The Engadin Ski Marathon in St. Moritz, Switzerland
Last Sunday morning, I was one of 8166 skiers to line up in the village of Maloja for the 52nd Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland. After two years of cancellations and postponements, I was finally at the starting gate! I was excited to begin making my way down the trail, across frozen lakes, and through several picturesque towns to the finish line, 43km away at the other end of one of the most scenic mountain valleys in the world.
The sheer number of skiers gathered in one place was incredible to see. Thousands of people from dozens of countries had made their way to this tiny village in the Swiss Alps to participate in the second largest langlaufevent in the world. Waves of skiers, up to 500 at a time, were leaving the starting area every few minutes, and by the time it was my turn, the mass of racers already stretched out over 10km of trail.
[video: Highlight video posted by by Engadin Skimarathon.]
The first part of the journey was fast! Groups of skiers spread out 4- or 5- wide across the trail as we crossed the frozen Silsersee on firm snow. I had to keep my eyes on the race to avoid collisions, but it was impossible to miss the stunning views of mountains on all sides as they emerged from the morning fog. The energy from my fellow racers, gorgeous scenery, and excitement of being on a trail I had never skied before made the first 12km fly by. After Silvaplana, the first hills appeared and the race slowed down a bit. There were still some wide and flat sections, but there were also some narrow stretches through towns and forests. The trail conditions began to break down under the traffic and rising temps, although it remained very skiable. While I wasn't too concerned about my time and I understood a few delays were to be expected with 8000+ skiers trying to fit through a trail just several meters wide, I kept pace with the skiers around me.
Soon, I could see Saint Moritz up ahead, which is where my family and I stayed for the previous two nights. As I came into town, I could hear my wife and son cheering me on from the side of the trail. Spectators were lined up in every village along the way, but it was sure nice to hear my own family shouting encouragement as I skied through Saint Moritz! I gave them a quick wave and continued on down the trail to Pontresina.
[video: Erin and Aiden cheering trailside near Saint Moritz.]
I had been to Pontresina the day before the race with my family to pick up my bib at the Marathon Village. It’s an attractive little town set at the base of a mountain with narrow cobblestone streets, historic hotels, and a beautiful bell tower. As I approached on race day, I could hear via loud speaker that Roman Furger had just won the race. The announcer was saying it was one of the best races in years. He explained how a small group broke away at Pontresina and worked together to the finish. Local legend and winner of several Olympic medals, Dario Cologna, came in second in a sprint to the line.
[video: The noon bells rang from Pontresina's bell tower as we walked down the hills to collect my start number.]
After Pontresina, I still had half a marathon to complete. The race continued through Samedan and Zuos, and although I didn’t have time to do much sightseeing, I was still enjoying the views and the comfortable near 32F temperature, which was a welcome relief from the frigid 2022 ski racing season back in Minnesota. My family and I had toured several of these towns the previous day as we explored the valley via train, and I found that each village comes with its own bell tower, spring-fed fountains, shops, hotels, playgrounds, and houses. Connecting the towns are rail lines and trails of all types, which form a network across the valley and up the slopes. We only had a few days in the Engadin this year, but I have a long list of "things to do" for the next time we visit — tobogganing, skiing the other amazing cross-country trails, and trying out the alpine runs are at the top of my list!
Unlike other ski marathons I have done, the line of skiers never thinned out over the entire Engadin course. It was fun to ski surrounded by other skiers, but it also meant that I had to be careful, especially since I was on rented equipment. Early in the race, I saw one pole snap a few meters in front of me when a couple skiers got too close. Later on, a skier fell on me as the trail tightened at a bridge crossing, and my poles were trampled a dozen times while going up hills. None of the contact was intentional, and luckily, I was able to return all my gear in good condition at the finish.
Signs along the trail finally showed the finish at S-chanf was near! The Engadiner is not the most difficult trail in the world. It doesn’t have a lot of elevation gain like the Norwegian Birken or the challenging ups and downs of the American Birkie, but after 43km at altitude, I was glad to be nearly done. I crossed the finish line just before noon, and I was quickly able to catch a train back to my bed and breakfast before our 1:00pm checkout time.
It came as no surprise that the Engadin Ski Marathon is a very well-organized race ("Swiss precision" is legit). I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the trail. The scenery that drew me to this race in the first place more than lived up to my expectations. As my family and I left the Engadin Valley on the amazing Rhaetian Railway, we took one last look at the spectacular mountain views before beginning the long trek back to Minnesota.