Tag Archives: pontresina

16/3/13 – Engadine marathon 2013: the verdict

Engadine marathon - making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Aches and pains? Huffing and puffing?

Well, up to a point.You can read more about what it was like to be a first-timer in the largest ski race in the Alps in my Telegraph and Planet Ski articles.

But last Sunday I had a surprise: the Engadine marathon was fun, satisfying and not as exhausting as I’d predicted.

They arrived in matching pairs...

They arrived in matching pairs…

Along with 11,312 of  the 12,540 starters, from elite athletes to flailing novices, aged 16 to mid-eighties, I finished the 26-mile course.

It followed the snow-clad frozen lakes and wooded paths of the far eastern corner of Switzerland, in the Graubunden canon.

...they arrived in matching groups

…they arrived in matching groups

If you’ve seen it in the papers lately it’s mainly because Pippa and James Middleton – the siblings of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, in case you live on another planet – were taking part.

Pippa was the fastest British girl at 2hr48 and her brother, James, took 2hr17.

And there was even a Brit in tweeds and a Jimmy hat

And there was even a Brit in rather fetching tweeds and a Jimmy hat

The fastest Brit, Alan Eason, clocked an impressive 1hr41.

The overall female winner, a Finn in her mid-thirties, glid round in 1hr29, setting a women’s course record on her first Engadine outing.

Which ones are mine again?

Which ones are mine again?

She was only a minute behind the male winner, a 23-year-old Frenchman, while the slowest racers took six hours.

I was overjoyed with my time of 3hr30 (as a first-timer of questionable fitness, four hours had been my target).

Engadine marathon start

And we’re off. You can see the classic style racers on the right, following the grooves

Anyway, here’s the full list of results.

After clicking on Results 2013, you can view them by class (which corresponds to age and gender), or by nationality.

Something especially impressive is that there were 223 finishers in the men’s over-70s category – and the oldest racer was born in 1926. This is a sport for everyone.

A few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

This is me a few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

Here’s another link some readers may find entertaining.

The super-efficient organisers have posted videos of – seemingly – almost every finisher crossing the line.

Simply find a person on the results list you want to watch, look up their start number (eighth column from the left), input it or their name into the field on the right of the screen and there they are. 

This is what was needed afterwards

This is what was needed afterwards – cakes from Kochendorfer Conditorei in Pontresina

Here are some numbers to try – though with the first few it’s hard to tell which is which as they’re going so fast:

Pierre Guedon (the male winner, from France) – 317

Riita-Liisa Ropenen (the female winner, from Finland) – 9

Alan Eason (the fastest Brit – I can’t identify him, but you get an idea of the speed) – 1079

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Christian Wenk (a paraplegic who completed the race in a sitski) – 4191

Pippa Middleton (in red and black; photographer close by) – 4606

James Middleton (in black, I think, with red headband, skating past camera) – 41847

Me (in pink and black; the knackered-looking one making straight for the camera) – 5807

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7/3/13 – Engadine Marathon: three days to go

A nice flat bit of marathon course near Samedan

A nice flat bit of marathon course near Samedan

In three days’ time I’ll attempt to cover 42km on cross-country skis in the Engadine Marathon.

There’s no reason why I shouldn’t succeed; after all, 11,000 people do so each year, some of them less fit and less confident on flippy little langlauf skis than me.

What strikes me is that I’ll be exercising for four hours continually (Rivella and banana breaks excepted), which I have never done before. Cross-country skiing looks gentle but is surprisingly dynamic, and I the skating style definitely feels like proper exercise (I’m sure the classic style does too; I haven’t tried it).

PJ going smoothly up a hill during practice, 4km from the finish of the Engadine Marathon

PJ going smoothly up a hill during practice, 4km from the finish of the Engadine Marathon

My training regime (if you can call it that), the start of which I outlined in my last post, has continued as follows:

Feb 26 – 45min yoga in lunch break

Feb 27 – 1hr yoga

Feb 28 – 45min horse ride

March 1 – 25min run on treadill, covering 4.3km

March 2 – 1hr horse ride and 30min shovelling muck (good for arms and core)

March 3 – 2hr horse ride (including on foot up Leith Hill, to give the horse a rest and make me puff instead) and 30min bike ride up Pitch Hill

March 4 – ZERO! (Or is it called a rest day?)

