Originally created by the Swiss army to showcase their abilities in the high mountains, the Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) is now an international ski mountaineering race held once every two years. The race starts in Zermatt at night and continues to Verbier, 53 km, 3994m of climbing and 4090m of descending later. It’s still run by the military, and is so popular the first hurdle is getting your entry accepted. There are 1500 places but over 3000 applicants this time round. Typically if you aren’t either a military team or don’t have a qualified ‘Guide de Haute Montagne’ (Mountain Guide) in your team, you don’t stand a whiff of a chance of getting in.
As the race goes over glaciers it has to be completed in teams of 3. This is the minimum number to be safe in this terrain: if one goes down a crevasse the others can pull them out. Once up on the glacier teams have to rope up, and there are both uphill and downhill sections which we need to complete roped. Skiing downhill at night roped up is, well, interesting!
To complete the race successfully you need strong endurance at altitude (up to 3650m), great teamwork, and excellent technique in the high alpine environment. Numerous excellent long distance runners who also ski have tried the PDG and failed because they didn’t have the alpine experience, particularly travelling roped up.
There are time limits at check points, so if you’re not fast enough that’s it, you’re out. The Swiss military are as you would expect about the rules here, so whilst it would be nice to dawdle along slowly and savor the atmosphere, the pressure is on to make the next checkpoint.
I’ve been lucky enough to team up with the fab father and son combo of Yves and Jimmy Dubuisson for the race. Yves is a qualified Guide de Haute Montagne, and Jimmy a competitive rock climber, guitarist and PhD student. We’re a veteran group, but with age comes
We hope to complete the course in 12-14 hours, starting at 9pm on 27th April 2012 (weather permitting. The start is sometimes postponed one day if the weather’s too bad).
For more detail on the Patrouille des Glaciers course, click on the link for an overview of the course.
You can follow our preparation for this mammoth task on the blog.