It’s not easy to put Pierra Menta into words. More than two hundred pairs of ski mountaineers, four days, walls to climb with seal skins and precipices to hurl themselves over, in the hope that muscles will stay the course without being too exhausted from the ascent. Hostile peaks, fierce gusts of wind, fresh snow and treacherous ice. An epic crossing that feels more like an adventure worthy of a 19th-century explorer than a challenge where the terrain is mapped out and the stopwatch is the only thing that matters: 10,000 metres worth of altitude difference and 15 peaks ranging between 2,000 and 2,687 metres in height to conquer, bolstered by the cheers of thousands of enthusiastic fans and volunteers.
Since 1986, the Pierra Menta competition has taken place in France in Arêches-Beaufort, Savoy, at the heart of the Beaufortain massif, on the slopes of Grand-Mont. This year, the event returns from 8 to 11 March for the senior competition and 10 to 11 March for its junior counterpart. For many, it will be their first time, one they’ll never forget. The route is extremely demanding and requires great technical skill, physical endurance and strategic prowess. The athletes will have to climb steep slopes, cross ridges and tackle technical descents at high speed, all in thick snow and weather conditions that are often precarious and prone to change. It's no wonder this race is considered the “Olympics” of ski mountaineering.
Given the significance of the event, there will be many athletes on team SCARPA at the starting line. But all eyes will be focused on Matteo Eydallin, the only member to have won the competition five times (his most recent win was with Michele Boscacci last year). We asked him for some advice on how to approach this test: “For athletes who compete and train throughout the season, it’s not overly complicated,” he says. “It takes hard work, as well as some long sessions to get your body used to the distance and you should try to get here fresh, bearing in mind that you need to be in synch with your partner, without being at loggerheads with them. It has to be a team result”. It’s important to remember that this classic competition differs, in terms of pace and rhythm, from World Cup races. “So this is where everything gets complicated. Cup races are short and tense”, Eydallin explains. “Pierra Menta is totally different from the Cup competitions. Before we get to the starting line, we need a few more long training sessions to prepare, ideally at least three or four in a row. The important thing, however, is to arrive feeling relaxed with plenty of energy both mentally and physically, and without having burnt yourself out by training too much, especially given that March is late in the season”.
Matheo Jacquemoud (a recent addition to the SCARPA family) and Samuel Equy are two more athletes competing as a pair for team SCARPA in Pierra Menta. “It’s one of the best races there is”, says Equy, “but it’s also one of the hardest. To prepare, you really have to raise your game. I’d say the most difficult thing is completing the race. Four days is a long time. A word of advice for beginners: if on the second day you feel like your legs are totally spent, that’s completely normal. Keep the faith because your body often has more in the tank than it seems. And you need to know how to choose a good partner. That’s why I’m delighted to be competing with Matheo”.
Xavier Gachet, competing once again with William Bon Mardion (also from Arêches), will also be at the starting line. “Pierra Menta is my favourite race”, says Xavier. “Of course, it’s not the same as the World Cup, but every year I’m thrilled to take part. I haven’t missed a race since 2015 and I always compete with William. You need to train on long, technical routes. It's not easy. Sometimes people ask me for secrets about what I eat, but there aren’t any: I try to eat a bit of everything, preferably local produce”.
For the women’s competition, there are great expectations for Martina Valmassoi. Last year, she came second and, in many respects, she’s a veteran, having already competed three times as a junior and six times as a senior. This year she’s taking part again, despite suffering from an injury: “I’m happy to be competing, even though I’m definitely not physically ready. But it’s my favourite race, so I want to give it a go”. In any event, here are some of her tips for newcomers: “During Pierra Menta, you have to be in synch with your partner, because you really are sharing everything for four days, not just the race”, she explains. “There are no secrets to surviving this race. You have to be as prepared as you possibly can be to try to expend as little as you can, even though it’s a very tough test in every respect. As for me, I hope we get some snow at least, so I can make some nice turns”.