Portraits of NOVA team pilots
Frank Schaufuss and Rolf von Arx (CH)
Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin… in the NOVA Pilots Team we also have a real dream team: Frank Schaufuss and Rolf von Arx. Instead of crime fighting, the two Swiss pilots have a preference for hike & fly - and so they always set off together to return with exceptionally good photos in the bag. Because their photos are so outstanding, we recently awarded them the title “Pilots of the Year” for 2020. And with good reason… we think their photos are great, but also various paragliding magazines worldwide have taken notice of them and published their pictures and stories. To take the perfect photo, the two of them even get up at three in the morning and climb the summit before sunrise. Once in the air, Frank is the guy behind the camera, while Rolf is the model flying in front of the camera. Besides all facets of paragliding, one has to marvel at the beauty of nature in their pictures. Be it summer or winter. For all those who are less inclined to be early birds, we asked the guys some detailed questions.
Where do you get the motivation to torture yourselves up several hundreds metres in altitude on a cold, frosty morning?
Frank: “For me personally, this has nothing to do with torture. Because I do it so often, I am now at the point that I miss it when I can’t get out and climb a mountain. The standard tour at my local site the Buochserhorn is roughly a 1000 metre ascent, which isn’t that much. If necessary, however, there are possibilities from 300 to 1330 metres altitude and several launch sites. And also, a frosty dawn is only freezing for five minutes, then even the tours on the coldest days become sweaty. ;) My motivation comes from the unbelievable experiences I have been rewarded with. I have experienced so many impressive things, there is no question about the motivation. And besides, sunrises and sunsets are simply stunning anyway, and after or before you have the whole day free to do whatever else you want. In a day tour, you have both, the early morning and the whole day. So you get two great things. Hike and fly is now my main hobby and I have never tired of it.” Rolf: “The first light and end of the day have their own magic. Besides the special light, which is uniquely beautiful and multifaceted, I am also fascinated by the resulting silence before or after the bustle of everyday life.”
How did two people who have so much in common meet?
Frank: “I met Rolf nearly 20 years ago. He was my neighbour. At that time I lived in a building from the 1950s with 20 flats and if I hadn't been able to buy a log cabin on the edge of the forest, I would still live there. The location was amazing. Right at the foot of Mount Pilatus, the iconic mountain in central Switzerland, just near Lucerne. Rolf also moved in and found the house horrible, as it is was badly soundproofed. We met in the laundry room, which is the usual way people meet in Switzerland. The washing machine was in the cellar (then without a dryer), and was shared by ten flats. The ‘Queen of the Washing Machine’ kept a tight rein; she would only let us do a washing once a month, because the clothes took so long to dry on the line. When said queen had to retire to an old folk’s home, I took the opportunity to launch my own guerrilla-style proposal to the other residents - open the laundry room for everyone. Rolf though the idea was great and so we found each other.” Rolf: “I also got to know Frank as the neighbour who tirelessly set off every evening on his mountain bike to Mount Pilatus, our local mountain at the time. Impressive, even at the time, was his love of lightweight materials. So one day I asked him if he had lost the padding of his carbon saddle and had to glue two tiny foam rubber pads to the seat cushions. That he would do this deliberately to save about 47 grams of weight made me really like this uncompromising guy. At the time he didn’t fly much, although he got his license in 1988, so just before me. The first paragliding films of Fredy (another neighbour and good colleague) and his glacier flights in the Valais then encouraged him to start again. Hike & fly was still in its infancy, so mostly we just went flying together and in winter we increasingly went ski touring.”
Of all the tours you have done together, which one would you say was the most beautiful?
Rolf: “The next tour is always the most beautiful. My life motto is ‘What is, will be’, which comes from a systemic theoretical approach and freely translated means that all living things are in constant development and change. This means I prefer to look forward, rather than back. However, I also really like looking back at our photos from various tours.” Frank: “I see things similarly. The next tour is the most beautiful. I am always thrilled when we unexpectedly run into a magical atmosphere. The spontaneous and surprising is always the best. It has often happened to us or to me alone that an ordinary evening or morning has turned into something breathtakingly magical. Therefore I know these things happen and they happen more frequently than people think. Especially early morning, late in the evening or when there are clouds. I am already looking forward to our next tour, and this brings with it the curiosity about the unexpected.”
