Red Bull X-Alps 2015 - Interview with Nick Neynens

VON HIKE&FLY.INFO · 22. June 2015


Nick Neynens in the interview with

A minimum of 50 km has to be covered by foot during the event. How do you prepare yourself for this prior to the event?

I've generally been walking a lot while travelling and doing trips into the mountains, and while xalps is a major undertaking it's not completely unfamiliar. 

Do you check your pulse and if so, which level of pulse do you think you perform the best? 
Or do you simply listen to your body's feedback?
Not specifically, the event is really about endurance so it's more about conserving energy and your body and having efficient habits. 

Which kind(s) of shoes are you going to use in the event?
I'll be changing my shoes to suit the day. Normally I have one solid pair but with the supporter I have the luxury of changing footwear at a whim. 

What properties are more important to you for your choice of glider? Performance or safety?
Performance is safety! I'm comfortable on my wing and have a always liked whatever I've flown but I appreciate that performance widens the envelope. 

How do you plan your route? Which key areas, most difficult parts are you going to check out in particular? Where do you reckon are these crux?
I've had a few trips in or near to the route in the past. I'll be spending lots of time looking at maps. And I will try to fly and walk in the areas I don't know so well in particular so I can remember the lay of the land and the major features (peaks, towns, passes, valleys, lakes). The crux is highly weather dependent. We will think about a few scenarios but of course the reality is always evolving constantly and that's what makes the race so interesting. 


Capability of making decisions

How do you make decisions in cases of bad take-off conditions on the mountain: analysis, feeling or hope?
This is really the crux of the race. It's about weighing up the risks (time delay, equipment damage or injury) and benefits (versus alternatives) in the context of the situation. My vol biv experience is invaluable here to more accurately gauge the merits of each option, and to be creative about finding another option. In the end you'll go with your gut feeling. 

How do you deal with subjective dangers? Exhaustion, over-estimation of your own abilities, pressure to succeed?
The same as you do anytime you fly or spend time in the mountains. In my experience when things get desperate it isn't very pleasant or conducive to success - so it's smarter to take care of yourself and find the right balance. When you are engaged and confident you find the sweet spot for optimum performance. 

Do you prepare to avoid these, and if so, how?
I've had lots of experience taking care of myself in the mountains and I've been concentrating on flying. It's about smart thinking and good management rather than pushing yourself into the ground. 

How quickly can you switch from walking for hours to flight mode? Experience shows, that people often get in a trance-like state when walking for a long time. How do you switch to 100% concentration on takeoff?
It's an interesting question but generally I find flying is so engaging that concentration comes naturally. It's probably better to err on the side of being in a trance like state rather than to be too stressed.

How does exhaustion influence your reflexes/reactions and your ability to make the right decisions?
Good rest is definitely essential for good performance in the most important part of the race - flying. I'd agree that the compulsory rest period is the biggest single thing you could do to enhance safety in an otherwise fairly unregulated event. 

What is your relationship to your supporter? What made you choose your current supporter? Were there any specific criteria?
Louis has been arguably the keenest pilot in New Zealand in recent years. His enthusiasm for the sport, experience, and contacts makes him a very valuable supporter. It's hard to find someone who can be as generous of their time and as understanding of my sometimes against the grain individual attitude. We come at things from different angles but we also have a lot in common. How things play out will be an interesting aspect of the race but I'm confident we will make it work. 

How much say does your supporter have in decision making? In cases of unfavorable conditions, do you ask your supporter for advice? How much do you take his/her advice into consideration?
Through sharing thoughts and flying together in New Zealand we have a basis for common understanding. We will work on this further during June in the Alps. In the end of course I am the pilot and I will make my own decisions, but this is based on the information available, and providing that is a key role of my supporter. 


What are you going to eat/drink during the race to keep fit?

During the race we will eat normal food but lots of it. Unlike normal backcountry trips there is no requirement for weight or shelf life, but I’ll want to be able to eat on the run. 


What in particular are you looking forward to?

Xalps is like a vol biv trip but with support you don’t have to worry about where to sleep and what to do. I’m looking forward to thinking about nothing except flying and moving fast through the mountains.

What do you consider your personal strengths and weaknesses?
I think my well rounded experience is a strength, and my scratching in light conditions is a weakness.  

What is your personal goal? A good ranking or a time limit?
My goal is to have fun. The xalps is an amazing adventure. Racing against others or against the clock will be considered if I think I’ll be having more fun that way!

Last time, one participant took his fishing rod with him. Is there anything special you are going to take with you?  (Leuco tape, kinesio tape…)

I hope to take full advantage of the xalps format and have my supporter carry everything except my minimum required equipment!

Follow Nick

Nick thank you for your time! And all the best for the race.

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