The world’s longest ski tour – Red Bull der lange Weg
A lot of people have already crossed the Alps. On a bike, hiking, running or paragliding. But in winter? On skies? The usual route is from north to south. But from east to west? That’s the entire length of the Alps, from Vienna to Nice! On March 17th an international team of 7 athletes will attempt this epic journey, tagging the most iconic peaks of the Alps on their way. Read on to find out that this is actually “just” a repetition of a crazy trip that was done almost 50 years ago…

Can you ski? If you can’t, you probably can’t really imagine what I’m about to say ;-) If you can, take off your high-end boots, put away your lightweight skis and get rid of your carbon poles! 47 years ago a group of 4 Austrians set off from Rax (near Vienna) to cross the entire mountain range of the Alps on skis, ending their incredible trip in Nice, on the Mediterranean coast. All they had was skis that were not much better than cross-country skis, lace-up leather boots and heel-lock bindings that were no more than a metal clip – the harder you stepped into it, the more stable it was. Also, they didn’t have any GORE-TEX jackets protecting them from the elements, only scratchy pullovers made of sheep’s wool. Just thinking about this scenario and imagining spending day after day in the snow, perhaps even the occasional rain shower, makes my skin feel cold and moist. Led by Robert Kittl, the group didn’t choose the fastest route to reach their final destination, but the most spectacular and scenic one. On their way they reached some of the most impressive and well-known summits of the Alps. These included Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner (3,798 m), the Dufourspitze (4,634 m), and the top of Europe itself, Mont Blanc, rising 4,810 meters above sea level. This monumental feat took the team 41 days. In one continuous push they covered a distance of almost 2,000 km and climbed 85,000 vertical metres. Have you ever ran a marathon? Okay, maybe a half-marathon? So, on average they did that distance almost 2.5 times a day. Day after day! For 41 days. Not “just” flat but with exactly 2,173 m+ of vertical ascent, every day. On they strode, never mind how sore and heavy their legs, how poor the snow conditions, or how horrible the weather, not to mention all those other little things that would have made the majority of us stay at home and have a day of “forced” rest. By the way: half of the time they really did have bad weather. Just imagine it: their clothes were made of wool, they had no technical fabrics protecting them from the wind, rain and snow! Have you ever been in a total whiteout? Upside down or downside up? And then tried to navigate, find the right route, the next peak, with just a map and compass? That requires pretty solid navigation skills! Don’t know if I (late generation Y) would be able to find my way… But is it really easier with modern technology, with better and lighter equipment? Of course, they knew when the avalanche risk was high even though they had no precise forecast. Even so, they continued to rack up the miles in an attempt to stick to their daily schedule. But today, can you really responsibly ski down a mountain when you know it’s avalanche danger level 4 on the 5 level avalanche scale? Of course you can’t. How does the fact that we now know so much more change our whole approach to a project and influence how pressurized we are to make progress? Because the less-than-40-day-limit is still there. And it’s still tight! Is “safety first” always possible? What else has changed in the Alps over the last 50 years? How has global warming affected the available route choices? Are the high alpine glaciers now so patchy that it’s impossible to find a way across the crevasses and you have to waste time looping round them? Needless to say, you’d never start a trip like that alone. But on the other hand, how well will 7 individualists with 7 opinions and personalities get on together? And finally, seeing as ski touring has become so popular, how much way-making will we actually have to do (“Willst du Touren, must du Spuren”)? For me, the whole “Red Bull Der lange Weg” trip is about much more than just performance and mastering a physically and mentally challenging task. It’s much more of a dream-come-true trip, a once-in-a-lifetime-journey, and a very special opportunity. The most exciting aspect of the journey is that it’s actually not far away, it’s not somewhere in a remote unknown area of the world that most people will never get to see or even manage to spell properly. It basically starts just round the corner. We might literally pass by your front door on our way, and maybe even tag the peak you went up yesterday with your friends. We will be enabling live tracking so you can follow our progress in real time. A lot of questions still need to be answered and there are still a lot of things to find out, but one thing is for sure: it’s gonna be a real adventure!

The team:

GORE-TEX athlete Tamara Lunger (ITA) GORE-TEX athletes Mark & Janelle Smiley (USA) Nuria Picas (ESP) Bernhard Hug (SUI) David Wallmann (AUT) Philipp Reiter (GER)

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