Road to PDG 2018

Back in October, as I sat at lunch with my wife, I started to get emails from people I’d never met asking if I wanted to join them racing through the Swiss mountains on a particular winter night. It was a funny thing to think about, surrounded by an early fall rain. I’d heard of the race they wrote about, the Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG), but I hadn’t yet considered competing. The planted seed quickly grew and the next thing I knew I’d joined forces with some well-recommended gents from Seattle, and we’d entered the lottery to join the race.

The Race

The PDG is one of the classic “Grand Course” ski-mountaineering races in Europe, along with the Pierra Menta and Mezzalama. These races are longer than a typical skimo race and move long distances through the heights of the alps. The PDG was first organized in April 1943 as a means for the Swiss military to test the abilities of their mountain soldiers. It became a tradition that was briefly interrupted by WW2, and it was reinstated shortly afterward. Disaster soon struck, three men died in a crevasse fall, and the race was shelved until 1984, at which point the Swiss military began putting on the race every 2 years, opening it to civilians as well.

L’affiche pour la patrouille 2018.

The race travels from Zermatt to Chamonix, racing a variant of the classic Haute Route opposite the typical direction. The course is 53 km and includes 3,994m of climbing (13,104 ft). Teams begin in shifts from Zermatt in the middle of the night and must pass various checkpoints before predetermined times. Challenges include a running start on dry ground, roped skiing both up- and downhill, and multiple steep passes along the route. The suffering is couched in deep tradition and supported by an ebullient Swiss crowd that comes out to ring in the racers with shots of genepi, cowbells, and cheese as they approach the finish.

PDG Course Profile (

The Team

I’ll be racing with Aaron Ostrovsky and Seth Davis, both from Seattle. They were described to me as a mutual friend as “fast spandex types”, so I took him at their word. We made plans to meet at least twice before racing together, first at the LoupLoup Skimo race, and again for a long mountain day late in the winter.

We had a fine race at Louploup, and finished 2-3-4 respectively, getting a good feel for each other’s fitness and knowing that we were in a good position if we could make good pace on a 10,000′ course in February.

Aaron and I racing at Louploup.

As a team, we also are being supported as a team by If you have any interest in fast and light skiing, you probably know as by far the most knowledgable, professional, and helpful ski mountaineering store in the USA. Our team will be sporting matching Trab Race suits thanks to their support. We’re psyched to rep the best stewards of US skimo culture on an international stage.


My training this season began late, for medical school reasons. I knew that the PDG would require a big fitness base above all else, as well as the ability to tolerate some suffering. Speed and technical skill would be less important.

Because I respond well to structure, I opted to use a training plan from Uphill Athlete and began their “16 Week Advanced Skimo Training Plan” later than is typical. Rather than ending the plan at the start of my racing season, I would be ending it a few weeks before the PDG, after much of the season had passed. I modified the plan a bit on account of this, doing more workouts on snow whenever possible and adding more volume to the longer days. I also planned to race at the Wasatch Powderkeg in March, knowing that the three days of racing would give me a good training load and some suffering practice.

Now, four days before the race, I’ve entered a taper and feel good about my fitness. We’re not poised to win, but I think that we can pull of the race in good style. As always, there can be unforseen explosions, boot pain, ski breakage, and our biggest concern, altitude issues. Because all three of us live at sea level, and much of the PDG is raced above 6000′ and up to about 12,000′, altitude remains a question. I’ve used some sneaky tricks this week to try to cheat the acclimatization (no, not drugs, altitude tents, or autotransfusion) and if it works I’ll share the protocol.


Tomorrow we drive from Portland to Seattle and from there fly early on Sunday to Zurich via Toronto. From there, it’ll be a few hours of trains to get to Zermatt, the center of the PDG universe. More updates to come! logo

Category: RacingSkimo


One comment

  1. Thanks for the post, and best wishes for the PDG – especially the acclimation, which had always crushed us Eastern sea level racers when we race out West.
    Curious as to your plan on that, even if it doesn’t work!

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