A look at a Red Bull X-Alps support team

They don't just make the tea. Some of the supporters are serious adventurers.

Flying across the Californian Sierras© Jody MacDonald

If you thought the support team for the athletes taking part in the Red Bull X-Alps are just kicking back in the van, watching it all unfold on Live-Tracking, drinking tea and munching down another pack of twinkies, then think again.

They often hike as far as the competitors each day, prepare meals, scout ahead for take-off options, check weather and plan strategy when the fatigued mind of the competitors turns to mush. It's a thankless task, so why do they do it?

Many of the supporters are accomplished pilots in their own right. None more so than the duo behind Stephan Haase (USA2). Leading the logistics is Dave Hanning, a veteran supporter who helped Honza Rejmanek (USA1) into to the top ten slot for the last three races. Hanning is an accomplished flying instructor, and commercial tandem pilot who follows the flying seasons between the Alps, the Himalaya and the USA.

Red Bull X-Alps athlete Honza Rejmanek launches© Jody MacDonald

Haase's other supporter, Brad Sander holds the world altitude record, having taken a paraglider to 7,752m in Pakistan, and has pioneered some of the most audacious routes through the unforgiving Karakoram mountains.

In 2010, partnered by US national team pilot Eric Reed, Sander flew the length of the Himalaya mountains from Dharmsala, 1,100km through Nepal to Sikkim on a 46 day vol-bivouac flight.

The pair only finished the journey short of Sikkim because they were arrested for six weeks by Indian police over a bureaucratic mix up.

sleeping wild in the Sierras
Sleeping wild in the Sierras© Jody MacDonald

Last year Sander was part of a six-man Sierra Safari team attempting to fly the length of the Sierra Mountains from California to Oregon. Sander had an accident on one of the first days of the month-long expedition while trying to land on a peak in the Owens Valley.

“I'd recently had a couple of incidents in Pakistan, a spin at 20,000 feet, and a collapse in low turbulence that left me swooping just metres away from a sheer rock face,” recounts Sander, admitting that he wasn't fully focused.

On his final approach to the remote peak his wing collapsed in turbulence and he ended up sideways as it dropped him onto the ground. While he lay on the floor incapacitated, the wing caught a thermal breeze and re-inflated, picking him off the ground. Despite his pain, he was able to pilot the glider to the valley floor where an ambulance could reach him.

Brad Sander rescued
Brad Sander is helped by medics© Jody MacDonald

The accident, which luckily only resulted in two weeks' bed rest with severe muscular bruising, has given him a new perspective on flying which has led him to supporting Haase in the Red Bull X-Alps.

“For my flying to be rewarding, each new adventure had to be bigger. Then I realised that if I keep taking more and more risks I'm going to kill myself.” Sander says.

He now works as an aerial guide for pilots training in cross country flying. “I can do some relatively mellow flights, with some really nice pilots, and when we land they'll say it's the best flight of their life. That's just as rewarding as the big adventures.”

The trip involved some epic flying© Jody MacDonald

He sees his role in the Red Bull X-Alps in a similar way. “When Stephan asked me to help I jumped at it. I get such a buzz from helping other pilots achieve their goals.

“Being in this environment is great for my psychological rehabilitation and calibrating my risk tolerance levels.”
And no doubt for those coffee-making and cooking skills too!