History

Patrouille des glaciers, 1945

© Union internationale des associations de guides de montagne, Médiathèque Valais - Martigny

The PDG has its origin in World War II (1939-1945). Mountain Brigade 10 was ready to fulfil its mission: to defend the south-eastern area of the Swiss Alps. The idea of carrying out the PDG arose shortly before the war broke out. 
The actual initiators were two captains in Mountain Brigade 10, one of whom was the future federal councillor, Roger Bonvin. The aim was for the troops to prove their operational capability in the context of an extraordinary team competition. For that purpose, the initiators chose a legendary course, the already famous "Haute Route" leading from Zermatt to Verbier. This route, which usually took four days to complete, had to be covered in a single stage. The first race was held in April 1943, and the "Patrouille des Glaciers" had become a reality. 

Sadly, the third race in spring 1949 was marred by a tragic accident. On their way from Arolla to Verbier, a military team fell into a crevasse on the Mont Miné Glacier. Only after eight days before their bodies were found and recovered. An event that had been launched with such enthusiasm came to an end with sad pictures shown on the the national news. The shock sat deep in the mountain areas and as a result, the Federal Military Department forbid any further races. 

The PDG myth, however, lived on and was passed down from father to son. From these memories, a desire to resume the race emerged. In 1983, Lieutenant General Roger Mabillard, Chief of Training in the Swiss Armed Forces, agreed to this widely expressed wish. A staunch proponent of endurance races in the armed forces himself, he authorised the PDG to be revived and gave the commander of the Mountain Division 10 the task of organising the competition.

In the night of 5 to 6 April 1984, the event began again. Around 190 teams consisting of three members each started the race from Zermatt and Arolla to Verbier. Maximum efforts were made to guarantee safety on all parts of the alpine course. This order from the commander of the Swiss Armed Forces has remained a guideline without compromise to this day.

Since then the PDG has lived up to its mythological status. Interest in this unique military event has increased with every competition. In 2006, the number of mountaineering enthusiasts who applied to participate was so high that the command decided for the first time to hold two separate events from Zermatt, as it had been done from Arolla for some time already.
The growth in popularity of outdoor events and challenging endurance competitions has been proven by the enormous interest in the PDG and has led to multistage enrolment procedures. Swiss military teams whose members fulfil the technical and physical requirements for this alpine competition have priority. In a second round, the remaining starting tickets for civilian teams are drawn. A maximum of 1,400 three member rope teams may participate in the event.

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