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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville


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Athletes

Jun 29, 2017

Faster Than Ever: Meet the X-Alps 2017 Athletes

The toughest adventure race on the planet is set to be even tougher—strong winds already forcing the cancellation of flying for the start of the Leatherman Prologue.

WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

With a route change making the course the longest and most demanding yet, the strategic possibilities have been upped for both newcomers and seasoned pros alike. Here is a video intro to the 31 athletes who’ll be heading out July 2nd on this gruelling 1,138km hiking and paragliding race.

Even with no flying allowed due to harsh and unsafe winds, the start of the 8th edition of the Red Bull X-Alps has officially begun! Although Aaron Durogati and Sebastian Huber crossed the finish line of the Leatherman Prologue in just under two hours, showing us all they will be athletes to watch, with this year’s new route, it’s anyone’s game!

Needless to say, the competition is fiercer than ever this year. This has required the athletes and their relied on teams to make their training more intense and we-rounded than earlier races.

Even with many other projects going on (including plans to sail around the world right after crossing the X-Alps finish line), return competitor Tom de Dorlodot revolves much of his year and training around this race. He told The Outdoor Journal in an interview that  “The X-Alps is a very important competition for me. Even with everything else I have been working on this year, I wanted, needed to focus on that.” He’s seen how the race has evolved first-hand and even tells stories of him being able to go grocery shopping or “refuel” on fast-food in earlier years.

Tom De Dorlodot (BEL) performs during the Powertraveller Prologue of the Red Bull X-Alps over Schafberg, Austria in 2015. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

“Today you have to be a ‘complete’ pilot,” David Dagault, who came second in the first ever Red Bull X-Alps in 2003 told Red Bull X-Alps reporters. “You need the speed of a top PWC pilot, the technique of a top acro pilot, the sense of the air of a big mountains xc gun. You need to be technically 100% perfect. It means you need to be able to fly your wing at 100%, any conditions, anywhere.”

Red Bull X-Alps 2017

“But we see people who are also top ultra runners and adventurers,” says Tom Payne, who’s been both competitor and supporter. “In the early days, athletes were good in one area—a good pilot, mountaineer or runner. Now people excel in all these areas.”

Red Bull X-Alps Route
The Route
The hardest and longest in the history of Red Bull X-Alps! Here is an outline of the race as detailed by Race Director Christoph Weber in a press release.

The race starts at the historic Mozartplatz in Salzburg, Austria. From there, the athletes will run through the city and up the Gaisberg to Turnpoint 1 where they set up their paragliders and embark on their first flight of the contest.

A grueling 157km straight-line journey south through Austria will take them to Turnpoint 2, the Mangart paragliding launch pad on the edge of Triglav National Park in Slovenia. Triglav is the first Slovenian turnpoint to appear in Red Bull X-Alps and is the country’s highest mountain at 2,864m above sea level.

Traveling northwest from Slovenia, the competitors will arrive at Turnpoint 3; Aschau-Chiemsee in Germany. Located at the foot of the Kampenwand in the picturesque municipality of Aschau im Chiemgau, the athletes will decide whether to continue west on foot, or climb upwards and take to the air.

Turnpoint 4 is the second Austrian turnpoint in the race and can be found in the village of Lermoos. Situated in the shadow of the Zugspitze, the almost 3000m mountain connects Austria to Germany and offers the athletes huge flying potential.

Pushing back south through the Alps to Italy, the athletes will find themselves at Turnpoint 5, nestled closely to Lake Garda by Monte Baldo. At this point, the competitors will have successfully passed the halfway mark; but with tired feet, aching muscles and 499km still to go, anything could happen.

Turnpoint 6 lies 251km west at the Matterhorn in southern Switzerland, making it the longest stretch between two consecutive turnpoints in the race. If getting there isn’t hard enough, navigating around one of the highest summits in Europe certainly will be.

In a final push, the hungry competitors will hike and fly the remaining 246km to reach Turnpoint 7 in Peille, southeast France.

Finally, the timer will stop, leaving the athletes to make the 2km victory flight over Monaco to a landing float in the Mediterranean Sea. Here, they will touch down in style and celebrate the accomplishment and relief of the end.

Curious to see if 4-time reigning champion, Christian Maurer, will be able to hold onto his title—or break yet another record, we’ll be following the racers along—and you should too! Live Tracking available this year.

