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

Does anyone have an update for this story?

Posted by endlessride on  Thursday, 11 September, 2008  at 08:17 AM

There were some complaints about the Swiss slandering French competitors. However the results of the test are with the French Federation, which must be the FFME. Nothing on their site. It has all gone rather quiet.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 17 September, 2008  at 11:21 AM

hmm, thanks for that. I guess we’ll wait to see if he is on the start lines this winter. I never see much of him, only his backside disappearing at great speed up the hill!

Posted by endlessride on  Thursday, 18 September, 2008  at 11:00 PM

The results of the first sample have been published. Patrick Blanc has controlled positive for the banned substance EPO. A second sample is now being analyzed.

Blanc’s lawyer said the process has taken too long and his client has lost important sponsorship deals as he has been unable to defend himself. It has also caused a rift between the French Mountaineering Federation (FFME) and the Swiss. The FFME have accused the Swiss of “defamation”.

Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  at 10:39 AM

I’ve got to agree with PB’s lawyer, though it would be nice if athletes would admit these things, though this does seem rare.

Posted by endlessride on  Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  at 10:45 AM
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