The Engadine Skimarathon is a cross-country race held annually in the pristine Engadine Valley in eastern Switzerland. The second Sunday of March sees anywhere from eleven to thirteen thousand skiers in a race on trails that cross the valley’s frozen lakes and zig-zag through a handful of villages for a total of forty-two kilometers. The population of the Engadine Valley swells, and the buoyant attitude of the guests and their hosts gives the valley a festive air.
Starting at the famed Maloja Palace Hotel, the race participants glide across Lakes Sils and Silvaplana, and then through the resort town of St. Moritz. After climbing into the Staz Forest, the trail descends to the village of Pontresina. Many of the trees in this descent are wrapped in bright, orange mattresses to protect out-of-control skiers as they careen down the long glide, avoiding trees and fallen comrades. Hence, the nickname, ‘mattress alley.’ This section of the race is the most entertaining, as race observers watch flailing bodies pile up before them.
The race finishes in the small village of S-chanf, where the Upper Engadine Valley ends, amid cow bells clanging andh cheers from an appreciative, enthusiastic crowd. Some of the racers glide across the finish line, upright, while others collapse in the snow, gasping for breath.
The race debuted in 1969 and became a part of the Worldloppet, a ski federation of long-distance cross-country ski events established to promote the sport of cross-country skiing, in 1978. It’s a major event in the Engadine Valley, where life is to be lived out-of-doors no matter the season.
My latest Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery, Engadine Aerie, takes place at the Skimarathon. I’ll be visiting St. Moritz for next week’s race to promote my book at a Saturday book-signing in the Hotel Laudinella, and enjoy life in the High Alps. Hope to see you there!