The decision was taken this morning to cancel the last race of this year’s Patrouille des Glaciers, the iconic Swiss ski race between Zermatt and Verbier that takes place every two years.
The ski mountaineering race organised by the Swiss Army, in which military and civilian teams compete, consists of four races. This year, the first three races, two short versions starting in Arolla and ending in Verbier, and one long one from Zermatt to Verbier took place as planned, without any hitches.
Pippa Middleton, sister of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who made the journey from Zermatt to Verbier in the first full-length race on 20 April 2016. According to 20 Minuten, her team, which included teammates Tarquin Cooper and Bernie Shrosbree, took just under 15 hours to reach the finish line in Verbier. The record time for an all-women’s team is 7 hours and 27 minutes.
Unfortunately, those competing in the second full-length event due to start on Friday but shifted to Saturday, were told this morning that there would be no race this year, due to bad weather. A similar decision was taken in 2012, but this is the first time since 1984 the race has been stopped before starting.
On a map, the full-length race covers 53 kilometres. This translates to around 110 effort-kilometres, calculated by adding 10 times the hight climbed and 3.3 times the altitude descended to the map distance, a measure that allows flat and steep courses to be compared. The journey from Zermatt to Verbier involves climbing 3,994 m and descending 4,090 m.
The short course is 26 kilometres on a map and 53 effort-kilometres (total climb: 1,881m, total descent: 2,341 m). Both courses must be completed in a single stage, so groups of teams set off from Zermatt in 45 minute intervals starting at 10pm, and arrive in Verbier throughout the following day. Those departing from Arolla start leaving at 3:30am or 4:00am depending which race they are in.
The event was first organized in 1943 to test Swiss soldiers’ alpine skills. In 1949, three skiers died, leading the Swiss military to ban the race. In 1984, the race was revived and has been run every two years since.
The more than 5,000 people competing in each event, compete in three-person teams called patrouilles.
In 2010 a Swiss team set the men’s speed record. They left Zermatt early in the morning and arrived in Verbier 5 hours and 52 minutes later, beating the record at the time by 20 minutes. A Franco-Swiss team won the women’s race in 7 hours and 27 minutes in 2014, breaking the previous record by 14 minutes.
The video below gives an overview of the race.
Daniel Ahlers, a co-founder of Le News, took part with his team mates Guy Wolfenberger and Andrew Spalding in the 26 km “petite” Patrouille, leaving from Arolla in 2014. He described the whole experience as a unique moment of team sharing, not only during the race but also during the training. The second and third photographs above are courtesy of this team: Team “Lavaux” 1469.
Television interviews of contestants in this year’s cancelled race showed a generally philosophical response to the disappointment. Some were already making plans for 2018, while the wife of one was relieved that the training was over, and her son would now see more of his father.