Chrigel Maurer talks to a packed crowd in Lewes, England, January 2020. Photo: Ed Ewing
Skills and learning

Always listen to the feeling

Friday 5 February, 2021

Six-time Red Bull X-Alps winner Chrigel Maurer gave two talks in the UK in January 2020. Hosted by Cross Country and supported by Advance, Chrigel spoke to packed audiences in Bristol and Lewes in the south of England. His first time in the UK, he was taken with the January weather (cold, foggy), and intrigued by the warm beer and pork scratchings available in typical British pubs.

Here are six takeaways from the maestro’s presentation.

1. Trust your gut

“Always listen to the feeling in your stomach,” he said. “Learn to recognise the feeling, and believe it. Then act on it.” This is as true for good situations – “That face will definitely work” – as it is for bad situations. “Flying is a feeling, and it is important to develop this feeling.” Your head will try to overrule your gut every time, he explained, and will often force you to ignore your feeling. Stick with the feeling.

2. Always have a Plan B

Landing in tight spots is part of flying XC for all of us and not simply for the X-Alps, but Chrigel’s headcam footage of flying under a cable-car wire when on approach to a landing was pretty tight stuff. Later he showed a steep slope landing between trees high in the mountains. On the first, he was unhappy with himself because he’d bombed out and was forced to land: “The situation was bad, I could only land here or in the trees. It meant I was stressed and not relaxed.” The second was much easier, he said, because he had a plan B. “You can see I fly low over the trees, and my landing is tight but I always have an out – I can fly away to the right and go down to the valley.” Whatever the situation, having a plan B in case plan A doesn’t work out makes things a lot less stressful.

3. Physical training pays off

The physical training X-Alps athletes put in throughout the year is impressive. Chrigel never stops training, but instead varies intensity and activity depending on the season. A typical week will see him spend just two hours in the gym working on strength training (it is important to build muscle, which protects the body) while the rest of the time is spent outside: 15 hours a week either running in the summer or ski-touring in the winter; four hours a week on another activity like mountaineering or trail running; and a cumulative total of between 5,000m to 10,000m of ascent a week.

4. He’s a master of all disciplines

Chrigel is a complete pilot. His dad started flying in 1986 and Chrigel was groundhandling as a youngster. He got his licence aged 16, and then spent years developing his skills in all disciplines: cross country; competition; acro; and hike-and-fly. At his most intense he was flying 300-400 hours a year each year. He also flies hang gliders. Whatever he flies he never misses an opportunity to land on the spot to keep his landing skills sharp.

5. King of the air syndrome is real

Be careful of thinking it’s all going right! On Day 3 in the Red Bull X-Alps last year Chrigel blew a 40km lead when he mis-read the wind situation and ended up being drilled and forced to land. “I was flying well, and started to think about reaching the turnpoint. I needed a 10:1 glide, my glider flies at 10.5 to 1, and I expected lift on the way.” But instead of sticking close to the terrain and surfing along the mountain he took a short cut, flew too far out and too low, and into the lee of a spur. The wind compression meant he couldn’t make it round, so he flew further out into the valley, where he found a climb. “As I climbed I thought, ah, OK, I am safe now!” Moments later the thermal vanished and he was in 4m/s sink and in emergency landing mode. “I was feeling like I was king of the sky, but this put me on the ground.”

6. You need to feed the fire

When you are down, disappointed, cold or feeling despondent because it’s not working, it can be hard to keep going and easy to give up. It is at these points that you need to know what motivates you, and how to motivate yourself – to feed your inner fire. For the X-Alps the fire is the whole event, and Chrigel said his motivation comes from the adventure, the flying, being in nature, the spectators and online supporters, his team, and showing the world how to fly and race an efficient, clean line. “Think about what feeds your own fire,” he said, “and then when you need it, you can remember what it is and this will help you.”

First published in Cross Country Magazine issue 208 (April 2020)

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