The Lauberhorn Ski Race is the longest downhill run of the World Cup circuit and Switzerland's biggest annual winter sports event. As an established attraction, the Patrouille Suisse, Swiss Air Forces aerobatic demonstration team, performs a spectacular airshow set against the breathtaking alpine backdrop, often joined by an airliner.
Have you ever imagined how it must feel like to precisely navigate between the tight gates while racing down a steep, icy slope at up to 150km/h? Surely the adrenaline levels spike at times of slight irregularities, but maybe that's just the needed satisfaction for those doing it. A ski racer has quite a lot in common with an airline pilot: Everything boils down to a short period of absolute focus and skills, where failure is not an option. While both need an excellent team in the background, paving their path to success, their preparation needs to be meticulous. That couldn't be any more true as for the crews of the display pilots of the flights at the Lauberhorn Ski Race, and I had the privilege to accompany them on several occasions and document the extraordinary flights.
After countless hours of planning and briefing, individual preparation, and joint simulator sessions, they are ready for the real flight. The F5E Tiger pilots are certainly "within" their comfort zone while performing such a display flight with an airliner is not only a career highlight but a big challenge too. Imagine flying a closely clocked program in an airliner within an arena of 3500m high peaks that probably create the most spectacular scenery in the Alps while being trailed by six fighter jets in tight formation at up to 400km/h. I would say everything needs to be flawless, and just as for the ski racer: Errors are not an option.
We fly somewhere over rural Switzerland just north of the Alps and wait until we get joined by the Patrouille Suisse. It was an exciting experience to watch my colleagues prepare for today's flight. They are excited yet fully focussed and know the display program by heart. Soon the fighter jets join us, and after a couple of sweeping turns to get in the flow, we start to head for the Lauberhorn venue. While the past days offered some dull and grey weather, they also made sure the Alps were freshly-powdered. On the race day, a perfect winter wonderland awaits us, and the stage was set for a successful ski race and a breathtaking display flight in front of thousands of spectators on the ground.
The Alps never cease to take our breath away and cast a spell on many of us. Those routes that take me across the rugged peaks and twisted valleys are among my favorite ones, and I call it a vast privilege to have such beautiful scenery just at my doorstep. Flights in and out of Zurich or Geneva offer stunning sights, and even for us "frequent flyer" flying the "scenic" routes amazes us over and over again. But flying so close to those peaks and feeling the perfect line we were flying certainly got me some tears of joy in the eyes. We zoomed across spectacular ridges, and freshly powdered treelines climbed along the race tracks and did tight turns in front of the famous mountain formation "Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau." It was a blast to feel the pilots' precision and skills and see the pictures shot from the ground; I am confident the spectators certainly felt the same way. Inbetween our fly-pasts, the Patrouille Suisse performed their program before joining us again for a final flyby. It was time to hand the flag over to the ski racers and heading back to our bases. And the show continued as the Swiss ski racers certainly didn't fail to amaze by securing the victory at one of the most challenging and longest downhill ski race in the world cup circus.
Back in 2015 I got the chance to create and tell the story about the similarities of the ski racers and the display pilots.