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From His Backyard To The Eiger North Face

Helicopter rescue specialist Marc Ziegler on his unusual side job in the mountains of Grindelwald.

At first, Marc Zieglers biography does not seem extraordinary in any way, except for the many professions he has had maybe. Marc is 50 years old, married, doting father of two, has a degree in business administration and works as the head of the training centre of the Grindelwald cable car association. His list of former jobs includes mountain guide, roofer, tinsmith, mechanic. His hobbies? Motorcycling and loud music.

Well, just your average family guy/responsible manager you might think, one who sometimes gets his Triumph motorcycle out of the garage to cruise the scenic mountain roads around Grindelwald if he’s feeling adventurous.

But Marc Ziegler leads a double life. A life between management and mountain, appointments and adrenaline. Marc Ziegler is the head of the Grindelwald alpine rescue unit and a specialist in helicopter rescues. Whenever an emergency call comes in, Marc has ten minutes to get ready before the helicopter lands in his backyard to pick him up. Just a few moments to step out of his office before being airlifted to the Eiger North Face where he will be dangling from a rope at 225 metres above ground.

Some member of the Grindelwald alpine rescue is always on duty, ready to support the sometimes extremely challenging helicopter deployments of the Grindelwald mountain rescue unit with their profound knowledge of the mountain terrain in the region. “The teams of the Grindelwald mountain rescue, consisting of a doctor, a paramedic, and, of course, a pilot, fly up to 40 operations a year. We are there to assist them in particularly risky rescues,” Marc explains.  

Operations are as diverse as are the seasons in Grindelwald. In winter, Marc and his team are called to about two or three avalanche rescues per season. In summer, it’s mostly exhausted hikers or mountaineers who overestimated their stamina and need to be rescued. “It is not our job to judge whether these people have made the right decisions or not. Our job is to save them,” says Marc, who has worked as a “regular” mountain rescuer for two decades before joining the helicopter rescue team. As its leader, Marc places great importance on thorough debriefings, trainings in risk management and open communication among all members of the team to ensure seamless, smooth and safe operations. And although these guys are there to save people from the most dangerous of situations, Marc won’t have any talk of heroism. “It’s all a team effort. There is no room for show-offs or lone fighters.”

And what do his wife and two sons have to say about Marc’s unusual passion? “Well, I guess they do think it’s cool what I do. In the beginning, they came running out of the house with their eyes wide open every time the helicopter landed in our garden. It was always quite an event for all of our neighbourhood.” So maybe Marc is no superhero. But pretty cool anyway.

Text: Armin Knöbl //
Photos: Florian Lechner //

Aug. 17, 2017

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