Devilishly quick…Mark Nicholls experiences the superfast bobsleigh course in stylish St Moritz
It is devilishly fast: within a matter of seconds you are nudging speeds of 100kph as the sleek red bullet of an Olympic bobsleigh careers down the rock-hard ice-track.
By the time you reach the end of the 1700m run, the bobsleigh and its four passengers will have topped 135kph+ in what must be one of the most exhilarating sporting thrills of a lifetime.
I was in St Moritz – the Swiss resort famed for its glamour and style – for a few days’ skiing on the slopes of Corvatsch and Corviglia, but the lure of charging down the Olympia Bob Run was simply too hard to resist.
The St Moritz course is the oldest in the world and over its 125-year history has staged events for two Winter Olympics – in 1928 and 1948 – and hosted 24 World Championships.
This, of course, is not the famed Cresta Run which is nearby, but is a world-class course on which those who dare can enjoy the thrill of speed on the ice.
For 250 CHF per person, two passengers are sandwiched between a driver and a brake man (or woman) to hurtle down the route for some 75 seconds.
With the bob pushed free of the start block, the clock is ticking. Milliseconds flash past as it begins to pick up speed; jolting, bumping and ever accelerating as we arced through corners collecting forces of 4g.
We hunched shoulders to protect our necks as the bob swung through a right to a left, a short straight and then seemingly rode the banking in further rapid switches of direction.
The St Moritz-Celerina Olympic bob run remains the only natural ice track in the world and while some tracks in Europe, North America and Japan are artificially refrigerated, the St Moritz course runs solely on snow, water and manpower.
For the first 100 metres or so, you can still take in the course but as the speed increases, the turns become ever more of a blur. They had names: Sunny Corner, Devils’s Dyke, Telephone Corner and the notorious Horse Shoe, where the bobsleigh is subjected to a g-force of five times its own weight.
From the start line at 1852m above sea level, the finish line is 130m lower at 1738m with an average downhill gradient of 8.14%.
By the end of the run, we were hunkered down, hanging onto the grips in the belly of the bob as ice walls flashed past on a course that snaked and double-crossed down the hillside. We were only slowly able to raise our heads as we braked to a halt.
It took a few moments to take in the sense of achievement as we stepped from the bobsleigh and returned to the clubhouse where a certificate, photo and a welcome celebratory glass of Champagne awaited us.
While St Moritz is famed for its long association with bobsleigh racing and skiing, it also showcases less orthodox winter sport with top-level cricket being played on the frozen surface of its lake along with the annual White Turf horse racing in what is arguably the cradle of winter tourism.
Ice cricket was new for 2018 with top names lured to take part in the Twenty20 format in mid-February. They included Virender Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Michael Hussey, Monty Panesar and Lasith Malinga. For the match Team Royal featured players from England, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand while Team Badrutt’s Palace Diamonds fielded players from India, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies.
The resort also has some of Europe’s finest hotels and a world-class culinary offering, underlined by the fabulous showcase of the St Moritz Gourmet Festival, which has just marked its 25th anniversary. St Moritz has a reputation for bringing in some of the world’s finest chefs to its hotels and restaurants. A couple of recommendations include Restaurant IGNIV in the famous Badrutt’s Palace Hotel where chef Andreas Caminada offers an incredible round-table sharing menu and the Kulm Country Club, while on the mountain the White Marmot Restaurant is popular.
It is also where winter tourism is said to have started, at the Kulm Hotel in the autumn of 1864, when owner Johannes Badrutt enthused about the winter idyll of St Moritz with four English holidaymakers.
That conversation ultimately led to a legendry bet with the four dubious guests when Badrutt suggested they should return in December, and if they did not enjoy their stay, he would reimburse the travel expenses. The Englishmen did return and stayed until Easter. Badrutt won his bet, and effectively launched winter tourism.
But I did have to remind myself that I was there to play my part in sustaining that legacy with some downhill skiing on the slopes of Corvatsch and Corviglia, with a variety of black, red and blue runs.
Corviglia sits above St Moritz and is accessed via the Chantarella funicular, where skiers can explore the highest points at Piz Nair (3057m), Fuorcla Grischa (2964m) and Gluna (2830) and take the opportunity to ski the 2017 World Championship Downhill course.
A shuttle bus ride away is Corvatsch and the Corvatsch Glacier at 3303m, with the opportunity to ski down the legendary Hahnensee piste, and with some lovely huts to stop off for lunch. I and my fellow skiers paused at the Kuhstall, which as the names implies, is the cowshed and operates as thus during the summer months before being converted into a popular mountain restaurant during the ski season!
For my stay in St Moritz, I resided in the centrally-located four-star Hotel Schweizerhof with my room on the fifth floor offering marvellous views over the mountains and the lake where much of the winter sporting activities take place.
And what a wonderful view from my balcony…one I was able to take in at a sedentary pace after the bobsleigh blur and the exhilaration of downhill skiing on the slopes of St Moritz.
Accommodation: Mark Nicholls stayed at the Hotel Schweizerhof (www.schweizerhofstmoritz.ch) in the heart of St Moritz and a three-minute walk from the Chantarella funicular up to the Corviglia slopes.
Transport: He flew London City to Zurich with Swiss International Air Lines (www.swiss.com) and caught a train from the airport to the resort. The Swiss Travel System provides a range of travel passes and tickets. The Swiss Travel Pass is the all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat on an all-inclusive basis from 3-15 days. Prices start from £172 in second class and each ticket offers free admission to more than 500 museums nationwide and half-price on the most scenic Swiss mountain railways. (www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk)
Switzerland: For more information visit www.myswitzerland.com
Bobsleigh experience: www.olympia-bobrun.ch
Mark Nicholls is an award-winning freelance travel writer and author, based in the UK and has written for a range of national titles, specialist magazines and international websites and operated as a war correspondent in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Photographs by Mark Nicholls