Friday, April 25, 2014

Patrouille des Glaciers 2014: From Zermatt to Verbier


The Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG), the legendary ski mountaineering race organized by the Swiss Army, will take place again in 2014. From Tuesday, 29 April to Saturday, 3 May, the "toughest team competition in the world" takes the patrols over 112 kilometres from Zermatt via Arolla to Verbier.
5400 participants, 1800 teams (820 military teams (+17%  more than in 2012), 140 guides teams and 840 civilian teams, will take part in the event.
The origin of the Patrouille des Glaciers goes back to the last world war when the mountain brigade No. 10 had the task of defending the south-eastern area of the central region of the Swiss Alps. The idea of carrying out the Patrouille des Glaciers was the initiative of two captains in the Mountain Brigade No. 10 shortly before World War II. Rodolphe Tissières and Roger Bonvin, both alpine officers, determined to test and consolidate the capabilities of the troop with a special long patrol race. In actual terms this meant running the Haute-Route between Zermatt and Verbier in one stage. The idea was to give the participants the opportunity to put into practice in one major exercise the technical knowledge they had attained during their long service in the mountains.
Nowadays the Patrouille des Glaciers continue to be a military competition organized by the Swiss Army but open to Swiss and foreign military or civilian patrols and takes place every two years.
Since then the PDG has lived up to its mythological status. Interest in this unique military event has increased with every competition. In 2006, the number of mountaineering enthusiasts who applied to participate was so high that the command decided for the first time to hold two separate events from Zermatt, as it had been done from Arolla for some time already.
The growth in popularity of outdoor events and challenging endurance competitions has been proven by the enormous interest in the PDG and has led to multistage enrolment procedures. Swiss military teams whose members fulfil the technical and physical requirements for this alpine competition have priority. In a second round, the remaining starting tickets for civilian teams are drawn.



Participants can choose between two routes/categories and have to complete it in a single stage:
Course Z: Zermatt-Verbier (Distance: 53 km, change in altitude +3994 m / -4090 m, equivalent flat distance; 110 km)
Course A: Arolla-Verbier (Distance 26 km, change in altitude +1881m / -2341 m, equivalent flat distance: 53 km).

Participants who register for the PDG competition must meet the following requirements:
  • Broad alpine experience that qualifies them to independently master unexpected situations under extreme conditions in an inhospitable mountain environment.
  • Careful personal preparation and adequate training in order to meet the physical, mental and technical requirements of the competition.
  • Full compliance with the PDG regulations and willingness to follow instructions of the PDG command to the letter before, during and after the race.
  • Willingness to show the ‘PDG spirit‘ towards their own team members and all other participants by displaying mutual fairness, caution and solidarity as well as recognising their own limits and respecting nature and the unique alpine world. This sporting fairness also entails acceptance of registration procedures and admission decisions.
By enrolling and signing, the team leaders give a personal undertaking that they will participate personally in the PDG and by their signature they acknowledge that they are only enrolling team members who meet the following requirements:
  • Sound alpine knowledge
  • Active alpine touring skills and experience participating in mountaineering competitions
  • Excellent skiing skills
  • Experience in skiing while roped to others
  • Very high level of training
  • Ability to complete the following distances under normal conditions within the times allocated:
    - Zermatt – Schönbiel within 3 h
    - Zermatt – Arolla within 8 h 30 min
    - Arolla – Riedmatten within 1h 45 min
    - Arolla – Verbier within 8 h 30 min

The 2012 edition of the PDG was shaped by difficult weather and snow conditions. The two short and two long races were finished completely in one occasion only. The short race from Arolla on 26th April could be carried out as planned and the athletes arrived in Verbier as expected. All other races had to be interrupted or completely cancelled due to hazardous wind and snow conditions.
Looking back at the PDG 2012 the commander, Ivo Burgener, notes, that the decisions to interrupt and cancel races due to hazardous conditions were accepted with sportsmanship. It is part of the myth of the PDG that the harsh alpine terrain on glaciers and around some of the highest peaks of the Alps, at times, can call for humans to give in.
Commander Burgener hopes that the 2014 edition of the PDG will meet the typical myth of the PDG, which is constituted by the challenge in harsh alpine terrain, the strenuous physical effort and the traditional connection to the Swiss Armed Forces. He wants to lay a special emphasis on environmental and climate issues. A first step to accomplish this was made by having the whole course checked for environmental pollution in summer by mountain special-ists of the Swiss Armed Forces.

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