Meet the World’s Toughest (and wildest) Adventure Race: The Red Bull X-Alps There are not many adventure races that cross over 1,000km of mountain terrain, journey through five countries and last for two weeks. But then, the Red Bull X-Alps is not your average race. Taking place every two years, it sees some of the […]Red Bull X-Alps 2021 Mozartpl., 5020 Salzburg, Austria Salzburg Austria
There are not many adventure races that cross over 1,000km of mountain terrain, journey through five countries and last for two weeks. But then, the Red Bull X-Alps is not your average race.
Taking place every two years, it sees some of the world’s top adventure athletes hike, run and fly their way around the Alps. Every day, they climb into the mountains carrying a lightweight paraglider on their backs, then unpack their gliders and launch into the sky, hoping to cover as much distance as possible in the air.
This year, the route travels in a wide circle from Salzburg, Austria to Mt Blanc France via Germany and Switzerland, before travelling back through the Italian Alps. It finishes up in the mountain resort of Zell am See, Austria.
There are 33 athletes taking part in this year’s race (including three women) and every one has been vetted to ensure they have what it takes. On any typical day, athletes can find themselves covering 50k on the ground and anything from 2,000m to 5,000m of vertical ascent. Doing that day after day requires incredible powers of endurance but it’s the paragliding part that demands the highest skill-set. This race requires an ability to fly in the mountains, in turbulent rough conditions when most pilots wouldn’t dream of flying.
The past six editions in a row have been won by the same athlete, Switzerland’s Chrigel ‘the Eagle’ Maurer. There’s a reason he got that nickname. Like a bird of prey, he can stand atop a mountain ledge and launch into the sky, using thermals or upward currents of warm air, to stay airborne for hours on end.
The good news is that you don’t have hurl yourself off a mountain to enjoy this race. It’s actually a blast to follow in person or online via Live Tracking.
The race kicks off on June 17th with a one day prologue in Wagrain Kleinarl, a mountain resort 60km to the south of Salzburg and the main race starts on June 20th in Salzburg. No tickets are necessary, it’s just a case of turning up and watching as the athletes set off through the city’s historic streets and up to the top of the Gaisberg mountain, which overlooks the city.
During the race, it’s just a case of following the action online and working out where an athlete is along the route. You can either choose to base yourself at one of the key Turnpoints and watch the field come through, or try to follow your favourite athlete. The race ends at midday on Friday July 2nd in Zell am See.
The start is one of the best places to watch as apart from the Prologue, it’s the only time you’re guaranteed to see all the athletes battling together. The fun is catching the athletes as they set off, then racing to the top of the Gaisberg (special coaches are laid on for spectators). Traditionally it’s always heaving with thousands of fans and it’s quite the spectacle as one after another, athletes take off into the sky to massive cheers.
At this point, your best bet as a race follower is to head to one of the Turnpoints of the race where athletes have to land. The full route can be found here, and it passes some of the most spectacular mountain resorts of the Alps.
Some Turnpoints can be passed in the air, but the ones where athletes have to come in to land and sign a board are best for spectators.
On the way back, athletes have to land again in Kronplatz, Italy before crossing the Alps a final time and landing atop the peak of Schmittenhöhe.
From there they glide to the finish, a landing float in the lakeside resort of Zell am See.
At any of these Turnpoints you’ll be able to watch as athletes spiral into land, before hiking back into the mountains.
The Red Bull X-Alps is uniquely set-up for following remotely, thanks to a state-of-the-art live tracking feature. It allows you to track the athletes in realtime thanks to advanced GPS trackers – and even join them in the cockpit for a 3D POV view.
Fans can see whether an athlete is hiking or flying, analyse their route and flights and see other metrics like speed, altitude, distance to go and more. Meanwhile, there’s a newsfeed giving the latest updates, as well as daily videos, images and more.
The full documentary of the 2019 edition can be watched below:
The lineup of the Red Bull X-Alps is always a mix of veterans and rookies from around the world. The 2021 edition features three women in the lineup, who compete equally alongside the men. They include Switzerland’s Yael Margelisch, who has flown 500km in a paraglider. Only a handful of pilots have ever achieved that – male or female. France’s Laurie Genovese meanwhile came 6th overall when she won the paragliding world cup superfinal in 2017. They can clearly hold their own against anyone.
Romania’s Toma Coconea is the only athlete to have competed in every edition since the first Red Bull X-Alps in 2003 and has a legion of followers. Kaoru Ogisawa, who at 61, is the oldest athlete in the event’s history, also has a huge fanbase, many of whom come over from Japan to watch and support him.
But the real race hero is six time winner Chrigel Maurer. Every edition it’s a familiar story. He keeps his powder dry for the first few days then – boom – he makes his move, takes everyone by surprise and is away, leading from the front. Once there, no one has managed to reel him back in. He’s been described as ‘the complete athlete’. Phenomenally strong on the ground, he has a natural and intuitive gift for flying in the mountains. Add to that Swiss efficiency and organisational prowess and you start to see why Maurer is the one to watch.
The Red Bull X-Alps is really a team race. Every athlete has an official supporter to provide strategic help, weather and route advice, and physical and psychological care. Their role is more than invaluable – the supporter is a team mate. Athletes race from 05:00 until 22:00 but they can only fly during daylight hours between 06:00 to 21:00.
Overnight, a mandatory rest period is in place and athletes cannot move from their location. However, each athlete is equipped with a Night Pass, which allows them to break the curfew once. This can help to gain a strategic advantage, but it comes at the cost of exhaustion. From day four and every 48 hours thereafter, the athlete in last place is eliminated. On average only 20% of athletes ever make the finish line.
If you want to follow the race like a diehard, then it’s best to hire a camper and take to the road. But be warned, keeping up with athletes can be challenging as they are frequently faster, being able to fly a straight line over the mountains.
Your other option is to follow the race as part of an alpine holiday at one of the Turnpoints. For ideas on hiking, paragliding and other adventure activities, check in with the official tourist offices of the various Turnpoints (see Where To Watch).
For any other updates about the race and to explore virtually, head over to redbullxalps.com, @redbullxalps or the youtube channel.
Plan ahead: Book your perfect trip with our Austria travel guide and destination information. Does Austria require a visa? Check the visa requirements before you get caught up during your travel.
Stay safe: Even the best-laid plans can head south. battleface can help you stay safe in dangerous or hostile situations as well as that epic road trip or catching a few waves. How to stay safe during Red Bull X-Alps 2021? If you’re not covered for your trip yet, get your quote here.
Spend money wisely: Take public transport and dine in from time to time are common saving tips during traveling. How to spend money wisely in Austria? Make use of technology. There’s an app for everything.
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