March 5 – 25min Boris bike ride round Hyde Park in beautiful sunshine, plus a 3min sprint from the Tube to check-in at Heathrow airport while cutting it fine en route to Switzerland

This is the sorry sight I was after 15km - only just over a third of the distance we'll go on Sunday

This is the sorry sight I was after 15km – only just over a third of the distance we’ll go on Sunday

March 6 –  15km cross-country skiing (we are in the Engadine now) followed by near collapse. Maybe it’s the altitude

March 7 – 22km of cross-country skiing: barely more than half of the distance we’re in for on Sunday but it still took nearly 2hr30

Before our half-marathon this morning we had a lesson (PJ’s idea – thank goodness one of us has some sense), to knock some proper technique into us.

Nora, our young Swiss instructor, who has completed the marathon in 2hr19min, began with the basics after watching me skate up and down a few times outside the Langlauf Centre at Pontresina.

Mostly, it was about how to push. “Don’t lift your hands above the level of your shoulders, and keep your poles angled backwards – you must never see your ski pole basket,” she said.

“Bring your hands back to the front each time you have finished pushing, don’t take a break there – if you take a break, make it at the front.” She added that extra power could be gained by releasing the grip at the end of each push and therefore making the push longer.

Then, it was about when to push. To date I had been doing a haphazard combination of double-push (both poles at once) and single (one at a time), depending on gradient and speed.

But actually there are several official types of push/step, the “two-one” (push with both poles every other step), the “one-one” (push with both poles every step, saying to yourself ‘sticks, ski, sticks, ski’) and the “asymmetrical” (push with both poles every other step, but at an angle, for going up cambered hills).

So what was that one-pole-at-a-time push I was doing yesterday?

“That,” Nora said with disdain, “is the lady-step.”

She conceded, however, that the lady-step can be useful for hills. There is a correct way of doing it, single-poling at the same time as the opposite ski, with the pole parallel to the ski.

Despite all these excellent tips, and a marked improvement in technique, after today’s post-lesson, 22km-long practice I was ready to drop. And I don’t think it’s just down to the altitude…

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26/2/13 – Engadine marathon: 12 days to go

Only 42km to go... Racers set off in last year's Engadine cross-country marathon

Only 42km to go… Racers set off in last year’s Engadine cross-country marathon

I am 10 days into my fitness regime in preparation for the Engadine marathon, a 26-mile cross-country ski race I’m doing for the first time on Sunday, March 10.

I entered last year but tripped over while out running a month beforehand and hurt my shoulder, so I went as a spectator instead.

This time I’m all booked up to go and it doesn’t look as though I will get out of it.

This didn’t really register until just under a month before race day, at which point I vowed to ‘do something’ every day – especially when I saw that among the other British racers entered are certain Middleton siblings who made impressive times in the much longer Vassaloppet last year.

Anyway, here’s how my preparation has turned out so far…

February 13 – 1hr yoga at lunchtime (ought to start gently, I reasoned…).

February 14 – 2 x circuits of Hyde Park on a Boris bike at lunchtime, as fast as I could, starting at Victoria (about 45min in total). It was warm, sunny, busy and pretty hazardous: I had a near-head-on with a Boris-tourist who didn’t know we Brits are used to riding on the left.

February 15 – In Scotland for a long weekend after getting the overnight sleeper train to Inverness. About 2hr of downhill skiing at Aviemore (little effort, much fun) and 90min walking up Cairngorm on skins (much effort, just as much fun).

February 16 – 90min of cross-country skiing on the excellent trails of Clashindarroch Forest on borrowed skating skis and boots, and a 50min hike to the top of the Cairngorm funicular on foot.

February 17 – Another 90min of cross-country skiing in Clashindarroch Forest – quite strenuous due to slushy conditions, and excellent sunny weather, so base-tan benefited, too.