What is always in your bag before you set off?
Rolf: “You will have to ask Frank that. He is always forgetting things. :) And the worst thing is that he often forgets things on the mountain and then has to walk up a second time while I am already driving home. I have often wondered if he does it deliberately to keep ahead of me in our training schedule. Must be, because otherwise he is clever chap who thinks about every detail. What I have learnt from him is to only take the absolute necessary. Thanks to the little weight, this makes even big ascents really good fun.” Frank: “For me it is important that it really is as little as possible, because as Rolf says, I often forget things on the mountain. ;) So I try to keep it as simple as possible. Normally I carry poles, half a litre of water, a spare t-shirt, mobile phone and my camera of course. I take all my photos with a small Sony RX 100 M1 or M3. But this year I lost the M1 somewhere on a mountainside…”
Do your hike & fly flights sometimes become a cross-country adventure?
Frank: “It isn’t so easy to go XC together, because Rolf is a much better cross-country pilot than I am. If we are talking points, I have no chance – and I am not bothered about that. I am really more of a sight-seeing pilot. I find nature far more fascinating than points in the league. My highlights are high flights in the Swiss Alps at the end of the summer, when it is possible to get to over 4000 m over all glaciers relatively calmly. The Valais Alps, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks… my highest flight was over 5000 m in the Valais. It will stay in my memory forever. So I do a lot more hike & fly than Rolf. I would say about 70 - 80 flights a year. Of course we sometimes also fly with our cross-country gear, but more locally, even if the flight lasts for many hours.” Rolf: “I still prefer flying XC. Before I was competitive, today my flights are relaxed and pleasure-oriented. In 2006 I flew my first 200 km FAI triangle with an EN B glider in the Valais. A very big highlight was the flight in 2018 from Niesen over the main ridge of the Alps into Valais and back to the Bernese Oberland. The flight with Urs Haari in the same year, during which we flew together up the Schöllenen Gorge to Andermatt and then back to the Engelberg Valley, will certainly remain unforgettable. And last but not least this year's flight together with my NPT Buddies Bernhard Friedli and Hansueli Jakob, from Fiesch over the Finsteraarhorn to Lucerne, my home town. These flights were above all a mental effort, as there was no safe landing spots anywhere in the Schöllenen Gorge or when crossing the great glaciers of the Valais and the Bernese Oberland.”
Have you already planned your next tour?
Rolf: “I have the feeling that Frank will bully me into spending the entire autumn in Ticino. He has fallen in love with this region and is always finding new and exciting routes. And of course the Buochserhorn mountain is always on our doorstep.” ;) Frank: “Since I live in a small log cabin at the foot of the Buochserhorn at the edge of the forest, my hike & flys during the week take place almost exclusively on this mountain. When I have the whole day, I like to explore new areas, and yes, I like going to Ticino. I love studying maps and satellite images on the PC and finding new routes. This has already taken me to the most incredible places in Switzerland. So far, every planned project has been successful on the first attempt. This gives me deep satisfaction and fulfillment and is a way to let my creativity flow. And there is so much to discover out there.”
Which weather forecasts do you look at? Any tips? Rolf: “In hike & fly, you cannot have foehn and the wind strength and direction has to be right for the mountain. But on the subject of the weather alone, you would need to write an entire article to provide meaningful information. A tip for atmospheric photos - it doesn’t have to be a cloudless sky all the time.” Frank: “I check the weather all the time, everyday, so I can start planning the next project a few days in advance. First I look at the general forecasts from SRF Meteo and Meteoschweiz, then I look at the 5-day pressure charts north-south and east-west and the wind forecasts at my planned altitude to assess the wind situation. The day before I will have a look at Alpthermbericht, to check cloud cover and wind. On the actual day I will also look at webcams including those with wind indicators and the current wind readings at Meteoschweiz. If I only go to the Buochserhorn, then Alptherm, current readings and webcams for the wind, and maybe the rain radar. I think everyone has to create their own weather forecast list for their region and type of flying they want to do. But even if it's not suitable for flying on a tour - in the end, it's always worthwhile to be outdoors.”