Patagonia, ski tours, and big flights across mountain ranges. I hold the California distance record at 278km over 7.5 hours, over 4,000m the entire flight. Our peaks are higher and packed tighter – more turbulent. Of all of our big-air spots, the Sierra are the most violent.

But never a race – how will you adapt?
That is definitely going to be new for me. Organized competition is new for me! I’ve only done two competitions in the US (and I did really well). But traditionally I’ve always climbed, flown, and skied alone. It’s going to be stressful for me because of my solo style – people call me a lone wolf. With Red Bull X-Alps, I’m going to have a tougher time with the media hoops and the on-camera attention! Not the pressure of run now, launch now. I’m just ready for the race.

What’s your secret weapon?
My supporter, Krischa Berlinger. No one but the Swiss ever win in Red Bull X-Alps! As a Swiss German, he was hiking and climbing the Alps, and more recently flying. So he knows the countries too. My secret Swiss weapon.

Skills-wise, how are you set up?
I love flying in turbulence – and I know endurance. I’ve done a lot of long distance endurance climbs, ski routes, and ridge traverses. El Cap and Half Dome in the same day. That’s 1,700m of climbing, over 55 pitches of technical climbing. I’ve done that three times, as quickly as sixteen hours.

What are the challenges for you?
I don’t do big trips with a bunch of different people. I always fly alone. I do things my way. I don’t like media, rules or airspace [restrictions]. But it’s great to race 32 other top pilots. The best thing I like to do is fly across the Alps every summer.

Strategy?
I don’t have a black and white strategy – I want to try and stay in the front. It’s easier to stay in front than try and catch up – it only happens when leaders make mistakes, and that won’t happen with this field.

Will your big-mountain experience take you to launches other pilots won’t touch?
It might not give me a downright advantage, but it lets me feel comfortable on exposed cliffs or steep terrain.

Take shortcuts, or haul ass on the super highways?
In my circle of friends, I’m known as comfortable in stressful situations with wings, weather, and topography. I’m a little more prone to flying bold and committed. I’ll take opportunities that involve commitment and risk assessment – whether it’s top-landing a glacier or getting pinned in a mountain valley doesn’t really concern me. I’ve spent the last two summers three months flying the Alps, so I know the valleys. Once I made the risky choice to fly over the Matterhorn. Didn’t make it! Had to land in the tight valley. Last year, Martin Muller did that same thing – flew down the Zermatt valley, and couldn’t get over the Matterhorn. Had to fly all the way back to the Rhone valley. But there’s definitely times where I’ve taken risks and squeaked through a 3,500m pass with 100m to spare. Making the risky decisions sometimes pay off.

Will you maintain your budget vol-biv style?
I won’t have an expensive RV. I’m used to small, self-supported trips. Krischa and I are both young climbers, not businessmen! We’ll camp. If I have 45 more minutes before the day’s time is out, I’m not going to stop in a hotel, I’ll take strategy over comfort, hike up and be closer to the launch in the morning. We’re going to try and keep it vol-biv style – have fun and not worry too much.

You’ve flown a lot around the world, and in the Alps. What’s your thoughts on flying our mountains?
Flying the Alps is a pleasure. Cloudbase is 3,500m, 6m/s thermals… The thermals, the base, all very straightforward. The Alps are complicated but what worries me is valley winds. I’ve had many good flying days in the Alps but landing in the strong valley winds. I’ve definitely had to land backwards a few times. The Red Bull X-Alps is about going forward!

Click here for Dave’s athlete page on Red Bull’s site

 

Highlights from the 2013 race:

Dave Turner

Mammoth Lakes, California