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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.