Tag Archives: Switzerland

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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27/12/12 – The new Grilleses chair lift, Anzere, in pictures

Anzere, the sunny little Valaisan resort where I have skied almost every year since I was three, has a new lift. A few months ago I showed you some pictures of it being built.

Now it is fully in action and it’s no exaggeration to report that this four-seater chair, Grilleses-Conches, travelling 500 vertical metres mid-mountain in five minutes, has transformed Anzere’s skiing. Compared to before, the area (previously about 50km of pistes) seems half as large again, and the speed of the thing, compared with the t-bar it has replaced, feels supersonic.

I’ve ridden up and skied down a couple of dozen times over the past few days. Here’s what I’ve found…

Introducing the new-look Grilleses...

Introducing the new-look Grilleses…

Regulars are more used to t-bars, such as this one, Les Luys. But now they're in a minority

Regulars in Anzere are more used to t-bars, such as this one, Les Luys. But now these two-man drag lifts are in a minority

My first glimpse of the new-look Grilleses

My first glimpse of the base station

It starts considerably lower than the t-bar it has superseded

It starts considerably lower than the t-bar it has superseded

They have kept the lift man's hut from the old t-bar, complete with fully functioning clock, which the new lift station lacks...

They have kept the lift man’s hut from the old t-bar, complete with fully functioning clock, which the new lift station lacks

Ready for a first ascent

Ready for a first ascent

There's a nice view if you turn round...

There’s a nice view if you turn round…

...and to the left are some pretty chalets, previously much more secluded, but maybe now going up in value thanks to true doorstep skiing

…and to the left are pretty chalets, previously much more secluded, but maybe now going up in value thanks to true doorstep skiing

One half of this mayen (place to go traditionally with cows in May, if I understand correctly), directly under the lift, has been modernised. The owner of the left-hand portion has left it original

The right-hand half of this mayen (place to go traditionally with cows in May, if I understand correctly), directly under the lift, has been modernised

You can see the old t-bar hut on the right of this picture. The chair takes a route a little to the east of the old t-bar line

You can see the old t-bar hut on the right of this picture. The chair takes a route a little to the east of the old t-bar line

This cow shed is above the tree line, near the top

This cow shed is near the top. You can see the top of the telecabin on the left of the picture, on the horizon by the mast

Aaah! A double pylon! Don't panic, it doesn't seem to get tangled up with Le Bate, a longstanding two-seater chair

A double pylon! Don’t panic, it doesn’t seem to get tangled up with Le Bate, a longstanding two-seater chair

Fabulous views from near the top, with the Four Valleys (Verbier, etc) lit up

Near the top, with the Four Valleys (Verbier, Nendaz, etc) looking very close the other side of the Rhone Valley

The top station

The top station

What this lift means is access to more terrain. This is the original piste, which remains intact and lengthened, top and bottom...

This is the original piste back down, which remains intact and lengthened, top and bottom…

This is a new run, classified black, called Chaux de Duez. We used to ski it as an off-piste run - along with much of the terrain either side of it

…but there is also a brand new run, the other side, classified black, called Chaux de Duez. We used to ski it as an off-piste run – along with much of the terrain either side

The chair has made swathes off off-piste more accessible - though I suspect it'll be tracked more quickly than before, when these bits of mountain were less visible and with less obvious access

The chair has made swathes off off-piste more accessible. This is good, but I suspect it’ll be tracked more quickly than before, when these bits of mountain were less visible and with less obvious access

Much of the best terrain accessible from Grilleses can be seen here. But there's more behind me, and over that ridge...

