Top ski events head for Verbier

13th April 2010, by Chris Gill

Just 53km and quite a few mountain ridges to go .... Patrouille des Glaciers 2009

Just 53km and quite a few mountain ridges to go .... Patrouille des Glaciers 2009

Even this late in the season there are a couple of big snow events taking place in Verbier before the ski area closes, one for speed and the other a monumental test of endurance. They are not for the faint-hearted, but will draw plenty of spectators.

XSpeed Ski Open

The high and tough slopes of Mont Fort will host the XSpeed Ski Open Races between 17 and 24 April. If you think competitive downhill skiing is fast, just watch these guys and girls in action: some of the world’s fastest speed skiers will take part in the World Cup finals and the Speed Master competitions, tucking down for a break-neck descent that can reach 200km/h or more. It’s a case of point and slide, as quickly as your skis and aerodynamic suit will take you.

Speed skiing generally takes place on steep, 1km long runs. The top section of the piste tends to be the steepest, where the speed is gained. The lower section has a long run-out and gentle incline to slow the skier down. The pro races have no maximum speed limit, so the current record is around 250km/h, held by Italian Simone Origone.

The World Cup finals take place first, with four qualifying runs on the 19 and 20 April, followed by the semi finals and finals on Wednesday 21 April. The Speed Master competition follows on from this, rounded off with a ‘Speed Party’ (no, not the drug!) in the Nelson Pub afterwards.

Patrouille des Glaciers

The ultimate in ski mountaineering races, the Patrouille des Glaciers, takes place in Switzerland every two years and is a grand test of fitness and endurance for up to 1500 men and women. Civil and military athletes cross the high mountains of the Valais region between Verbier and Zermatt, hoping to complete the gruelling course. It will take them through tough glacial terrain at altitudes of 3000m or more.

The full event is 53km, but teams can choose a half-distance race from Arolla. Teams include three members, all adequately skilled in high-level mountaineering and split into different age categories. Unbelievably, the fastest teams take around 6-7 hours for the men’s event and 8 hours for the women, travelling through the night. Although there is a time limit, a few participants take 20 hours or more to complete the course.

In 2010 the Patrouille will take place between 21 and 25 April, starting in Zermatt at 2am on 21 April. And there’ll be plenty of cowbells ringing to welcome the teams into Verbier daylight.

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