Madeira may not be the best know flying destination in Europe, but pilots who go there often seem to go back time and again.
On my first trip in October last year, it started scoring points as soon as I stepped out of the airport. There’s nothing quite like the feel of sunshine just a few hours after being stood on a rainy English train platform.
Chrigel Maurer is said to be one of the best pilots in the world – and not just since his three Redbull X-Alps victories. In this lu-glidz interview he talks to Lucian Haas about his motivation and the downsides of lightweight gear.
Chrigel, many pilots describe your flying style and ability to find great lines in, for example, the X-Alps as “like a dream”. Do you sometimes dream about flying?
Dreaming is part of my mental training. I imagine new flights or acro moves until I fall asleep and then I dream about them. It has happened that I have woken up and knew I had dreamt it as if it was real. And then I could do it in reality. Many of my successes first happened in my dreams.
What are your next projects, which you may already be preparing in your dreams?
In sporting terms, I see the X-Pyr as a new, exciting project. Or cross-country flying in the Alps – how could I complete a 300km FAI triangle on a paraglider? I am also very motivated by the work on a documentary for Swiss television. This has been a long-term ambition for me and now I have received the go-ahead. The film deals with the fascination of paragliding, what is possible and how it works – all this will be explained using my biography. That is what I will be working on over the summer.
The X-Pyr is a hike & fly race like the X-Alps, but along the Pyrenees. What is the attraction, when you have already won the far more prestigious X-Alps three times?
The X-Pyr is providing me with new motivation. A different area, new scenery, new mountains. And the motivating thing is to get to know them and to see how to traverse them.
You know the Alps, and in particular the Swiss Alps, like the back of your hand. How do you rate your chances in a new area like the Pyrenees?
There is still a lot for me to discover in the Alps. For example, we would like to visit all 152 refuges of the Schweizer Alpen Clubs (Swiss Alpine Club) using only muscle power or the paraglider. During the X-Pyr I haven’t necessarily set myself the goal to win. We see the opportunities elsewhere.
In that case, what is important to you?
I, or I should say my team, have a learning goal. We would like to learn how one can travel the most simple, but efficient way. For the X-Alps, we planned in minute detail and additionally we carried a lot of sometimes cumbersome equipment in order to get to the finish as fast as possible. During the X-Pyr I want to discover if it is possible to travel as simply and lightly as possible. I am hoping to know much, much more about this after my week in the Pyrenees.
To gain experience is one thing. Passing these experiences on to others is another. You are offering pilots individual coaching opportunities, which are tailored to their requirements and goals. What themes do you see repeatedly?
There is one core question pilots have: How can I do this sport safely? How do I know what is safe and what isn’t? Many pilots, me included, have had set-backs. They might not be considering giving up, but they are always flying with anxiety. This stress is a big issue. And the second most frequent question is: How can I find a thermal when I can’t see it? How does Chrigel “always” know where the climb is and where the good glide lines are?
Are there any questions that you think are important, but that people don’t ask?
Yes, the question of attitude. Usually pilots approach my training courses in the same way as they do, for example, SIV. They pay me and expect to have all my knowledge and skill immediately. But that’s a real challenge for me! I would expect the following question to be asked far more often: What aspects of my flying can I improve? If a pilot critically assesses their skills and thinks about what they could do better, then the foundation for improvement is laid. But these questions are still far too rare.
That means the pilots are happier dreaming. They dream about flying like Chrigel but can’t see that other steps are necessary to get there?
Exactly. It’s just like an iceberg. Below water are the 90% of practise that make the visible 10% of performance possible! Pilots often blame their equipment or the conditions for their lack of performance or for incidents, rather than blaming themselves. The pilots will compare themselves to others but forget the differing circumstances. For example, they are unaware that others can fly better wings because those other pilots fly more hours or more fly intensively.
You always want to fly the best equipment. Last year you switched from Advance to Ozone in order to stay ahead in competitions. The change caused quite a stir in the paragliding scene. And now you have parted company with Ozone too. Why?
As a professional paraglider pilot I demand that I can use the best possible equipment for me as an individual. With regard to Ozone: I was never really part of the business. The co-operation didn’t really work as it was claimed. The equipment was ok for my 2013 goals, but now I am looking ahead. Therefore I have decided not to align myself with any manufacturer.
Which wing will you fly during the X-Pyr?
That is not yet decided. I am still looking around to see what would be the best equipment for me at the moment.
You do a lot of testing and have a great overview of the paragliding industry. In your opinion, are there any developments that are going too far or in the wrong direction?
If I knew that, I would probably be a manager. But I find it fascinating how the X-Alps pushed the general development of lightweight wings. These days lightweight gear can be found across the whole industry. Of course, lightweight gear must be treated with much more care if it is to last a decent amount of time. A lot of everyday flying wings are not built robustly enough.
Do you think that a lot of pilots are choosing gear that is too light?
Yes. I always try to assess what I am going to use my gear for. And when I know what that is, then I do my research on what would be suitable for me. And when I get it I check what I can actually do with this gear. Only very few pilots have the available time to form such an overall picture. At first they only see the advantages of lightweight gear and only after some time they also notice the disadvantages. But the market will regulate that in time.
Last year you designed some paragliding equipment, including very lightweight harnesses. Can we expect more products from the “CM“ brand?
Not at the moment. The market is currently saturated. Additionally I don’t necessarily see my strengths in designing paragliders. My strength is in the experience I have. And to pass this experience on is what motivates me and that is my thing.
What has been the most dangerous situation you have been in while flying?
The most dangerous situations were probably always the times when I didn’t even realise that it was dangerous. Because you can only understand and react to danger when you are aware of it.
Presumably you can assess risks better than others, thanks to the amount of experience you have. Are you always safe?
No. Because I also seek out extremes. I always want to see what else is possible for me and what is no longer possible. I have already had three parachute deployments. And coming down under your parachute does not guarantee that all will end well. There was a degree of luck as well. I have also had hard landings. For example, when I was practising wingovers near the ground and it was a little more turbulent that I expected, there were some incidents where I had a hard touchdown and this in turn gave me a lot more experience.
Are there things you used to do but that you have now stopped because you are a father?
I try to do what I do with more focus. For example, I don’t fly hang gliders anymore. I would have to invest a lot more in hang gliding so that it was safe for me – even though I was Swiss hang gliding champion in 2007. I just don’t have the available time. I would also like to skydive, base jump, fly sail planes, etc. But I also forgo those sports so that I can be one step safer. So I limit myself to paragliding and trust my instincts.
This article was originally published on Lucian Haas’ blog at http://lu-glidz.blogspot.de Many thanks to Lucian and Chrigel Maurer for permission to reproduce it here.