Much of the best terrain accessible from Grilleses can be seen here. But there’s more behind me (taking the photo), and over that ridge…

Anzere's best mountain restaurant, the Tsalan, is on one of the half-dozen piste runs you can now do from Grilleses. This week I have been eating a plate of help-yourself salad, with cold beef, prawn cocktail and lettuce, priced by weight. Price ranged from SF7.40 to SF9.30. Definitely an example of cheap Switzerland

Anzere’s best mountain restaurant, Tsalan, is on one of the half-dozen piste runs you can now do from Grilleses. This week I have been eating a plate of help-yourself salad, with beef, prawns and lettuce, priced by weight. So far I’ve paid between SF7.40 and SF9.30 per meal. A prime example of cheap Switzerland

This is the brand new run down from Tsalan to Grilleses chair, very handy. It's lined with snow cannons - which have finally also been connected up on the original Grilleses run. Progress!

This is the brand new run down from Tsalan to Grilleses chair. It’s lined with snow cannons – which have finally also been connected up on the original Grilleses run. Progress!

A final view from the top, a spot on the mountain only visited by an occasional off-pister

A final view from the top, previously a spot on the mountain only visited by an occasional off-pister

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17/12/12 – Flow State, the latest Warren Miller film: the verdict

Powder skiing in the Bernese Oberland

Powder skiing in the Bernese Oberland

It wasn’t the outrageous big air, the fearsome steeps, the 1,000ft rag-doll falls or the ravishing powder turns that will stick in my mind from the ski film I saw last week.

During the 90 minutes of Flow State, the latest Warren Miller release (the man himself is in his 80s and someone else makes the films these days), there was footage from Alaska, Hokkaido, Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Kaprun, Utah and California. Even modest little Murren in the Bernese Oberland, where I usually go in January to race the Inferno, got a look-in.

None of these was as mesmerising as the closing five or so minutes, shot in Svalbard, in the far north of Norway, during the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic summer.

The view that made me catch my breath was shot from high up the mast of the Arctica II, a heavy-duty, 62ft sailing boat, showing the bow moving slowly and deliberately through intricate slabs of sea-ice.

Jackie Paaso and Aurelien Ducroz go boat-skiing in Svalbard

Jackie Paaso and Aurelien Ducroz go boat-skiing in Svalbard

This was a more intrepid version of the Norwegian boat-skiing trip I went on in April quite a few degrees farther south.

For Flow State’s pair of ski tourers (Jackie Paaso, the only female pro skier in the film, and Aurelien Ducroz), on the agenda were Polar bears, walruses, first ascents and skiing under the midnight sun as well as climbing on skins from fjord to peak.

Give me snow, any day

Give me snow, any day

The footage was unmissable, and I wanted to join them – though I might not have been brave enough to leap into the sub-zero sea or go water-skiing on a pair of K2s.

Flow State (see the trailer here) is a mixture of brief clips of astonishing daredevil footage, some of it frenetically jumbled together, and around a dozen five-or-so-minute “stories”, when the pace slows and two or three skiers or boarders go on some kind of mission.

Apart from the Norway foray, my favourite missions were:

  • The current and former World Cup racers Tommy Moe, Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan fishing, rafting and heliskiing in Alaska.
  • Another trio blasting down the powder-laden avalanche barriers in Niseko, Japan, to the soundtrack of a Japanese drumming band.
  • Vintage footage of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division learning to ski and survive in wintry Colorado – and fascinating interviews with some of the original members, who became lifelong ski fanatics.
  • Travis Ganong, another World Cup skier, demonstrating perfect, effortless powder technique while heliskiing in Alaska.

It was also great to peer through the stone arches of Murren’s Allmendhubel funicular  and see a local guy, Sascha Schmid, and a Canadian big-mountain skier, Hugo Harrison, sashaying down in powder.

At one point the commentary inferred that they were skiing down the Eiger. Maybe they were, but I wasn’t convinced, and I think I spotted another tiny error in this section: something or someone was said to be “more local than Lederhosen”, but as far as I know, that Alpine suede legwear really belongs in Austria and Germany (Swiss traditional men’s clothing looks more like this).

The soundtrack was excellent, and high-energy, but those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’d have liked to have seen more Swiss music, which did feature in the film for a few seconds – I’m not sure where they found it in midwinter in Muerren, but it looked like, possibly, the Alpenruh, where the pair seemed to be staying.

