Hurtling headfirst on a tea tray down ice at 80mph is not the most sensible thing to do – I may be dumb but I am not that stupid.
Every sports has its own blue ribbon event, in football it’s the FA Cup, cricket has the Ashes, Tennis, well Wimbledon. For the sport of Tobogganing, apart from the Winter Olympics, it’s ‘The Grand National’ – No, I hadn’t heard of it either.
The World famous Cresta Run is held every year in Switzerland’s glitziest town. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club is well over 125 years old, and for those with suitable dosh, dash and clean underpants – it’s the ultimate downhill ride.
It all started in the 1890s, tobogganing was a form of entertainment in the newly established winter resorts. It was mainly Brits who raced one another down busy, winding streets St Moritz, Davos, Aros and Chamonix.
They took they sport seriously, clubs were formed and races were organised on the icy downhill roads. At one time, there were more than 40 “village” pistes across the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.
Nowadays it’s not quite as chaotic. The club opens just before Christmas and ends around late February. The run is still hand-built from scratch every year with costs met by the club and its 1,300 members and St Moritz town council.
The Run is an extreme sport that provides a thrill according to members unlike any other. Riders reach speeds of 128kph – which is bonkers when you think that all they are laying on is a tea tray, with leather knee and elbow pads, gloves with metal plates, helmet, chin guard and spiked boots.
There are two starting points: Top and Junction. The primary thought in the minds of most racers is to avoid being hurled from the track at Shuttlecock corner. Any slight loss of control prior to the infamous bend is likely to see them ejected, and more often than not sent to hospital. Fallers at Shuttlecock, automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear the much sought after Shuttlecock tie.
It sounded a great event to cover, so I headed over to Switerzland and the 2006 Grand National where 21 riders made three runs down the course.
In the end the winner was Lord Clifton Wrottesley, a peer from Galway on Ireland’s west coast. It was his fourth Grand National win, and he is the only competitor to win the club’s grand slam (the Morgan, Curzon and Grand National events) three times. Wrottesley has had Olympic success, coming fourth in the skeleton race at Salt Lake City in 2002.
I am pleased to report that the ‘Health and Safety scallywags don’t come knocking in St Moritz and the “Cresta” tradition still carries on. For the record, I was offered several times a ‘press ride’ to experience the run but I rather fancied having a beer in a posh restaurant than lying in a hospital bed. Yes – you can call me a great big wuss – but I am happy to accept that.