Philippe Imboden: “There are no lone wolves at Air Zermatt”
Philippe Imboden is leaving Air Zermatt at the end of April after over 30 years. Now approaching 60, Imboden has worked in almost every department at Air Zermatt and knows the company inside and out. Before his departure, he looks back with a smile and a heavy heart at the highs and low of his time spent at the heliport in Zermatt.
Philippe, when did you encounter Air Zermatt for the first time?
If you live in Upper Valais, you automatically come into regular contact with Air Zermatt. The first time would have been in my childhood, and then later at various construction sites. Storm Vivian hit in 1990 and caused massive damage to the forests. After the disaster, Air Zermatt was looking for task specialists to help out on logging flights.
I was one of the employees who helped remove storm-damaged trees. Once my summer season ended after five or six months, I was offered a winter position and subsequently a full-time position.
But you didn’t only work as a task specialist at Air Zermatt.
No, I got to know various other positions within the company; I worked as a task specialist for five years. Back then we were allowed to complete basic medical training in order to assist the doctor and pilots on rescue missions. This granted me the opportunity to accompany the rescue crew on their missions in the winter months. I was also able to go out with my dog as an avalanche dog guide on many avalanche rescues.
After this intense, very exciting time, I was ready to try something new and switched to being a dispatcher. The job change was a challenge for me – I wasn’t familiar with administrative work, and there weren’t any laptops or PCs at the time. The new position wasn’t easy for me at first, but it was exciting. My colleagues even placed bets on how long I would last in dispatching (laughs).
Dispatching wasn’t your final stop, either.
No, after five years it was time for another change. That was when Bernhard Vogel, the director at the time, founded the management board, where I served until the end of 2021.
Why have you remained at Air Zermatt for all these years?
Our company faced quite a few challenges between 1993 and 2000. We were in bad shape financially, in particular, since all of the logging work that had been profitable for us suddenly dried up. The high level of responsibility and cooperation during this period really brought our small team together. We helped each other overcome obstacles and supported each other. I felt a strong commitment at that time, so it never occurred to me to work anywhere else.
How has Air Zermatt changed since you joined the company?
When I started in May 1990, we were just 30 employees. Today, we have a team of almost 120 people, including freelancers. The tasks were less specific; each person did almost everything, and we helped each other out when necessary. Today, each department is organized, and we’ve experienced strong development and specialization in all areas.
How would you describe Air Zermatt?
Air Zermatt is a wonderful, fascinating company that runs what is undeniably the best, most efficient helicopter rescue service. We have a very strong public image precisely because we accomplish extraordinary things. The company has never stood still – it has always achieved new goals and continued to innovate. It’s especially great to see how strongly the employees identify with the company.
How do you look back on your time at the company?
After 32 years, I can truly say that it was interesting from the first day to the very last. Day-to-day work at Air Zermatt was many things, but it was never boring. Your day can take a 180-degree turn from one second to the next, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
My fascination for helicopters has stayed with me up to my last day. Those ingenious flying machines that I always followed into the distance with my gaze as they took off from the heliport.
Which event is burned into your memory?
There are quite a few. As I mentioned, I used to participate in rescue and avalanche missions as a task specialist. When you get deployed for the first time, that’s burned into your memory. You board the helicopter and don’t know what awaits you. I can still remember every detail of my first mountain rescue mission and also the initial shock when we returned from it. It was a case of two dead climbers on the Lagginhorn.
That makes you prepare a bit more for future missions. Each person on a rescue crew protects themselves with a certain, surely necessary, distance to the events and learns to deal with these serious cases. This is another area where our teamwork helps tremendously, as does regular, in-depth communication.
The same applies after an exhausting day filled with one task after another when everything goes well in the end and everyone gets to celebrate the company’s success together. That feeling will also stick with me.
What have you appreciated the most about your work?
First and foremost, the work itself. The constant contact with task specialists, pilots, and external people but also the offer process.
Air Zermatt taught me that there can be no lone wolves in a well-functioning company. Even if we didn’t always agree on everything and had to make tough decisions, we always stood together at the end of the day. Getting everyone to pull together should be every company’s top priority.
What’s next for you?
I look forward to a calmer phase and the opportunity to pursue the things that I’ve had less time for in the past few years. I hope to maintain the longstanding friendships along with my contact and connection to Air Zermatt.
Philippe, the closing remarks are all yours.
A big thanks to all colleagues for their great support! I’d like to express my special gratitude to Beat Perren, who gave me this chance and supported me along the whole journey. I’d also like to thank the entire management team and especially Gerold Biner for his undying support and friendship throughout this interesting and very challenging time at Air Zermatt. Thank you.