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The organisers of the UTMB® explain their reasons for the 2012 route changes

by Editor
Wednesday 19th September 2012

The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® 2012 - The organisation's choice

Taking in to account the evolution of the weather forecast from Monday 27 until Thursday August 30, the conditions were understood to become more and more difficult. Nevertheless, an improvement was predicted in the Beaufortin area on Thursday August 30, from about 17:00 or 18:00 for the TDS™. However, this improvement never happened and the runners of the TDS™ were confronted with such difficult conditions that 497 runners abandoned the race at the Cormet de Roselend!

Additionally, at this moment the forecasters predicted a worsening of conditions rather than an improvement. On Friday morning we, along with those responsible for safety in Italy, decided to omit the passage involving the Tête de la Tronche (2584m altitude) to gain a good hour's race time and to let the runners of the CCC® pass le Grand Col Ferret, with between 5 and 10 cm of snow, a north-easterly wind blowing at 50kph and a temperatures between -5° or -10° due to the wind chill factor.

The forecast showed no signs of improvement during the day of Sunday. With this forecast and the conditions which were worsening towards Switzerland, the Grand col Ferret became impassable. Taking in to account the fog which was forecast, we would not be able to rescue anybody by helicopter.

A first option was to maintain the UTMB® on its normal route over the Croix du Bonhomme and Col de la Seigne, but to stop the race in Courmayeur, because it was not possible to guarantee safety for more than 2000 runners attacking the Grand Col Ferret. The route would have been 77km with 4250m of height gain.

A second option was to run a first stage in the evening along a route from Chamonix to Les Contamines and back toChamonix, then to organise transfers to Orsières for a second stage from Orsières to Champex and Chamonix. This solution would have been 55km in the evening and then 50km the next day. This seemed to us to be too complicated for the runners and not very interesting.

A third option was to offer as long a trail as possible on French territory only, staying below 2000m and avoiding exposure to the very cold north-east wind for too long.

We chose this third option because it best fulfilled the wishes of the runners who wanted to run a true ultra-trail, in one stage (a little more than 100km with almost 6000m of height gain), with both start and finish under the mythical arch in the Place du Triangle de l'Amitié in Chamonix.

The weather conditions experienced by the runners during the race proved that this was a good choice. All the reports received indicated that it was very cold under la Balme at 1900m and that you should go no higher. Just for information, on Saturday morning at the Col de la Seigne there were 20cm of wet and heavy snow on the ground.

Some people asked why the start of the race was not delayed. Taking in to account the forecast, which was predicting an improvement to conditions happening later and later on Sunday, and the difficulty in mobilising volunteers which such a delay, the delayed start to the race was not a viable option.

It is necessary to understand that if in 2011 the weather was unfavourable, the conditions were completely different. In 2011, with 5 hours delay, we followed the perturbation; while in 2012 it would have been necessary to delay by 10 or 12 hours, which was impossible taking in to consideration the teams of volunteers and others necessary for the race to take place.

We made a conscientious choice with respect to the runners, volunteers and everybody who worked to make the event a success and for sure, the mountain. As all trail-runners, we as organisers must have the capacity to adapt our races to the conditions of the moment and the location.


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