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In Grandpa’s Footsteps

27 May 1931: The Swiss adventurer and student of Albert Einstein, Auguste Piccard and his assistant Paul Kipfer suffered an emergency landing at Gurgler Ferner Glacier after they had already reached some 15,785 meters of altitude in their hot-air balloon. Almost overnight the secluded mountain village of Obergurgl became world-famous due to the successful rescue of the two explorers. 85 years later: His equally adventure-seeking grandson Bertrand Piccard visited the myth-enshrouded place for the first time: a fairly emotional journey back in time.

Auguste Piccard - Bertrand Piccard in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Auguste Piccard in Obergurgl © Much Heiss / Ötztal Tourismus

Like father, like son, like grandson

The Piccard family is a truly record-beating clan. Stratosphere research expert Auguste Piccard set up a world record in his ball-shaped capsule in 1931– he was the first human being who saw the earth’s curvature with his own eyes. After starting their flight in Germany’s Augsburg, the two scientists landed at the Gurgler Ferner glacier in the Ötztal Alps by chance. The sleepy village of Obergurgl was suddenly in the news all around the world.

By contrast, his son Jaques Piccard explored the earth’s depths and oceans. Up to now Jaques Piccard has been one of the most renowned deep sea research experts and reformers, by breaking also the deep sea diving record in the Mariana Trench.

So we have reached the 3rd generation of the research family: may I introduce you to Bertrand Piccard, son of Jaques Piccard and grandson of Auguste Piccard.

The 3rd generation is back in the air

Just like his grandfather, Bertrand was fond of dizzy heights. In 1999 he made the first non-stop balloon ride around the world – it was his third try. In 2016 he could achieve another technological master stroke together with André Borschberg by making a round-the-world-flight in his “Solar Impulse 2” aircraft. After 17 circumnavigation stages the two pilots reached their destination in Abu Dhabi using only solar energy. Another fabulous highlight for the Piccard family.

85 years after grandpa’s emergency landing, Bertrand Piccard visited Obergurgl-Hochgurgl for the very first time. He took a panorama flight to the historical landing place together with Lukas Scheiber, board member of Ötztal Tourismus.

Bertrand Piccard und Andre Borschberg - Bertrand Piccard in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Bertrand Piccard (r.) and André Borschberg have successfully completed a round-the-world-trip in their light aircraft “Solar Impulse 2” © SolarImpulse / Jean Revillard

All my life I have heard about this place where my grandfather made a glacier landing in 1931. Finally I could visit this area myself. And I am deeply touched.”

Bertrand Piccard

The traces of Piccard are ever-present until today

Obergurgl im Winter - Bertrand Piccard in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
© Alexander Lohmann / Ötztal Tourismus

The fateful emergency landing of Auguste Piccard is strongly connected to the rise of tourism in this high Alpine region. It gave Obergurgl-Hochgurgl a real boost, paving the way for a highly promising future as prime tourism destination. The traces of Auguste Piccard are still omnipresent in the village: be it the Piccard Saal event hall or the Piccard Memorial in the center of Obergurgl.

Piccard’s emergency landing was the kick-off for international tourism in the Upper Ötztal. Thanks to countless press releases our village became world-famous overnight. Larger sized winter tourism started in the early 1930ies!”

Lukas Scheiber (Executive board member of Ötztal Tourismus)

And the Piccards also went down in pop culture: Auguste Piccard’s twin brother was the name-giver of Captain Jean-Luc Piccard in the Star Trek films. Auguste Piccard himself served as role model of Professor Bienlein in The Adventures of Tintin comic series.

Piccard im Motorradmuseum - Bertrand Piccard in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
A tour of the Motorcycle Museum was an absolute must-do!
© Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl: A place for scientific knowledge exchange

One more reason for Bertrand Piccard’s visit to the Ötztal was the 50th anniversary of Advanced Training Courses organized by Austria’s Pediatrics Association. The adventurer is a psychiatrist himself, and gave a lecture on his “Solar Impulse 2” project and the history of the Piccards in front of 350 medical specialists.

However, the connection between the Swiss psychiatrist and pediatrics has been constantly growing as Bertrand Piccard initiated the “Winds for Hope” children’s foundation for kids suffering from Noma disease.

Celebrity visit to the “Special guest gondola”

Bertrand Piccard looks forward to visiting Obergurgl-Hochgurgl together with his children very soon as he is a passionate winter sports fan. He was mightily impressed with the snow conditions on and off the ski slopes.

Manuel from Obergurgl-Hochgurgl had the chance to make a chat with the amazing Swiss genius during a scenic ride in the “Special guest gondola” – a both exciting and entertaining talk! (Subtitles English/German available)

Gästebucheintrag Bertrand Piccard - Bertrand Piccard in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Bertrand Piccard’s guest book entry © Manuel Ribis


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View onto Obergurgl in winter - Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Ötztal, Tyrol

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Author Benni

When it comes to activity and motion, Benni pricks up his ears! He is a passionate snowboarder, mountain biker, climber & hiker and he knows no better playground for outdoor sports than the Ötztal. He is not the type to sit still - therefore Benni can be often found on the valley's most exciting bike trails and pristine powder snow slopes.

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