February 18 – 1hr horse ride (more work for the horse).

The Boris: not just a way from A to B

The Boris: not just a way from A to B

February 19 – 2 x circuits of Hyde Park, as before and probably a bit faster; no near-collisions.

February 20 – 1 x circuit of Hyde Park on a Boris bike (25min).

February 21 – 4.2km on treadmill at lunchtime (25min).

February 22 – 1hr horse ride and a 20min walk. Does lots of vacuuming count?

February 23 – Zero! But a bit of stretching.

February 24 – 1hr fast walk.

February 25 – 45min fast walk and 30min run outdoors.

I’m aiming for more of the same over the next days. And while it’s hardly transforming me into a Middletonesque langlauf machine, hopefully it’ll be enough to make the race a bearable (at worst) or brilliant (at best) four-ish hours. Wish me luck!

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5/10/12 – Chop ’em straight, stack ’em strong: the art of building an Alpine wood pile

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

Autumn has set in, it’s not long till the clocks go back and the blackberries (such as they were) are over. It’s the time of year when I light a fire in the evening – and that means it’s also time to get my wood pile in order.

It’ll be no surprise to skiers that the countries that lead the way in the art of building a successful wood pile are the mountainous ones.

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this Alagna house also has lots of scope for wood storage

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this house in Alagna, Italy, also has lots of scope for wood storage

From the villages of the Valais to the towns of the Tyrol to the dwellings of the Dolomites, householders across the Alps are masters in stacking them neat, stable, dry and, in some cases, high.

I have been photographing these labours-of-logs (sorry…) during my travels in the mountains.

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

As you can see, there are regional variations. Now I’m no expert, but what I think they all have in common is the following:

1. To make a good pile, logs need to be cut to the same length.

2. Larger logs are split to similar widths.

Here's another goodie in Gimmelwald

Here’s another goodie in Gimmelwald

3. Smaller unsplit logs – almost kindling-sized – are stacked all together, sometimes in their own section of the pile.

4. A good stacking place must be found.

5. Sometimes this place will have support at one or both ends, but often it doesn’t.

Freestanding stacks in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with perfect criss-cross ends

A store in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with effective criss-cross ends

6. To build an ‘end’, some sort of criss-cross system is used, such as two logs one way, then two at 90 degrees, on top; repeat up to desired height.

7. The pile does not necessarily need to be under cover – only the top layer gets wet or snowy – and if you leave any bark facing the elements, this is minimised.

Not as neat but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

Not as neat, but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

8. But most piles are next to a building with an overhang, such as most chalets have. In fact, it looks like many houses have been designed with a wood pile in mind.

9. The logs are usually very easily accessible from the dwelling.

10. Many households have a second, messier, pile of unsplit/chopped or partly split/chopped logs, which are being seasoned.

My dad has always kept a very organised, well-seasoned wood pile, and my parents installed a wood stove long before they became fashionable – which is probably partly why I started noticing other people’s ones.

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

And the village where I’ve done most of my skiing – Anzere, in Switzerland – now has a giant log-burner heating virtually the whole village (read about it in my Telegraph article here).

I, however, have only recently got the hang of dealing with wood. Or have I? Judge for yourself by looking at the little stack at my back door in Surrey – I know it’s not up to Alpine standards.

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

I confess that although I did the stacking, it’s my house-mate, Alex, who has been responsible for the sourcing and splitting.

Readers who know me won’t be surprised that I also have a box of easily ignitable material so I don’t have to waste money on smelly, synthetic fire-lighters.

As well as newspaper I’ve taken to hoarding loo rolls and egg boxes.

Amazingly, this is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

This is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

My uncle and aunt get their fire roaring – and fragrant – by adding orange peel, dried in a warm oven or on top of a Rayburn or Aga. I’ve tried it, and it works.

So I’m ready for winter. Bring round your loo rolls, egg boxes and orange peel, if you like – I can use unlimited amounts.

