A 30.000 pies por viajeros para viajeros

Eight Pointers for the Engadin Ski Marathon, Sir Norman Foster’s Favourite Race

What do an architect, cross-country skiing and a search for efficiency and sustainability have in common? I told you how I discovered the Engadin Ski Marathon after seeing the documentary, “How much does your building weigh, Mr. Foster?”. This film, which premiered in 2010, describes how the designs of Britain’s renowned architect, Norman Foster, evolved into sustainable and more efficient buildings. This documentary opens with epic scenes from the Engadin Ski Marathon, then cuts to feature a surprisingly athletic Norman Foster doing cross-country skiing, after which it fades to black and shows him calm and pensive, on the balcony of one of his works, Chesa Futura, which crowns St. Moritz. In its beginnings in 1969, just over 900 people took the start in the race, while this last time, 47 years after its inception, I was one of the nearly 14,000 participants. The experience was incredible and, if you’re curious, I can give you a few tips to get a better view of the race. By the way – St. Moritz is only 203 kilometres from Zürich.

1. Distinguishing classic from skating. It is important to know that cross-country skiing comes in two varieties. In the classic style you ski along a marked trail, while the skating technique involves skiing off-trail. The equipment and technique are different, too. In the skating or freestyle technique, you glide on the whole ski using longer poles, while in the classic style traction is provided by the base of the ski (waxed or wax-less scales). In some trials you can only ski in the classic style. Engadin allows both, the skaters keeping to the left, and the classic skiers to the right.

2. Prepare your technique to adapt to the terrain. The ski run is very pleasant because much of it is along a false flat, and the rises, although tough and technical, are also short. There are only a couple of downhills in the forest which can become taxing on account of the crowding. It is an approachable course on the whole, but you need to be an intermediate to really enjoy it.

3. It is not a course but a line race, and public transport is good. You don’t need to stay over in St. Moritz; neither do you have to drive there. Public transport takes you across the whole valley and is good. You only need to secure accommodation and commute to the villages traversed by the run.

4. Use the occasion to try out all types of skiing. You are in the Alps and it is easy to try out everything here. You don’t have to limit yourself to St. Moritz either, as there are ski stations on the way to Zürich such as Lenzerheide, which we went to. These are more accessible, less crowded and ideal for skiing both on the runs and off-piste.

5. Check the weather forecast for the day of the race and allow for it. If it’s sunny, as it was this year, a single layer is enough, and on top of that a waistcoat, at the most. It is essential to keep hydrated and use sun block.

6. Head for the ski run with the minimum. On the day of the race, they will give you a bag to leave at the start, depending on your number time. Arrive with your ski boots on, your skis out of the bag, fastened with Velcro and keep your gear to a minimum.

7. Warm nourishment. There are fueling stations along the whole course, but you are advised to bring your own flask in a hip pack typically used for cross-country skiing. The race is sponsored by ISOSTAR but, beware – the drink they give you is warm, like tea.

8. The after race has been invented and it is called Après Ski. In my last post about Ironman Lanzarote you will have noticed I am a stickler for preparing ahead. But, in St. Moritz, I would say you don’t need to organise much. Either you hang around for the party they throw at Zuoz, or go straight up to St. Moritz and eat in the sun on a terrace and have a drink while listening to music afterwards. I am not talking about clubbing, but about chilling out.

After spending those days in Switzerland, I realised they love sports but, if skiing is not your thing, don’t worry, because I have these other plans which are a good excuse for coming along anyway.

- 19 April: Zürich Marathon, where you can either run the whole marathon or in a team.
- 9 May: Sola Race, where mixed teams of at least 2 women and a maximum of 8 team members run a distance of 116 km in 14 legs.
- 19 July: Ironman Zürich. Swimming in Lake Zürich. The course is beautiful, which means that entry tickets to the race run out fast.
- 19 August: Swimming Across the Lake. A 1,500 m race, from Mythenquai to Tiefenbrunnen. The date varies, depending on the weather.
- 26-27 September: Freestyle.ch. Artificial snow ramps for BMX, skiing, motor acrobatics and snowboarding freestylers.

While man does not live by sport alone, and I am not one given to visiting monuments, I would recommend you stroll around the town centre and try one of two “dinner + drink plan” options. Or else, the world’s oldest vegetarian eatery, HILTL, dating from 1898, or the Widder Bar, which doubles as a hotel. They’re open as a restaurant and club. They are good, less touristy options than visiting the train station – while it is stunning, you won’t see any Swiss people walking about there.

Looking ahead, the next Engadin Ski Marathon is on 13 March 2016. Come along to discover Swiss-style sports. Book your flight here.

Text by Raúl Casañas

Images by Pello Osoro, Andy Mettler, Nigel Young / Foster + Partners


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