With the ninth edition of Red Bull X-Alps just around the corner – and Suunto once again a main partner – we preview the sheer audacity of the race route.
Race organizer Ulrich Grill explains the 2019 route at a press conference. © zooom.at / Red Bull Content Pool
When the race organizers of Red Bull X-Alps announced the 1138 km route for the ninth edition of the race, many athletes felt it is the most challenging yet. Race veteran Paul Guschlbauer, for example, said crossing the Alps from Germany to Italy, while facing strong winds, will demand every bit of his skill and strength.
“We still have so much snow in the Alps and there’s only four weeks to go,” Paul says. “It was snowing down in the city a couple of days ago, and we have to go up to 2500 m, crossing it by foot if we can’t fly. When there is so much snow in the high mountains the thermal uplifts we need to fly don’t develop. It could be tricky up there!”
There are only 1138 Suunto 9 Baro Red Bull X-Alps Limited Edition pieces. One for every kilometer of the race!
The Red Bull X-Alps is an adventure race unlike any other. In the 2019 edition of the race, starting June 16, 32 athletes from 20 nations around the world will attempt to hike and fly across the length and breadth of the Alps, checking in at 13 turnpoints along the way. If the weather doesn’t play ball, they must hike insane daily distances with massive vertical gain.
With nearly double the number of turnpoints than in previous editions, and five zigzag crossings of the Alps, the athletes are going to be pushed to their ultimate potential. And fans are in for a treat.
For adventure sports fans, this race is almost addictive to follow. The live tracking system allows fans to follow their favourite athletes in real time. The race crosses through five alpine nations – Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France – and whole villages come out and cheer the athletes as soon as they see via live tracking they are passing through.
To give you a sense of the sheer audacity and scale of this race, here’s a preview of the route!
Salzburg to Gaisberg
Distance covered: 5 km
It’s race tradition to start in Mozartplatz in Salzburg, Austria, surrounded by the classical and natural beauty of this historic alpine city. The first turnpoint is only five kilometers away, but don’t let that fool you. Athletes must race up Gaisberg (1288 m) carrying their paragliding packs. It’s important athletes pace themselves well here, and catch a good thermal to carry them onwards. Every race, fans assemble at the top of Gaisberg and wait for the athletes to cheer them on.
Gaisberg to Wagrain-Kleinarl
Distance covered: 59 km
It might not seem like a long way, but remember the numbers alone don’t show the skill and precision this race demands. In this section, the athletes must navigate through a small flight path across a mountain range, while avoiding the Salzburg airport restricted airzone. At most turnpoints, athletes must sign their names on a signboard. The second turnpoint signboard is located right in town.
Wagrain-Kleinarl to Aschau
Distance covered: 148 km
One a clear day some of the best competitors might reach this third turnpoint in Aschau (615 m), Germany on the first day. Most will reach it on the second, after crossing the Hochkonig mountain group. Consider this leg the quiet before the storm; next they must make their first crossing of the Alps, from Germany south to Italy.
Aschau to Kronplatz
Distance covered: 268 km
Snow covered peaks, glaciers, the Italian Dolomites, fierce winds all put the pressure on in this leg. The fourth turnpoint is located at the top of Kronplatz, a 2275 m mountain, making careful flying incredibly important. Misjudge, and the athletes might land in a valley, and have to slog up to the top.
Land in the wrong place, and athletes have to hike to a launch spot. © Felix Woelk / Red Bull Content Pool
Kronplatz to Lermoos-Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Distance covered: 381 km
After one epic crossing of the Alps, athletes must turn back, and cross north again. Strong northern winds are common, making for challenging flying. Adding to the challenge is the restricted airspace zone around Innsbruck, Austria, requiring a diversion north into Germany. The fifth turnpoint is reachable only after circumnavigating Zugspitze (2962 m), Germany’s highest peak!
Lermoos-Tiroler Zugspitz Arena to Davos
Distance covered: 483 km
The meeting place of the world’s tremendously wealthy, Davos, Switzerland, gets tremendously exciting as the athletes fly through, landing by the lake to sign the sixth turnpoint signboard. From this point on, the weather begins to play an even bigger role.
Red Bull X-Alps demands precision piloting. © Felix Woelk / Red Bull Content Pool
Davos to Titlis
Distance covered: 592 km
Bad weather is every athlete’s worst nightmare in this leg. Unflyable, and they have to hike to the top of Titlis mountain (3238 km) to sign the board at the seventh turnpoint. Restrictions put in place by the race organizers make accessing the top even more challenging. There is only one village that athletes are permitted to climb to the summit by foot from. And that village is way off course from the most efficient flight path.
Titlis to Eiger
Distance covered: 630 km
Famous for its intimidating north faces, Eiger (3970 m) is an icon of European alpinism. The good news for the athletes is there is no turnpoint to sign in at on the summit! Instead, they must prove they passed within a 1500 m radius of the virtual cylinder.
Eiger to Mont Blanc
Distance covered: 751 km
In this leg, athletes must travel north from Switzerland into France, past Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc (4810 m). Like the previous leg, there is no signboard at the summit. Instead, they must traverse the northern side, keeping the mountain at their left.
Mont Blanc to St. Hilaire
Distance covered: 847 km
One of the paragliding meccas of Europe, St. Hilaire in France offers easy take off conditions. The athletes can sail in quickly and sign the board at turnpoint 10, before launching again and setting off to cross the Alps again!
Paul Guschlbauer power hikes to his next take off spot during Red Bull X-Alps 2017. © Sebastian Marko / Red Bull Content Pool
St. Hilaire to Monte Viso
Distance covered: 965 km
Crossing from the north to the south-east, athletes head to Italy’s Monte Viso (3841 m), where they must again prove by GPS tracking that they passed through a 2250 m virtual cylinder. While not as famous as previous peaks, race organizers say turnpoint 11 might be the toughest because of the mountains and valleys athletes must navigate through to get there.
Monte Viso to Cheval Blanc
Distance covered: 1045 km
This is a new, unexplored area to Red Bull X-Alps. By this point, the remaining athletes that haven’t dropped out will be exhausted. Cheval Blanc, a 2323 m peak in the French Alps, will be one of their last obstacles to navigate past. This time, they are required to pass on the west, either by foot or wing.
Cheval Blanc to Peille
Distance covered: 1136 km
Here, at last, the clock stops. The ceremonial end is 2 km below on a float on the shore of Monaco. The Peille turnpoint (13) is located at a mere 709 m, a pimp squeak compared to the massive peaks the athletes have already endured. However, it’s small size is deceiving; because of the many hills preceding it, it’s all too easy to pick a bad thermal and wind up landing, and being forced to continue on by foot, losing precious time.
Peille to Monaco
Distance covered: 1138 km
The landing float in the glistening Mediterranean Sea will be sight for the tired eyes of the courageous athletes that made it through the gauntlet. It’s time to pop the champagne!
Red Bull X-Alps 2019 begins on June 16. Stay tuned for more of the action!
Lead image: © Felix Woelk / Red Bull Content Pool