The first Patrouille des Glaciers ski race took place in 1943, and since then it’s steadily grown into a major event and a key highlight on the calendar of locals and visitors to Arolla. This of course includes the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus, which has been supporting the race and its participants since the event’s origins. Unfortunately, this year, like so many other events, the Patrouille des Glaciers had to be cancelled.
However, plans are already underway for the 2022 edition, which takes place between 25th April and 1st May. Despite the cancellation, in recent weeks we’ve seen Switzerland getting back to business, welcoming visitors from abroad and things returning to normality. Again, this includes the Kurhaus, and we hope to again welcome race participants through the hotel’s doors two years from now.
Like our hotel, the Patrouille des Glaciers has a rich history. It began during the second World War, when the Swiss army organised a race to test the endurance and strength of its soldiers, and to help ensure that they could defend the south-eastern area of the Alps. The idea for a race was spearheaded by two captains in the army’s Mountain Brigade 10, and took advantage of an already recognised – and world-famous – trail, the Haute Route. Leading from Zermatt to Verbier via Arolla, the route traditionally took four days to complete. The test for the army’s soldiers? To complete the race in a single step.
The first race was held in 1943, with 18 patrols of three members each taking part and travelling the 63km through the snowy Alps. In 1944 the number of teams increased to 44. In 1949, the extreme conditions of the peaks (and lack of equipment that so many adventurers rely on today), resulted in the deaths of three participants. The Patrouille des Glaciers was deemed too dangerous, and for decades was resigned to the memories of the troops and stories passed on through subsequent generations.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the idea was revived. A finely-planned military exercise and with robust safety measures in place, the race resumed in 1984, when around 190 teams took part. Since then, the Swiss army has continued to organise the race every two years, inviting intrepid men and women to test their physical and mental mettle in what’s regarded the world over as one of the toughest competitions of its kind. Today, its military roots very much remain, and military teams that fulfil the tough entry requirements get priority when entering.
A race such as Patrouille des Glaciers is as much about training and preparation than it is about performance on the day. And where better to plan, prepare – and rest and recuperate – before and after the event than the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus? For years, we’ve been playing a key role in the event, with hundreds of members of the Swiss army staying at our hotel, training in the Alps right on our doorstep, eating at our restaurants, and – to celebrate the end of the gruelling challenge – drinking in our bars.
The Kurhaus is totally booked out by the army during this time, but locals from the surrounding towns and villages continue to come to the hotel’s restaurants and bars, mingling with troops and picking up tips for planning their own off-piste adventures.
The Patrouille des Glaciers may have been put on hold this year, but Switzerland has been quick to bounce back. There are two more years for participants to plan and prepare, and two more years during which the Kurhaus will be eagerly anticipating the return of our Swiss army guests.