Riding the Cresta Run: The Fastest Way to Explore St Moritz
Look beyond the glitz and glamour of St Moritz and you’ll find a community-first tobogganing club that’s been uniting the ski towns local business owners, riders and snow-seekers for centuries.
17 February, 2021
Our favourite way to reach St Moritz? Slipping into some protective gear, lying head-first on a skeleton toboggan and racing down the Cresta run, an epic ice track hand-carved into the mountainside. It'll carry you 1,200 metres from St Moritz to Celerina in just over a minute - or less, if you ride well.
Lord Clifton Wrottesley is an expert on riding the Cresta Run. The former Olympian holds the run record of 49.92 seconds and counts 57 wins under his belt. In 1990, Wrottesley first visited the St Moritz Tobogganing Club (SMTC) in what he describes as "a pilgrimage to find out everything I didn't know about my Dad", who had been a prolific Cresta rider but passed away when Wrottesley was two. "I remember getting to the bottom of the run and immediately being overcome with a burning desire to get straight back up to have another go," Wrottesley recalls.
The Cresta has had a powerful draw on Wrottesley and his fellow club compatriots ever since. United by their love of the sport, their union is strengthened by club rituals, rules and rites of passage, all wrapped up in the attractive setting of eastern Switzerland's Engadine Valley. "It has everything; an incomparable location, a breath-taking setting, a fascinating history, a sport that challenges the very bravest of souls, fascinating people that become lifelong friends and for many of us it is something we simply wouldn't be able to live without" reflects Wrottesley.
Riding the Cresta may be a fast way to become acquainted with the lay of the land, but, as Wrottesley suggests, involvement in this sporting community will also ensure a thorough introduction to St Moritz life and its intriguing past. As one of the world's oldest winter sports clubs, the SMTC dates back to the 1880s, and its history is inextricably linked to that of St Moritz. One of the Cresta founders helped first ignite winter tourism in the region by convincing sceptical Englishmen to spend their first snow season there.
I remember getting to the bottom of the run and immediately being overcome with a burning desire to get straight back up to have another go.Clifton Wrottesley
One of today's members, Alexandra Bott, can trace her Cresta connection to pre-war times. She now follows in the footsteps of her great-great-grandmother and grandaunt, who she describes as "formidable characters" and who both clinched a number of prizes on the Run in the early 1900s. Bott's training began young: "It was sort of like an unwritten rule that we were going to do it," she describes, explaining that riding with her parents and siblings feels "like you're continuing the family tradition." And one of the best parts of a race day? "The celebratory lunch afterwards at the Kulm," says Bott.
The Kulm is something of a second home for Cresta riders. Move through the ostentatious foyer, and you'll find them gathered on any given day in the Sunny Bar. Adorned with tobogganing paraphernalia and pictures of members past and present, riders flock to the sun-kissed terrace for leisurely lunches finished off with potent Irish coffees.
Outside of the Kulm, the strength of the relationship between the club and the village it calls home is as palpable in the 21st century as ever. Far from being an exclusive enclave, a number of the club's members embody this partnership as both riders and local business owners. Fashions sported by members may be designed by the dapper Silvano Vitalini, a local gentleman's tailor and regular up at the run.
After working up an appetite on the run, a hearty Italian meal of fresh homemade pasta, Engadine beef or creamy burrata topped with sweet caramelised onions, can be had at La Scarpetta. The Italian restaurant is an example of the marriage between St Moritz culture and that of the club, run by Cresta rider Luca Höfer. In 2014, the teenaged Höfer became one of the youngest riders ever to win his "colours", an award given to members placed in the season's biggest races that allows them to proudly sport an item of gold and scarlet clothing henceforth. Aside from the obvious rush of the sport, "the conviviality and friendship among the riders" is what Höfer loves most about the club and why he wanted to become a member.
Come nightfall, members will recollect inside the town's eateries before dancing at the Dracula nightclub. A favoured haunt of members both young and old, the scene is aptly set by vampiric props such as a coffin in the foyer and a garlic-shaped disco ball. The mantle of the imposing stone fireplace can even serve as a jumping-off point for members to initiate crowd-surfing through the dance floor. "The best nights usually end in Rolf Sachs's mysterious Dracula Club", confirms Höfer.
Unlike many private clubs that are obfuscated by exclusivity and stuffiness, the SMTC is keen to introduce newcomers to both the beauty of the Cresta Run and the splendour of the Engadine mountains. It is a unique community that represents the deeply-entrenched connections forged between the people and the place. As Wrottesley impresses: "the SMTC is a magical club to be part of, to be embedded within. It and the run have such a strong sense of identity, camaraderie amongst the riders and members that for most of us it becomes an integral part of our lives." Join them and you will find a place carved out for yourself in this fabled community nestled between the Alps.
Cresta Run beginner's school costs CHF 600. For more information visit cresta-run.com.