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Tour del Gran Paradiso in less than 20 hours: the story of Matthias, Tanja and Hike


Tanja Schmitt tells the achievement of the Lillaz trio performing the famous Gran Paradiso tour by breaking the record of 20 hours.

Doing the Tour del Gran Paradiso on skis means tackling 5500+verticals and 60km in the Mountains of the Gran Paradiso area. There are many steep sections to ascend, mountain ridges above 3300meters to cross and glaciers to overcome. Passages can be iced up and snow conditions change over the day. Winds, cold temperatures and darkness are the natural accompaniments on the one hand and heat, avalanche hazards and slushy snow the challenging factors on the other hand. Moving in this kind of mountain terrain requests a full pack of alpine knowledge and lots of experience beside good trained legs and lungs.

The Tour del Gran Paradiso is usually accomplished in 5 days. Our goal for this year was to complete the Tour under 20 hours. We knew from 2015 that we could pull it off in a single push, but all of us knew that the 21h47min back then were just the start. But we had learnt a lot from our previous attempts. We knew we could do better and we definitely wanted to try it again, this time with a deeper understanding, an optimized training and a thorough preparation.

THE TRAINING

The idea of doing the Tour del Gran Paradiso in one single push started to build itself already some years ago. Long time ago Matthias, Heike and me have settled on the south side of Mont Blanc to ice climb full time in winter. Trading ice tools for skis had become a kind of natural transition at the end of each winter. Being in the mountains is what matters most to us, and when the vanishing ice weighs heavy on our souls moving on skis is what makes us heal again. In the many years we are living here in Cogne valley we’ve skinned up most of the peaks around the area multiple times, and our weekly routine includes also fast training modules with 700-1100 Verticals on the piste beside slower endurance ascents in the mountains with 1200-2000 verticals.

We added verticals on the bike and on foot for training. Matthias Movescount statistics showed 85 000 verticals from first of January to 24th April, the date when we did the Tour del Gran Paradiso, mine just about a little less. Those statistics do not include all the meters we tackled climbing during our full on ice season. Choosing a project like the Tour del Gran Paradiso in a single push seemed just like a natural next step, a challenge which lingered just a stone ́s throw of our doorstep: we would start in Valnontey and after some hours would arrive directly at home in Lillaz! That seemed just like the right thing to do!

THE TEAM

The idea to build a team together Matthias, Hike and me for the Gran Paradiso tour was born. Already in our preparation we paid a lot of attention to build a proper team spirit: on a long tour like this one personal lows as well as highs are to expected, but it is most important to maintain a steady pace and to avoid any acid lactic when going to fast. We all carried a heart rate watch with us and never past the lactic threshold. Another important aspect was to avoid any yawning gap between team members. This is not only important in regard of safety on alpine terrain but carries also a huge moral aspect. It is important at all times to feel the team and remember the team: because ‘The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.’ (Phil Jackson)

On a long day like on the Tour those words starts to fill with meaning. The most rewarding moments during the Tour were indeed actually those frequencies when we walked in unison like one well- oiled machine. Those were the moments when you felt strong. And then we had a lot of fun on nearly all descents, from iced up slopes in the night, to a mogul piste on Gran Paradiso, to corn snow on the last section of the Tour. But clearly there were also hard moments, like on the upper part of the Gran Paradiso, when the slope was totally iced up and an extreme cold morning wind was blowing. Or when the heat settled down later on and we started to suffer from too warm temps as well as from the slushy snow, which prevented a steady pace on the very last, long ascent to the Col di Teleccio
You have to accept in those moments that this is also part of the Tour: That the mountains make the rules in the end- always!