Choucroute des Patrouilleurs
Yesterday I was asked to shoot photos of the ‘Choucroute des Patrouilleurs’. This is far from my typical days photo shoot, but the eclectic mix of local mountain men, politicians and businessmen was certainly something interesting to be involved in. The event is in celebration of the history of the infamous and arduous event the Patrol du Glacier. I was privileged to get an insight into this historical event and was pleased to spend a day with the guests, organisers and some of the inspiring partakers of the earliest events.
A little history on the PDG
The ‘Patrouille des Glaciers’ dates back to World War II where its origins resulted from the Mountain Brigade 10 being prepared to fulfil its mission to defend the southeastern part of the Swiss Alps. The concept transpired shortly before World War II and was the brainchild of local Valaisannes Captain Rodolph Tissiere and Captain Rodger Bonvin (who subsequently became a Federal Councillor).
The idea of the competition was for the soldiers to demonstrate their formidable team capabilities in a challenging environment. The pioneers of the event selected the already infamous haute route touring 63km from Zermatt to Verbier for the year 1943 patrols. There were 18 teams in total; each consisting of 3 members and the route, which normally took four days, was to be completed in one stage. In 1944 the numbers had increased to 44 teams but unfortunately until 1949 there were no more races organised due to the war.
The race was picked up again in the spring of 1949, but was tragically brought to a halt due to the deaths of three participants (Mauritius Crettex, Robert Droz and Louis Thétaz). The military team from Orsières fell into a crevasse on the Mont Miné Glacier and their bodies were not recovered for 8 days. The profound occurrence resulted in the race being prohibited by the Federal Military Department; A ban that lasted 30 years.
The PDG was never forgotten and the legendary tales were passed on down the generations. In 1983 general Roger Mabillard acted upon the requests to bring the event back to life and he authorised the revival. In the spring of 1984 190 teams were at the ready to follow strict safety guidelines that would ensue the future of the event.
The event now occurs every two years and is open to civilians as well as the military that have priority due to an obligation to fulfil technical and physical requirements specifically for the acceptance into the competition. The numbers for this endurance race have increased dramatically over the years as with its popularity and world recognition. In 2004, a foreign team won the race for the first time. With 2934 participants, this was a huge achievement and proud moment for the team.
This year the 2014 event will start on 29th April, which is my Birthday, so it will certainly be an interesting day! The event will finish 3rd May.
Back to the Choucroute des Patrouilleurs
The day’s event commenced in the Musee de Bagnes (museum) in le Chable where the Patrol du Glacier exhibition is taking place from now until the end of the winter. The museum is showing equipment used during the PDG, and also photographs and video. A historical peak of the event. The president of the commune, Mr Eloi Rosier introduced the day to the guests and from there we headed up the new Chable-Bruson ski lift with the managers of Televerbier and enjoyed a brief few runs in the picturesque resort across the valley from Verbier.
It was an eclectic mix of interesting characters from the region. I enjoyed skiing with people who have grown up here, skied here all their lives and been part of making history in the region. I too hope I have captured a piece of history in capturing today in photographs.
After a brief ski and a glass of wine (or two) in Bruson, we headed over to the ‘salle de sejour’ at Ruinettes to dine on a very local meal of Chou croute by Monsieur Bernard Gabioud. Here the guests were welcomed by Monsieur Jean-Pierre Morand, the president of Televerbier, followed by some words by Eric Balet, the Director General of Televerbier SA and subsequently Monsieur Jean-Pierre Morand. My French is not perfect but I believe what took place next was a roll call to the missing persons (deceased). The deep resonance around the room of all of the men responding to their absence in unison was quite moving. Monsieur Morand then introduced the song “La Vielle Garde” which was in homage to Rodolphe Tissieres and Roger Bonvin.
After dessert, Monsieur Max Contesse (the new commander of the PDG) and Oscar Freisinger (state councilor) spoke before singing ‘Mon Beau Valais’. And the finale was the singing of ‘Etoile de Neige’.
All in all it was a very amiable and interesting collection of people. It was predominantly men with high standing or deeps roots in the community. I felt privileged to experience the day and was pleasantly surprised at the warm feeling of camaraderie and respect amongst the guests. Good luck to the upcoming PDG 2014!