My Red Bull X-Alps
Interview Thomas Friedrich
It’s been an eventful year for Thomas Friedrich. The 20-year-old paraglider from Graz had a dream come true this summer when he took part in the Red Bull X-Alps. However, after a successful start, he was forced to retire when he injured himself during a hard landing. A bitter blow for Tommy, who came third in the prologue and was actually leading at the initial turnpoint on the Gaisberg. He was the youngest athlete ever to compete in the race. “Setbacks like this are hard, but you have to learn from every experience.” Looking to the future, Tommy is motivated and positive. Currently, he’s planning for his next “Hike and Fly” competition. We asked the Salewa athlete how he feels about the Red Bull X-Alps, what left the biggest impression and about his plans for the coming months.
How was your Red Bull X-Alps 2021?
Looking back at my first Red Bull X-Alps race, I feel good about it. Sure, it wasn’t easy at the start, but day by day, we got more and more into it, we worked perfectly as a team and learn a lot during the time. Of course, things can happen that you don’t expect, but that’s exactly what makes the Red Bull X-Alps so special. And these are often the experiences that you learn most from to take into your next race.
What’s your impression of “probably the toughest adventure race in the world”?
There are just so many impressions from such a short time. There is the competition and then there is the racing itself – the time just flies by and every happens faster than normal. It’s just such an action-packed sporting event that you need time to take it all in afterwards – to take stock. I really enjoyed the race and the days together with my team.
Was there anything that struck you in particular?
I’m feel really grateful towards all members of my team, for their support regardless of how things turned out. The fact that we made it together. We kept our spirits and motivation up. This struck me especially.
Do you want to take part in the next Red Bull X-Alps?
I definitely want to be in the starting line-up for the next edition of the Red Bull X-Alps in 2023.
What does your training programme look like at the moment?
Currently, I’m doing 10-15 hours of endurance training a week. My training basically consists of hike and fly, running, cycling and strength and stabilisation workouts. Naturally, this also leaves plenty of time for flying. I practise a lot with my wing, to keep developing myself further as a pilot. I do lots of ground handling. Many pilots neglect this aspect, but in my opinion it’s a very important part of flying. As soon as we get the first snows, I can’t wait to get back on my skis to train – this is another big passion of mine.
What are you doing at the moment?
Currently, I’m preparing for this season’s final competitions and making sure that I start the winter season in good shape. In addition, I took over my father’s flying school. I’ve been running it together with Simon Oberrauner since the beginning of the year. Together, we have been training future pilots and passing on expertise in the courses.
What are your plans for the next two years?
For the next season, I’ve got a few projects planned. But first I need to get ready for the winter season, where I want to concentrate more on ski mountaineering. Then I’ll refocus on the Red Bull X-Alps the year before the next edition.
Where is your favourite place to fly?
My favourite place to fly is Schöckl, a mountain in Austria about 15 kilometres north of Graz where I grew up. It’s kind of my backyard. In Austria, we say “dahoam is holt dahoam” (home will always be home).
What is your preferred wing set-up at present?
I fly an ultra-lightweight high-performance D-class Skywalk X-Alps4 glider.
Is there any other equipment you particularly like to have with you in the mountains?
I’m a bit of a gear junkie and I like to have good equipment that is as light as possible. Currently, my favourite jacket is the Pedroc TirolWool® Responsive Jacket because it’s warm and very lightweight and packable. And the Pedroc Polartec® Power Grid™ Full-Zip Hoody which makes a really good midlayer, although I sometimes wear it next to skin – it’s that comfortable. And I always pack a thin beanie that will fit under my helmet. My favourite pack is definitely the Salewa Hike X-Alps Backpack, designed Paul Guschlbauer.
What shoe do you prefer for hike&fly?
My favourite shoe is the Ultra Train. It’s light, but it offers good cushioning and support.
How heavy is your pack?
When I’m training, my pack with wing and clothes weighs around 7 kilos. In the X-Alps, you have to carry a specified list of safety equipment and your pack usually weighs around 10 kilos.
What kind of food do you carry in the mountains?
I normally take bars and gels, but if I’m out for longer I also like to cook or pre-cook something at home. Most of the time it’s pasta. I love pasta.
What role does risk management play for you?
In paragliding, as in many outdoor sports, it plays a really big role. There’s always a very fine line between pushing to get better and pushing it too much.
How do you deal with anxiety?
I think it´s really important to recognise fear so you understand when you are pushing too hard. However, being too scared can stop you being focused. During a bad situation in the air, there is no place for fear. You just have to focus. It’s better to go back to it afterwards to consider what you did wrong.
What role does your family play?
My family is really important for me. They’re behind me the whole time and this gives me a lot of strength and energy.