Is Living Altitude a Determinant of Ski-Mountaineering Performance? An Analysis from the Patrouille Des Glaciers
Analyses of parameters of habitat such as altitude and their effects on performance are scant. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate the relevance of altitude of the habitual place of abode for course times of alpinists in one of the largest backcountry skiing races in the Swiss West Alps: “Patrouille des Glaciers” (PDG) from Zermatt and Arolla to Verbier. Therefore course times and altitudes of the habitual place of abode of 1569 male and 240 female alpinists participating in the PDG in the years 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014 were analyzed. Results revealed that an increase in elevation of about 1000 m (e.g. from 500 to 1500 m above sea level) lead to a decrease in course time of around 80 minutes. Findings can be explained by the effects of reduced oxygen partial pressure at higher altitudes, respectively hypoxia, through induction of several physiological changes in the alpinists’ bodies. Alpinists primarily living at higher altitude are therefore better acclimatized and thus prepared for the race; hence adequate acclimatization is paramount not only for improving course time but also for staying safe whilst participating in the PDG.