This year’s Red Bull X-Alps, if you could put it in a word- scary. We didn’t have a single “standard” day of flying with light wind, nice cumulus, and good base, unless you count the Prologue! We had incredible heat the first three days, low base, wind and stable conditions, then the thunderstorms started, strong Fohn from the South and North, window-breaking hail, severe lightning and really, really strong wind for the remainder of the race. Every athlete I spoke with at the awards at the end had a look of just going to battle. For the first time in my four races, the bad weather got everyone, regardless of where you were on the course, and it didn’t let up. There were times when all 12 pairs of my shoes were soaked. After a good showing in the Prologue and going into the race pretty beat up from a crash at the end of May, and carrying the remainder of a flu into the race, which later turned into some kind of pneumonia (we’re not sure, but it was ugly!) and having a terrifically bad start, Team USA 1 started clawing back. We narrowly escaped elimination twice, but stayed positive, had a blast, made some critical moves and battled to the very end. We stuck with the process, relied on the training, stayed optimistic, and trusted in our team. In the end Team USA 1 did 590 km on the ground, over 50,000 meters of vertical ascent (Everest 6 times!) and…didn’t die. As always, it was an insane adventure and in this podcast I take on the wonderful questions that came in from all of you who cheered us on. I hope you enjoy!
Show Notes (questions that came in):
- Alain Plattner: This is a long one, i apologize:
My question is about the race format. It looked as if a number of pilots got injured or had close calls because of bad flying conditions, but it seems like having “no fly days” makes no sense when the athletes are spread all over the alps. So i wanted to ask your opinion on changing the race format:
For example, the route could be split into five 2-day segments. The start of each segment is the end of the previous segment. At the end of each of these 2-day periods, all athletes are taken to the start of the next segment. Athletes who don’t make it to the finish of a segment would get “negative miles”, athletes who go beyond the finish would get “positive miles”. At the beginning of the last (fifth) segment, athletes would start based on their “mile balance” (positive miles from the segments minus negative miles).
The advantage would be: The athletes stay close together, so “no fly days” would make more sense. Also, it could be more exciting for the athletes and the fans to have everyone fly closer together.
- Philipp Bethge: What happened on the first two days?
- Alejandro: So many thing to comment on! Could you talk about airspace and all the mess that went on with pilots infringing it (or not)? and also about the issues with some pilots and turn points on the prologue. How did you keep motivation on the first days with the bad weather, the wrong decisions and finding yourself so much back? Could you also comment on gear? Has the super light been taken too far with pilots having issues with flying with a wet glider? Should there be a minimum parachute reserve size? Having a parachute for 90 kg max for a pilot’s AWU of 87 thrown at 3000 m is probably no a good idea. Also in all the photos from you it seems your backpack is too big to be comfortable(too far away from your back), was this an issue? Planning on doing the Vercofly this year?
- Nadine Wyss: I would be interested in how you perceive the risks of these events.
It seems as if more and more pilots are inspired to challenge the « no flying » conditions and think that anything is possible. But it seems that most of the athletes take a very calculated risk – where and what is the difference to a recreational pilot?
How did you decide on whats flyable and what is not and could you give any advice how « normal » pilots can decide?
Especially with more and more people participating in hike and fly races it would be interesting to get more perspective. Because in races like the eigertour there is real carnage going on. And secondly, what did you do nutrition wise in this race? Mainly fat and proteins again?
- Jim Fuhrman and Chris Brent: What were some of the “fear” injuries that were encountered? I heard Lauri Genovese had some sort of incident and I know Theo did but I missed the breakdown. We’re you disappointed that Cody withdrew when it looked like you might be eliminated, when he could of just waited out the clock?
- Livia Gilstrap: I would like to hear more of a break down of the incidents: the reserve throw, the power lines, etc.
- Davis Straub: It seemed like the race commentary was a bunch of happy talk, but then Chirgel just mentioned a bit about how dangerous things were (rotor and collapses). Please link to where the real reporting was going on. Red Bull X-Alps Addicts? What about the training that Chrigel does to prepare for this race (flies in high winds)? Does anyone else do that? Any thoughts on official wind speed limits? Landing on roads? Really, this is okay, sort of taken as normal? Other than Chrigel it seemed like a lot of the race was running, which is okay I guess, but not that great. What about the great dividing point when as I vaguely recall (I don’t seem to be able to use a way back machine to go to a previous day on Live Tracking) Maurer, Pinot, Kanel, and Outers were all very close in front, and then Maurer just blew them all away by taking a different route to the north. I realize they were all looking at the predicted weather and made choices, but go into more detail about what happened.
- Terje Hansen: What do the athletes think of not ending in Monaco and do you think future Race will also not end here?
- Andy Read: One thing I’d like to know is why RB reporting consistently ignores the support teams. Every competitor will tell you how important their team is and yet year after year the support teams are totally overlooked. They all have incredible stories to tell but RB just want films of the pilots. Are they not interested in the human interest side of it?
- Thomas: Would you consider being a supporter for another pilot? Your knowledge and experience is surely invaluable. What did you think about the new format, and how could it be improved for 2023?
- Ben Netterfield: Did you find it hard to switch on and off at the end of the day and actually get rest or were some things playing around in your head especially once fatigue set in? Having had the crash not long prior to the race when coupled with some brain fog did you notice any moments or days of decision making were a bit haphazard? What was the funniest moment you and the team had together?
- Stanislav: Is it still fun, or did it went to the stage where only professional team with huge number people behind can compete? I like to follow it, but it seems even more ridiculously hard and impossible than before.
- Trey Hackney: I’d like to hear some stories about your top highlights, and the flip side: top scariest moments or most challenging situations (flying outside of standard “reasonable” conditions), and what that was like, and the physical reality of managing the glider when conditions are pushing all the limits. How common were collapses? Any situations you thought you might not get out of or that you might need to throw? Would be cool to hear more and learn (second hand!) about the reality of flying in fully extreme conditions like this year presented with such high wind. Any valuable lessons or insight you learned this time around about flying in strong rotor?
- Gunnar Friese: What’s the biggest takeaway from the race? What did you learn?
- Will Gadd: Really enjoy your emphasis on battling well rather than the just the results Gavin! Question: Almost every pilot in the top ten is a full-time competition/test/sponsored pilot. Is it necessary to have test-pilot, three hundred plus hours a year, level skills to hit the podium in the X Alps? From what I saw of the launches, landings and lines flown it sure looked like pilots better be very comfortable operating way, way outside “normal” flying conditions. I’m OK with that, but I think this year’s tough conditions really emphasized very specialized and high-level skills, or maybe not? What do you think?