Red Bull X-Alps 2017 – Episode 1 early days

Team New Zealand assembles in Fuschl, Austria, ahead of the Red Bull X-Alps 2017

Building on my debut Red Bull X-Alps in 2015 where I focused on style, this time we added the “family holiday” theme. I see it as a fun adventure rather than a gruelling competition, and I wanted to keep a bit of healthy perspective on the event. My brother and Mum were the perfect supporters in this respect.

Rather than spend our time chasing sponsors we just let things fall into place with a major contribution from my uncle’s company Aim Lab Automation Technologies, the New Zealand Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, and dozens of generous donors on givealittle. This in effect covered the costs of our budget conscious enterprise with my brother Ben’s extremely efficient logistics.

Ozone supplied a wing and harness, or at least the bits and pieces for us to assemble it together during the pre-race week in Fuschl, Austria. Fly2Base, Skybean, Nelson Travel Broker, Icaro, and onesmallplanet did their bit and Mum organised a box of goodies from One Square Meal.

Instead of the customary driving a van around the Alps for months before the event, we arrived fresh. So fresh in fact, that Mum and Ben were late for the opening meeting, although road holdups from Munich airport were blamed. I’d hitched a ride in with Tom de Dorlodot (BEL) after a few days in Interlaken with some mates where I had picked up the new wing.

It was a great race with many things to be proud of:

  • Showing off the casual laid back “family holiday” approach
  • Highest time and distance flying
  • Flew further than Chrigel on two thirds of days (of days 2-10)
  • Lowest hiking (of those who completed the event)
  • Finished in top ten (9th is same prize money as 4th)
  • Independent route choices
  • Focus on photography and storytelling, fan engagement

We posted frequent updates to, and for the rest I’ll let the videos tell the story…

They call this the toughest adventure race in the world but I like to think of it as a chance to show off in front of the camera, and to share the adventure with friends and family.

In the end an adventure is all about what makes a good story.


[Prologue “warm up” three days before the main event]

“Here we are, a peaceful walk through the forest. Just came out of the woods, and Che (AUS) is just here. Not too windy at the moment so I don’t know, I’ve got my hopes up, what about you?”


“We can fly past those guys though eh?” “Hopefully, yeah”.


We didn’t get to fly, and this prologue should have been a warning to us. Basically a half marathon with a backpack up a hill, I had some tight quads in the following days. In the first day of racing we also didn’t fly. The others had smaller backpacks but rather than my back I felt my legs, and surprisingly, my feet.

I tried to talk a couple guys into flying off this, but in the end it was risky as the rain returned in the evening. This photo shows where I ended up after a few hours flying in the last xalps.

The hotel was just within reach before the 10:30pm curfew.

Day 1 tracks: NZL, SUI1, HUN (thanks to Tom Payne)

The next morning on foot was hard work and again I tried to talk fellow athletes into flying. In the end I struck out on my own, but it was comforting to see others including Chrigel (SUI1) follow. I arrived to fast clearing cloud. Being a little careful after seeing another pilot go down – I think it was Pal (HUN); and ten minutes or so fiddling on launch, was all Chrigel needed to make a break away.


It was a great release of tension to get that first bit of lift and work my way up the ridge [but with showers in the distance, I knew I didn’t have much time].


“So I’m making some progress now, but that shower is right on my heels. I’m flying reasonably fast to keep the wing dry, you can see there’s nothing on my harness… but there is small little rain drops I’m flying through.”


“You can see it was starting to get damp here, and I was looking to slope land before it got worse. “


Some athletes go ultra lightweight but I think it’s often worth being a little independent and able to take care of yourself. Unfortunately I don’t follow my own advice though as I needed to wait for another battery pack later that afternoon.


“Well, it’s not perfect, there’s a shower out there…”


I waited out the shower and then continued, but I wasn’t able to get more lift and I landed in the valley floor, literally right next to Pal who was walking along the road and called out as I came in.


Chrigel had meanwhile landed high in the head of the valley, gaining several hours on us. In my favour by the time I reached the pass cloud base had lifted above it, but I was still well behind.


Alone during my walk up the hill, I finally spotted two guys on the pass who I thought of asking to help me launch. When I got closer I realised it was the Czech team.

“Thanks mate, you’re a legend”.


Stani (CZE) I met in X-Pyr three years ago. A few hours earlier he’d snuck past me when I was napping on the side of the track.


His supporter helped me when my glider got into a mess, and to my surprise he also followed us over the col. Stani got away ahead of us and I didn’t see him again for several days.


“Pal and Chrigel were walking down here, I guess it was too cloudy when they were here”


“I’ve lost a lot of height, up to 9 metres [per second sink]. Bit crazy really”


This was a cracker thermal and it got me on my way. The valley was shaded for the rest of the flight though so I changed gears, trying to work weak lift and convergences. Meanwhile Chrigel was busy tagging the Triglav turn point, a move that gave him a decisive lead.


According to the xalps statistics, this was one of three days where Chrigel flew further than me, and the only day I walked more.

Day 2 tracks: NZL, SUI1, HUN. Shows what I thought in the video was wrong!

About sharemyjoys

Nick Neynens
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5 Responses to Red Bull X-Alps 2017 – Episode 1 early days

  1. Ian Pronk says:

    Really enjoy following your efforts. I know it is a low budget adventure so it is really strange to see that your mother allowed you into lodgings occassionally – maybe you were getting smelly and needed a shower! Also really like the fact that you are always ready to back your own judgement with your route decisions – some work and some don’t but far more exciting for us lounge room lizards! Looking forward to next time, maybe I will volunteer to drive the team bicycle!

  2. Steve says:

    Good blog, love it. What’s the “being overtaken whilst napping” all about? I thought it was a race…..;-)

  3. MikeM says:

    Interesting to think what might have happened when you “tried to convince some of the other guys to fly” but did not. You have great instincts and and spirit, but maybe good to temper that with outside influence, or maybe sad to temper that. Not sure. Just interesting to me. I wonder how you feel about your wing after this real test.

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