Stephan Gander’s Experience at the Red Bull Dolomitenmann 2023

March 13, 2024 / Posted by Marmot Mountain Europe GmbH / Text and Photos: Stephan Gander

It was March 2023, as I was lying around very bored at home with an injured shoulder, when my brother Manuel called me:” Hey Stephan, do you want to join the Red Blue Dolomitenmann?” He was asked by his coworker to participate but unfortunately, he had already booked his holiday trip. The Dolomitenmann competition has been around since 1988 and is considered to be one of the toughest team competitions worldwide. The competition consists of four disciplines: Mountain running, paragliding, mountain biking and kayaking.

Since I was familiar with the competition, I didn’t think twice about it and of course agreed.

I was already an enthusiastic paraglider, but from now on I informed myself more about this discipline. I watched videos, studied reports and the rules. In April I met with our team for the first time. We were put together as follows:

Mountain Running: Manuel Waldhart

Paragliding: Stephan Gander (Me)

Mountain bike: Stephan Niedrist

Kayak: Sabrina Bram


Start of the training with obstacles

Through my sponsor, Marmot, I organized a few high-quality clothes for our athletes. We were very happy and thankful for the clothes. Thanks again!

Since I was still limited due to my injury, I trained a lot at home on the exercise bike. However, I could not wait to be properly back at work with my paraglider.

On May first the day had finally come. The doctor and the physiotherapist weren’t too thrilled, but I was back again in the air. It was an incredible feeling to be able to enjoy this freedom again, after several hours on the exercise bike at home.

From now on the training could start. However, still not with the full physical load. During longer flights or difficult ascents, I always felt some pain in my right shoulder. But with the help of therapy and a lot of encouragement, it got better from week to week.

I trained with Markus Gründhammer, a paragliding developer and expert. We practiced packing and the taking-off process with the paraglider. Again and again, I grabbed the parachute, ran up a field, practiced the take-off the landing process, before starting it all over again. Almost every free minute of mine was used for training.

Of course, the body needs to be trained, as well. I did a lot of raining in the Kalkkögel and Stubaier Alps, as the terrain there is like the one in the eastern Tiroler Dolomites. These were the best conditions to train the body for the upcoming competition.


The final rehearsal: One last training and briefing before the event

On September 8th, one day before the big event, it was finally time for the official training day. Only during this day, you were allowed to train with a stopover on the Moosalm- for safety reasons.

So, you only have one real day to discover the route. My father (a native of East Tyrol and a local) picked me up early in the morning and we drove to East Tyrol, to take a look at the route. In the morning we climbed up the mountain running course to the Kuhbodentörl, in very high temperatures but with a fantastic weather. At this point the mountain runner hands over to the paraglider. From the checkpoint the route leads over a steep mountain slope to the very steep take-off area. I flew the route, including a stopover at the Moosalm, without any problems.

Then the training was already over- I flew the course and got ready for the briefing in the evening.

At the briefing we discussed the rules, the procedure, and the exact battle plan of the competition. We immediately started to realize, that the competition was not going to be easy for us. The rules were very strict and the timeframes for each discipline were calculated tightly. However, this gave us the motivation we try our best.


Here we go- 3,2,1 and start!

Only one day later, on the 9th of September, the time had come. With a bright blue sky and no wind at all, the day had the best conditions for my discipline, paragliding. We were picked up at 7 AM in Lienz to get to the starting area. To conserve the athletes' energy, the paraglider was flown to the launch site by helicopter. This made the ascent to the launch site much easier.

However, I realized by the ascent that that day was going to be very hot. This additional burden would increase the difficulty, not only for me, but for my everyone else, as well.

At the starting point we thankfully accepted the drinks, that were offered to us.

The tension literally grew by the minute, and we were getting more and more nervous. Around one hundred starters, a lot of helpers and spectators shared the rocky course at the Kuhbodentörl.

The event started with the discipline of the mountain runners at 10 AM. We were informed via a live microphone from the starting point.

Manuel, our mountain runner estimated that he would arrive around 12 o’clock at the handover point. I hoped that he would master the trail of 2000hm in under 2h 15min. Otherwise there would be a mass start for the paragliders. And I wanted to avoid this chaos at all costs. I waited anxious for Manuel’s arrival. I knew that a mountain run from 10 am to 12 pm would not be easy with these temperatures.


The spectators applause guided me through the air

When the first mountain runner crossed the finish line after a little over an hour, the tension continued to rise. After 1h 58min the time had come. Manuel high-fived me and I stormed off to the first starting point. It didn't take long, and I could feel the ascent of more than 2000 meters of altitude from the previous day in my feet and legs. But no worries the applause of the crowd motivated me. As I arrived at the starting point I searched for a free spot, threw my glider on the ground, sorted my linings, and I finally went off into the air. An absolutely incredible feeling.

Unfortunately, several participants overtook me in the air in the direction of the first landing point. I was simply a little bit slower with my skyman parachute. But no wonder…. The company NOVA builds paragliders especially for this event and approximately half of the athletes also started with these gliders. So, it was difficult for me to keep up with the others in the air. However, I will still remain loyal to my Skyman paraglider in the future.

Towards the first landing site there was suddenly moderate turbulence. I took the speed system out, but simply kept going.

I needed to gather all my concentration for the first landing. For one thing, there was a lot going on in the air and for another, I wanted to land as close as possible to the Red Bull arc to save time. However, all the other participants had the same plan.


Time for the next checkpoint

After the landing process we headed uphill with the shouldered gliders for about 150hm to the second checkpoint. And again, we were cheered up by the spectators. A really great feeling that motivated me.

From the second starting point we continued in the direction of the Dolomite stadium. The hand over point with the mountain bikers.

After the handover, our mountain biker, Stephan Niedrist, set off. Unfortunately, he had some bad luck on the course. He had two flat tires during the race and therefore dropped quiet far down the scoreboard.

After the mountain bike race, we walked together as a team to the finish line, where we waited for Sabrina Bram- our kayaker.

After a total of 06h 20 min the time had come. Sabrina stormed through the finish line with her shouldered kayak.


A great performance and the end of an exhausting competition

The most important thing: everybody reached the finish line healthy and without any injuries.

We successfully mastered one of the toughest team competitions in the world. With a few mishaps during the mountain biker course, but no matter. We then had dinner together and enjoyed the after-show party.

It was a cool experience, with an amazing atmosphere and a new spectator record of around 30,000 people.

The day after the races, my girlfriend and I went straight to Italy and the well-deserved beach to relax and unwind for a few days.

Thanks to my sponsors for their support, experiences like this shape my life and I will never forget this special adventure.


The summarized results

Brief information on the disciplines:

Mountain Run: Length: 12 km | Elevation gain: 2.000 m | Start: 10.00 AM at the main square in Lienz

Paragliding: starting point at: 2.441 m | Ascent: > 500 hm

Mountain biking: Uphill: 19 km | Downhill: 13 km | Elevation gain: 1.600 m

Kayak: Regatta: 6 km | Jump from: 7 m height

Our team attire:

Marmot Windridge Graphic Shortsleeve T-Shirts

Marmot Coastal Hoodies

Marmot Mitre Peak Gore-Tex Jackets

Marmot Superalloy Bio Wind Jackets

Marmot Retro Trucker Hats

Stephan Gander
September, 2023
The Send