And finally, one of my favourites - another Gimmelwalder

And finally, one of my favourites – another Gimmelwalder

Meanwhile I think I’ll just go into the woods to fetch some kindling…

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10/3/12 – How to have fun not in St Moritz

Only 42km to go... Racers set off last Sunday in the Engadine cross-country marathon

I’ve recently returned from four days near St Moritz, eastern Switzerland, where I was watching the Engadine marathon a week after Pippa Middleton gave the sport a flash of publicity (read more here and here).

St Moritz is named by Where to Ski and Snowboard, the annual guidebook, as one of the world’s priciest resorts.

'This old thing? Oh, I just picked it up at Gucci...'

'This old thing? Oh, I just picked it up at Gucci...'

I can believe this, having visited during my years as a polo reporter, and with its formal five-star hotels, its scary designer boutiques, its coiffed clientele and its trafficky centre, the town is not my kind of place.

However, the rest of the Engadine Valley is a different matter. There you’ll find tranquil, historic villages (free to roam), awesome scenery (free to admire) and excellent downhill and langlauf skiing (the lift pass is expensive, at up to 73 francs a day, but I have a plan to minimise the damage – see further down).

This was a kind of knobbly pasta with potato and cheese. Well... langlauf is good exercise, you know

We stayed in a good-value hotel in Pontresina, but the cheapest rooms in the district start at £50 for a double in the most basic village b&bs. There is a hostel at Pontresina and a caravan park near Muottas Muragl, both of which were bristling with langlaufers (usually a down-to-earth, budget-conscious lot) during the marathon.

We found restaurant meals similarly priced to elsewhere in Switzerland, often with a regional or Italian twist (the border is close and Italian is as widely spoken as Swiss-German). At the characterful Berninahaus, 10 minutes from Pontresina, we had a substantial meal for four, including wine, water and coffee (and a free schnapps), for about £100. The rule – as everywhere – is that if it looks traditional and solid, it’s likely to be cheaper than the hip-looking places next-door.

It wasn't guarded 24/7 so I managed to get a snap

On our short visit, we came across a few surprises – starting with the secretive camouflaged Range Rovers in our hotel basement parking, which were being tested, perhaps for the next Great British Winter, on the mountain roads in disguise.

The three peaks of Piz Palu, from the top of Diavolezza

Other surprises followed – not least the emptiness of underrated Diavolezza and Lagalb, cable-cars with nearly 1,000m of vertical 10 minutes from Pontresina. This is where my mother learnt to ski as a child, and I’ll be writing about them in more detail for a magazine next season.

View from the top of Piz Nair. To get up here, park or take the bus to Celerina, avoiding St Moritz town

For now my tip is to ski Diavolezza all morning, stopping to take in the view of Piz Palu and Bernina at the top, and have lunch at the excellent restaurant at the top of Lagalb before skiing Lagalb in the afternoon sun. If there’s powder, you’re in for a treat at both places, although beware rocks this year: despite great cover in most of the Alps, the Engadine hasn’t had its greatest winter.

There is masses of skiing, over three main areas, but I found this was an area where I didn’t want to ski every day, so much else is there to do.

Sleigh, foot or langlauf skis are the only ways into Val Fex, near Sils Maria

With this in mind, and to limit the damage of the lift pass price, if I was there for a week, I’d ski three or four very full days, plus a Friday night floodlit skiing on Corvatsch.

I’d be sure, if I had good weather, to visit all the top stations, all of which have easy red runs down: Piz Nair, Corvatsch (the red from the top to Fuorcla Surlej restaurant has incredible views to Piz Bernina and the Bianca Ridge) and Diavolezza. If there was a blizzard, I’d steer clear of treeless Diavolezza and Lagalb and head for the two valley runs at Corvatsch – both are like downhill courses through the forest.

Painted decoration on a house in Pontresina

I’d spend the other days exploring the Engadine valley and its side-valleys (Roseg, Morteratsch and Fex) on langlauf skis, on foot and by car or public transport, and roaming the lovely villages, with their museums and churches and painted ancient houses.

By all means spend time, too, in glitzy St Moritz if you like. Just don’t come running to me if you end up spending 20 francs on a couple of ever-so-chic espressos by accident…

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