The Red Bull X-Alps 2011 official trailer
After the briefings, TV interviews and preparations, then the adrenalin, glitz and smoke of a showy launch from the snow of an Alpine glacier, the reality of the monstrous task ahead finally sunk in somewhere on a road 750 km from Monaco. The sky turned dark. Hail began to fall. Hard, cold daggers of ice. The race had begun. Hugh Miller reports from the 2005 Red Bull X-Alps
AUGUST 1: THE JOURNEY BEGINS
It was inspirational start. Organiser Hannes Arch was stood squarely atop the Dachstein Glacier which was sparkling in the early morning sunshine. He squinted out over the Austrian valleys 2500 m below him like Napolean surveying the seas before a battle, He was upset at one missing element.
“Ver are my helicopters. I need my helicopters,” he muttered.
With his short, spiky gelled hair, beefy physique and Austrian accent, Hannes is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of paragliding events – a man who gets things done, on time.
And an event of this magnitude certainly needs this kind of leadership. Hannes is about to send 16 pilots on the toughest challenge of their lives, racing 800 km eastwards to Monaco.
Hannes’ team of 25 will record their every move through personal tracking devices, helicopter film crews and other means. The pilots’ journey would see them battling evil turbulence, ripping off toenails, crying with exhaustion and, undoubtedly, torturing themselves for tactical errors.
At 9:45 am, competitors launched one after the other in an eery atmosphere, sandwiched between a blanket of valley cloud and some scudding top level cumuli.
The start was as dramatic as it could be, and after a straight glide down track, pilots split into two groups. Those that opted to climb up and fly again fared best, with two pilots sneaking away from the pack and flying long cross-countries while their competitors slogged it out on foot.
Small reflective flashes were the first clue. Driving west, our headlights would pick out a white glare bobbing along the side of the busy Austrian highway, and by the time my sleep-deprived mind had deduced that it was strapped to a tiny rucksack, and therefore an X-Alps competitor, we’d be slamming on the brakes, fixing lenses to cameras and microphones to dictaphones and scrambling out of the doors to charge after our quarry.
As dusk fell on the opening day of the race pilots were strung out up to 100 km from launch, and our media bus was having a hard time keeping up with them all. We found the leader, Switzerland’s Urs Lotscher, just after midnight, a bare-torsoed figure striding relentlessly with his two walking poles past the luminescent glow of a BP gas station, pump attendant looking askance.
On the opening day, Urs and Andi Frotscher had hiked upslope and relaunched to fly cross country through the afternoon. That one tactical decision put them well in the lead. As we leave Urs to carry on to the next town, it’s clear he intends to rub salt in his competitors’ wounds by continuing his hike long into the night.
Follow the next 12 days of adventure as the teams race to Monaco…
Read more: The whole nine-page story in issue 101
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