Drug taking in ski mountaineering

Ten drug tests on ski mountaineers made at the end of the 2008 edition of the Patrouille des Glaciers (PdG) have indicated that one of the participants may have been using EPO. There have been persistent rumours of some drug use in ski mountaineering. Last year the Swiss Army, which runs the PdG, signed an agreement with Swiss Olympic to introduce drug testing.

Brigadier Marius Robyr, course commander, told the press that he was extremely depressed and profoundly saddened by the news, his hope was to keep the event clean of any doping. The tests were made at Verbier and included three French competitors - two women and a man. It is understood that the person failing the test is French. There is a long appeals process open to anyone who fails a control.

EPO is an Erythropoietin Stimulating Agent used in blood doping for endurance sports, in particular cycling and cross country skiing. It is a natural growth factor that began to be produced in a large scale in the late 1980s for treating renal failure. It can be injected to boost the proportion of red blood cells in the blood improving oxygen transport. EPO doping is risky and can lead to blood thickening and clotting and death due to heart failure.

The Patrouille des Glaciers ski mountaineering competition runs from Zermatt or Arolla to Verbier in a single stage. The long course covers over 50km with 4000 vertical meters. The event is taxing, run at high altitude and features difficult technical sections. It requires real mountaineering experience and serious preparation. This year a number of competitors suffered from frost bite in the extreme weather conditions.

Patrick Blanc interview on YouTube

Drug taking in high altitude sport is not uncommon. Even climbers scaling the 4810 meter Mont Blanc regularly take Diamox to suppress altitude sickness and in the Himalayas amphetamine stimulants are employed. The PdG is not a professional event but many of the top competitors are sponsored and ski tour full time. As you can see from the video link the event is well run with a good atmosphere far removed from the likes of cycle racing. It is to hoped for the sport that this is either an error or an isolated incident.

Further Information


Posted by davidof on Friday, 30 May, 2008 at 10:31 AM

I’m surprised it was only one. It makes me wonder how extensive the tests were. Randonee racing it just like any other sport. There is a professional element of the sport that will always do everything they can to try and win - unless they think they’ll get caught. If the competitors know they will be thoroughly tested and know that they get banned for life if they are caught it might prevent this type of cheating. That’s the problem in cycling. They know it is still relatively easy to avoid being caught - hence many of them continue.

Posted by endlessride on  Saturday, 31 May, 2008  at 08:56 AM

Le Nouvelliste have given the names of the French Athletes controlled in Verbier as Corinne Favre, Alexandre Pellicier and Patrick Blanc. They claim that it is Patrick Blanc tested positive for EPO based on some abnormal performances in competition. Blanc has won 3 Pierra Mentas and 2 PdGs.

We of course have to wait for the second test and appeals but the revelation has shocked the world of competitive ski mountaineering which believed it was above such practices.

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 31 May, 2008  at 11:06 PM

`As you can see from the video link the event is well run with a good atmosphere far removed from the likes of cycle racing.`

What on earth is this supposed to mean? The organisation of an event such as the Tour de France is exemplary. Perhaps the writer has never experienced the party atmosphere created by the 500,000 or so spectators on a typical mountain top finish to a Tour stage. Also though fewer in number the reactions of the spectators at a ski mountaineering event look much the same as those of spectators on a mountain stage of the Tour!

Posted by The Yorkshireman on  Sunday, 01 June, 2008  at 01:56 PM

Probably referring to drunken crowds all over the road pushing, shoving and spitting on riders....

Posted by  on  Sunday, 01 June, 2008  at 06:00 PM

I was thinking about the commercial pressures in pro cycle sport which can lead some riders to take drugs. My comments wasn’t clear.

EPO tests are still in development so it will be interesting to see what test has been failed. It seems that stricter control is necessary as in other sports.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 02 June, 2008  at 07:39 PM
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