Time Keeping at the Patrouille des Glaciers – A Look behind the Scenes

The Patrouille des Glaciers (PdG) is an international ski mountaineering race organised by the Swiss Armed Forces in which military and civilian teams compete. It is said to be the world’s toughest team competition. The very long race distance, the extreme route profile, the high altitude and the difficult alpine terrain with glaciers and couloir climbs are the main features of this unique competition.

As announced in November 2015 Ernst Basler + Partner is teaming with race result Swiss for time keeping this remarkable event. Let me give you a brief impression of what was going on behind the scenes regarding time keeping under the guidance of Hanno Maier, race result Swiss.

Sunday April 17 2016

The start lists are published. And all preparations for the race are completed:

  • The time keeping hardware for the teams (personalized start numbers for chest, thigh and helmet and active transponders for more than 5’000 competitors) is configured, packed and ready to be used.
  • The active decoding systems from race result are checked. The timepieces and the corresponding supports are packed in the race result van.
  • The very warm and ultra-thin outfits for the time keepers are branded with race result.
Our team: The time keepers and the three staff members of the race office.

Monday April 18 2016

The time keepers arrive at the race office at the casern in Sion. We distribute the decoding systems and the outfits. They receive their last instructions. They pack their mountaineering and climbing equipment together with the time keeping hardware heading off to the air base. They are supposed to be flown to their posts. However, the weather is not good enough for flying – waiting begins.

The time keepers get ready with their equipment.

In the meantime there are many mutations in the start list to be made, e.g., shifts in start time, replacements in teams. This job kept us busy until short before the start. (No problem for race result software!)

Back stage time keeping in the race office

Tuesday and Wednesday April 19/20 2016 – a looong double day

The weather cleared up. The time keepers and their equipment are flown into the Valais Alps. For us at the race office the crucial phase begins. Do we get signals from all the fourteen decoding systems? Great relief – the first station is online. We monitor its status and have the detection tested. At 12 AM half of the stations are operational. Two of them needed some extra care because of low transmission power. (Fortunately we could get a helicopter flight in time for flying in additional hardware!)  At 5 PM the time keeping network is complete and operational, milestone achieved.

Now we are waiting for the first start which is scheduled for Tuesday 10 PM: race result at the start of the 2016 PdG. Finally, 332 patrouilles crossed the starting line in Zermatt and another 389 in Arolla in several lots until 6 AM the next day.

Everything goes well. The first patrouilles reach Schönbiel, our first time post. The monitoring of the patrouilles goes on all night. So far so good.

The rankings are available live. At Wednesday 08:22:25 AM the first patrouille from Zermatt crosses the finish line in Verbier. At 1 PM we communicate the winners to the race committee. Around 4 PM the last patrouille (that made it to the finishing line) arrives in Verbier. We publish the final ranking list immediately afterwards top up-to-date. The interest in the results is quite remarkable: The page of the rankings has already 600’000 hits – and the race did just end.

Now, we are tired but very happy that the time keeping went perfectly well, without any noteworthy incidents. The race officer in charge congratulates us – everybody is happy! We mastered a technical, logistical and communicational challenge – the time keeping at the PdG. A big thank you to the team on the time posts and in the race office!

The second race is scheduled for Thursday April 22. The results will be available live.

Are you interested in getting to know more? Feel free to contact me.

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