Mezzalama 2009 – an emotional story
The XVII Mezzalama Trophy took place on Monte Rosa on 02/05/2009. The legendary ski mountaineering competition was won by Manfred Reichegger, Matteo Eydallin and Denis Trento in a record breaking 4:01'22. The women's event was won by Francesca Martinelli, Roberta Pedranzini, Laetitia Roux in 4:43'31".
"Are you going to the Parravicini comp?" - "When is it?" - "On 3 May" - "Well, we'll see, in the meantime we're preparing for the Mezzalama!". This answer echoed around the Alps, in spring ski mountaineering competitions, from fit athletes who continued to train even when the skies opened with even more snowfall. Confirmation came in the dark at Breuil at 5.00am on 19 April: beneath the heavy snowflakes 350 teams had lined up, ready to challenge the clouds and storms on the Plateau, Castore and Lyskamm. The Mezzalama had proven irresistible once again, unmissable. Those who had stayed at home, much to their displeasure, were there in spirit because everyone had answered the call.
Valtournanche, 18 April, the day before: the air was electric as the bustling crowd was briefed in the afternoon. Adriano Favre, the accomplished and reassuring mountain guide, managed to instil faith and also touch people's spirits, grasp the passion and the worries of the competitors who were all ears, completely absorbed. Every now and then one of them glanced around to check if the others had fallen prey to the same emotions. The collective spirit was palpable "we're in this together, we're in this together, the comp isn't important, what counts is that we're here, now, for tomorrow's start!" As a result of the relentlessly bad weather forecast people began to feel that they were about to take part in something unique, special, along the lines of "if there's even only the shortest of weather windows, we're ready to compete our heart out." This sensations was supported by a comforting second thought "... Adriano Favre and his men will take care of the rest!"
The air during those briefings was thinner than that at 4000m the next day. The briefing was the true climax of the Mezzalama and those on the stage could feel that special excitement which, each time, renews itself in the faces, words, glances and gestures of the competitors. The thousand plus who had gathered at 5.00 on 19 April, ready to drift through that sea of snow, blindly and well-behaved accepted Adrian Favre's arduous and binding decision. The burden was on him and the entire staff: "Mezzalama has been postponed, we'll see each other again on 1 May!" "OK Adriano, you take care of it all. We'll be ready for the next briefing."
Our friends who organise the Parravicini, the historic ski mountaineering competition scheduled to celebrate its 60th anniversary (and the final of the Italian Cup) on 3 May, is happy and honoured to allow the Mezzalama to take its place, meaning that the date is set for 1 May. 798 of the thousand answer the call. 266 teams in total. Excitement once again, adrenalin once more which increases as the forecast simply couldn't be any better. Smiles galore at Valtournanche on Labour Day, another briefing made of pleasant waiting and the clear joy of the weather forecaster Luca Mercalli who only briefly stated the the border winds "will be no stronger than 15 -20 knots." Competitor moral was sky high during the short night before the race; Adriano and his people didn't sleep a wink and we met them the next morning in front of the fire next to the Cervinia cable car. They were there, waiting for the helmet and technological suit lights to turn on. Shortly afterwards an enormous crowd turned up and the usual speaker, Silvano Gadin, masterfully gave tribute to those worth honouring and glorifying. Just a few seconds separated us from testing ourselves against the hostile but fascinating 4000m circus.
The Grandes Murailles amplify - almost like thunder - the names of the front-row champions while the emotions are like the approaching good weather which promises a great day out. The competitors, ordered and carefully lined up, exchange their final gestures and words, whispering because the emotional tension is utmost and the final moments before the start are another spasmodic climax to the Mezzalama. The competition kicks off at 5.30: the caravan heads through the snow desert, a peaceful assault by a battalion of soldiers, a herd of caribou ascending the steep black and white slopes. Off the went, amongst thousands of hurrays. After a couple of minutes - for those who like us watched them from the cable car - they became a long millipede up the white Ventina mountain face.
The millepede got longer on the Plateau , while Colle del Breithorn was reached by Daniele Pedrini, Damiano Lenzi and Jean Pelissier, the forever young Mezzalama veteran. They were followed by the yellow ochre coloured suits belonging to the military squad, headed by expert Manni Reichegger and completed by young Trento and Eydallin, This year they have won everything there is to win and they sped off up the Verra glacier. Shortly afterwards they were followed by Seletto and the two Frenchmen, as well as the old champions Boscacci and Murada with young team-mate Lanfranchi. Then Martinelli, Pedranzini and Roux skinned elegantly up the glacier. In record times, according to the officials, spectators with water bottles and helicopter fly-by journalists. Only 5 teams don't pass the checkpoint in time, great results were on the agenda.
The wind was light on the summit of Castore; down below at the Felik control station the teams arrived roped together but extremely quick. After a quick sip of hot tea they skinned up and shot off towards Naso; a long traverse with a couple of turns and there they were, high on the Lyskamm Nose. Next up, a never-ending descent. The finishing line awaited with music and a great party in the sun: the first three were incredibly fast, 4 hours 1 minute and 22 seconds, a new record, after having overtaken Jean and his team. The female squad was amazing, too. Fresh and smiling they clocked in with 4:43:31, yes, you read correctly, that's a superb time for most men. Another record smashed by half an hour...
The other teams arrived one after the next, the competitors hugged each other, smiled, said hello to friends who photographed them then, like cormorants full of fish, they pulled out their water bottles, hats and gloves from them suits, because it was hot in Gressoney and summer was just around the corner. The music was loud and the crowd and La Trinité was motley coloured. As Mezzalama competitors drifted in Silvano, the speaker, never ceased to repeat how great the day was. The excitement and enchantment melted in the midday sun, like the snow of the parterre.
Giovanni (Johnny) Capra