Challenges and Complications: Organizing a High-altitude Race on a Glacier in November

2023-11-02 16:48:53

The organizers have repeated this over and over for many months. Organizing a race partly on a glacier in November represents an immense challenge. And if the revelations about irregularities committed during the construction of the track only complicated their task, it was already difficult enough in the first place. A start of a World Cup race at an altitude of 3720 meters (the finish is at 2840 m), this has never been seen on the White Circus. And beyond this purely mathematical aspect, it is the constraints linked to such a configuration which reinforce the challenge.

First of all, there is the weather. Storm Ciarán, which is currently arriving from the Atlantic, is putting a serious test on the preparation of the Gran Becca, the name of the new track designed by Didier Défago. “It is indeed quite disturbed across Europe and there is a lot of wind. It will snow in the next few days in the Alps, even if Zermatt is rather protected,” explains Mikhaël Schwander, meteorologist at MeteoSuisse. And if the unfavorable conditions of recent weeks have allowed the white gold to fall abundantly on the Alpine peaks, they have prevented the teams from coming to train.

Sunday evening, on ORF, Johan Eliasch boasted of having innovated by allowing athletes to benefit from the Zermatt facilities. “We have an agreement with the Swiss and Italian federations so that all the teams can train on site,” revealed the president of the FIS. This should avoid flying too often to South America.” This solution should also allow the best skiers on the planet to familiarize themselves with a still unknown slope. “Two days have been planned for each team,” explains Mélanie Lauper, responsible for slope reservations. This system is not common on the White Circus.

No real training on the Gran Becca

Except that the weather has vetoed it. The site was only accessible for two days. “Several nations were able to discover the locations but trained on a different course from the one that will be used for the World Cup,” adds Mélanie Lauper. German, Swiss, French, Austrian, Italian, Czech, Australian, Andorran, Israeli and Slovenian groups went there but sometimes left empty-handed. The organizing committee paid part of the costs of these teams, namely 23 francs per person per day to access the slopes, while 40 francs remained the responsibility of the athletes and their federation.

It should also be noted that this summer, several teams were able to take advantage of the 15 lines available on the Valais glacier, even if the course was not that of the World Cup track either. Swiss, Austrian, Italian, Croatian, French and German teams took advantage of it. In this situation, Swiss groups have priority, since the confederation supports the ski lifts. Thus, certain Swiss skiers were able to discover the “Matterhorn Sprung”, which should become one of the highlights of this new course. Logic. And finally, it should be noted that training on the Gran Becca will no longer be possible from Friday, as it must be prepared for the World Cup. “However, other avenues are available,” rejoices Mélanie Lauper.

At the foot of the Matterhorn, we keep smiling. “The snowfall of recent days and the low temperatures are helping us prepare the track,” says David Daugwalder, media manager for the Swiss part of the “Speed ​​opening”. Preparations for the races are in the home stretch.” It remains to be hoped that with the humidity which still reigns this season and the strong winds which blow, the snow does not cling too much to the cables of the ski lifts and prevent them from turning.

The CCC came to control

Finally, the threats of being banned from using the track due to irregularities seem to be diminishing. The ladies’ start, if it turns out to be located in an illegal zone, may be lowered (impossible to raise it because the descent would then be too long). As for the men’s track, a slight modification of the route was also made. And in Zermatt, we especially want to emphasize the fact that excavators have been used for several decades on a very small part of the glacier in order to “ensure the safety of skiers”. This is also the case on many glaciers around the planet.

As for the Cantonal Buildings Commission, which must rule on the legality of all the work carried out on the Théodule glacier, it was finally able to come and carry out its surveys last Saturday, according to our information. Asked about the results of its investigation, the CCC does not communicate. “As specified in our media release of October 19, 2023, the CCC will not provide any additional information for the time being,” she simply replied.

In any case, in the posh resort, we want to be reassuring on all levels. And even Fétibohoupa, goddess of the weather, seems to have sided with the organizers. “For the moment, we are forecasting some precipitation at the start of the week, but it should calm down as the days go by, while the wind will weaken,” reassures Mikhaël Schwander, who points out that it is still early to make reliable forecasts. But the south of the Alps should be more protected than other areas. Zermatt could be a little on the sidelines of possible disruptions.” The meteorologist recalls, however, that ideally, “spring would be more favorable” for the organization of such competitions.

Laurent Morel


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