Feature image by Felix Woelk / Red Bull Content Pool

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Boulder

Sep 17, 2018

“Frack”-tured Community: Colorado’s Proposition 112 to Direct Future of Natural Gas Drilling

The grassroots initiative, which Boulder voters will see on the ballot come November, would mandate a state-wide, half-mile “buffer zone” of fracking wells from occupied buildings.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as “fracking”, has been controversial since it became the widespread method of shale gas production over the past decade. The technique involves pumping millions of gallons of highly-pressurized water and chemicals into deep shale formations to proliferate cracks and free gas for extraction. On Colorado’s crowded Front Range, where land is a premium, active wells operate within arm’s reach of houses, schools, and other occupied structures.

Fracking proponents say that the practice has drastically increased U.S. natural gas production, lowered energy prices, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions via displacing coal burning in electricity generation. Opponents of fracking cite many potential health and environmental hazards of the practice including methane leakage, groundwater contamination, radioactive wastewater, and well fires.

significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby

According to Colorado Rising, a grassroots non-profit committed to exposing fracking’s health and safety concerns, fracking’s toll on public health outweighs the economic benefits. Research from the Colorado Public School of Health indicates that proximity to fracking operations poses serious risks to health and safety. Among these risks include exposure to cancer-causing toxins such as benzene and air pollutants. An analyses of public health research at the University of Chicago examined correlation between prenatal health and proximity to fracking wells and found that mothers living within a half-mile radius of active wells were significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby than mothers who lived farther away. This half-mile radius, incidentally, is the amount of buffer the ballot proposition would require.

The research is preliminary, however, as it cannot definitively prove point-source contamination. To date, no double-blind studies have ever linked fracking directly to low birth weights. But according to spokesperson Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising, “Weld County is the most fracked county (host to over 23,000 wells) and has twice the still-born rate of other Colorado counties”. She claims the spike in still-borns occurred in 2009, after a 2008 influx in natural gas drilling. But the list of environmental hazards does not end with carcinogens. The Colorado Rising report also condemns fracking’s environmental toll. Their briefing states that because of methane leakage, “…fracking, transporting and burning natural gas for electricity is likely as bad as or worse for climate change than coal or oil”. The jury is still out on this claim. Granted, fracking is energy-intensive and petrochemical-dependent, but burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as burning oil or gasoline. Methane leakage in drilling and pipeline transportation is minor, though Colorado Gas & Oil industry officials and public health activists like Colorado Rising disagree on the amount and impact of leakage.

Despite its controversy, there are approximately 50,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, many of them concentrated in Boulder and Weld Counties. Under current legislature, fracking operations can take place 500 feet from an occupied home and 1,000 feet from a school building.

do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Public demand for an expanded mandatory buffer zone from occupied buildings compounded after a 2017 incident in which an open gas line from an operating well leaked into a Firestone home, causing an explosion that killed two. Colorado Rising wrangled over 172,000 signatures for their “Safer Setbacks from Fracking” initiative, which was subsequently approved for November’s ballot. The regulation would underscore the burgeoning research on detrimental public health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing—research that Colorado’s oil and gas industry might call inchoate and inconclusive. It would increase the mandatory buffer zone between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings to 2,500 feet—a move that the Colorado Petroleum Council has deemed “job-killing” and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association has said risks “more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks, and libraries, and our nation’s energy security”. And Weld County, situated on potent shale, has benefited from the incursion of jobs and money brought by the industry’s presence in the area.

The future of Colorado’s oil and gas sector is up in the air, and the proposed initiative would significantly reduce the amount of viable drilling land in populated regions of the state. As Anne Lee Foster summarizes, “the general consensus is that negative health impacts are possible, and it’s best to err on the side of caution”. November’s vote will tap into the metaphorical shale deposits of public sentiment towards fracking; do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Special thanks to Anne Lee Foster, who was interviewed for this piece. The Colorado Oil and Gas Board did not respond to request for commentary.

Cover photo courtesy of Brett Rindt.

Resources and Further Reading: A Denver Post report on fire and gas explosions, political commentary by Colorado Politics, a public health report by Colorado Rising, The Colorado Rising website, A Popular Mechanics article on 10 Most Controversial Claims About Natural Gas Drilling, A New York Times article,

https://coloradopolitics.com/setback-initiative-ballot/ (comments from COGCC)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1594bLT2U9nGsnWSSA4C5EAT3XZV-vDkB/view (public health report by Colorado Rising)

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g161/top-10-myths-about-natural-gas-drilling-6386593/ (information on fracking misconceptions and research)

Interview with Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising on 9/5/2018

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/31/us/colorado-fracking-debates.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/09/business/energy-environment/colorado-activists-submit-petitions-for-referendums-on-fracking.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article&region=Footer

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