It’s a race filled with incredible panoramas and vistas—paragliding and hiking through seven Alpine countries.
By Anna Cramer
Watching the birds, mankind has probably harbored the dream of flying since its very beginning. For almost a century now, airplanes have become a means of transportation as common as trains and buses. Individual flying, however, is a different matter. With the development of the paraglider—the term was coined only in 1985 in the first paragliding flight manual—now, a single person can cover (without the help of a motor) distances up to 125 miles in one flight at speeds typically between 12–47 mph by basically using the same means birds do: a wing and the knowledge of aerodynamics. Moreover, modern ever lighter equipment enables the pilots to carry their entire gear in a bag or backpack, allowing them to hike to a starting site, take off to a selected landing place, and manage the return travel even by public transport with no outside help: the dream of complete freedom in the air fulfilled!
Few sports, hence, have seen such a dramatic increase in the number of their followers as has paragliding. And—suddenly—Austrian Hannes Arch had an idea: If hiking with the flying equipment is possible, why not create a competition which combines both. The idea of X-Alps was born, a major sponsor was found, and, starting in 2003, every other summer saw selected athletes cross the Alps from East to West in one to two weeks—walking or flying a distance of approximately 1,000 km, passing over six countries, before those who endured touched down in the seventh: Monaco, on the Italian Riviera.
“The Red Bull X-Alps is the definition of true adventure. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing for years, and I’m just so stoked to get the chance to take part”, US athlete Gavin McClurg, with 240 miles on a single flight the present owner of the North American foot launch record, described his eagerness for the 2015 race.
But what is actually to be seen in Salzburg when what the main sponsor Red Bull proudly calls “the world’s toughest adventure” race will start July 5, 2015, for the seventh time? Flanked by two lines of cordoned-off spectators, about 60 athletes (each competitor is accompanied by a supporter) will race off Mozart Square, flying gear on their backs, and head up to the 2,625 ft. high Gaisberg Mountain for their first flight leg. Once in the air, the pilots will be quickly out of view, unless unfavorable weather conditions force them to run on to a higher location. “It’s not just a physical challenge, it’s about the body and the mind. The athletes have to perform for 18-hours a day and sustain that for 10-plus days”, says race mastermind Hannes Arch.
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