I also loved seeing the old-school freestylers, Jonny Moseley and Bob Howard, dressed up in crazy technicolour 80s garments, complete with big hair to go with their big air and ballet moves.

Aurelien Ducroz in Svalbard (picture by Alex Witkowicz/WME)

Aurelien Ducroz in Svalbard (picture by Alex Witkowicz/WME)

In fact most of the skiers in Flow State wore bold, bright clothing, which, I hope, means I am on trend this winter with my own pink trousers and orange jacket (to be revealed in a future post, I expect). Just a shame I’m not quite up to those double back-flips and vertical faces…

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5/11/12: A cheap hot wine recipe

Vin chaud. Gluhwein. Vin brule. Hot wine. It’s the time of year when I think about making some, and look forward to ordering the first of the season – preferably in a cosy ski hut while it’s blizzarding outside.

At the Nederhut in Obergurgl, where I’ll be holidaying next month, it’s thick, dark, aromatic and very sticky if spilt. It comes in an earthenware mug that takes some knocking over, even with scores of merry après-skiers stamping on the tables.

Elsewhere I’ve drunk it from polystyrene cups, hot-chocolate vessels and heat-proof glasses with an impractical metal handle that burns your fingers (I think this was in Italy, where style won over substance).

Only occasionally do I find one that’s too acidic, too sweet, too bitter or lukewarm.

My wine pan. Orange shows size

My wine pan. Orange shows size

In Anzere, Switzerland, where I’ve skied since I was little, the tourist office hands out free hot wine on Monday nights in the village square, following a descente aux flambeaux by the ski school.

It’s one of the best I have tasted anywhere – and it’s usually white, as this is what’s grown mostly in the district.

At Central Sports, in the same village, Rene Schick, the owner, can sometimes be found handing out a very similar-tasting hot white wine to customers.

As well as being lighter than hot red wine, white has the advantage of being less messy. Which is why, when I last had a winter party, I asked Rene for his recipe. This is it:

Cinnamon sticks, oranges and a few little bits of star anise

Cinnamon sticks, oranges and a few little bits of star anise

6 litres white wine
4 litres water
3 oranges, cut into chunks, peel left on
8 cinnamon sticks
8 star anise flowers
Half a kilo of honey and/or sugar
…and a good dash of dark rum, if you like

Heat the wine and water, then add the rest of the ingredients and continue to heat for a while, stirring now and then. I kept mine on the heat for about an hour, very hot but not boiling.

Wine-box wine is fine

Wine-box wine is fine

You don’t need to use fancy wine – something like Muscadet, Soave or ‘table wine’ is fine (or cheap Fendant, if you’re making it in Switzerland). I used wine-box stuff, which worked fine.

Other essentials are a large saucepan and a ladel. I ladel the wine into a jug to pass around.

Polystyrene cups are a bit nasty – once I’ve used up the proper mugs I have in the house I give people large, substantial plastic glasses – not the tiny, flippy ones – then I half-fill them, so people can hold them without burning their fingers.

I can’t remember how many people this recipe ‘feeds’, but you can add more of all the ingredients once it’s flowing. None except the oranges will go off it you don’t use them up. Just don’t forget to add the corresponding amount of water as you top it up…

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30/3/12 – Where to go for April snow?

Spring-like Ischgl slopes this time last year

Spring ski deals have been landing in my inbox thick and fast this week. Inghams has amazing April savings – Courchevel or St Christoph am Arlberg for £349, including flights and half-board – while Powder White has slashed hundreds of pounds off holidays in St Anton and Meribel and extended the season for several of its properties. I’m sure Crystal, Iglu Ski and other operators and agents have bargains as well.

Most cut-price offers are chalet-based – not my ideal set-up as I prefer b&b or self-catering to take advantage of “local life” – but when such great savings are on offer, no matter.

Do be aware, however, that even in a bumper snow year it’s still worth aiming high (a top of somewhere around 3,000m, I suggest) if you want quality conditions.

Afternoon ski-touring in the woods near Anzere

Even if – like in many places – you still have a metre of snow at village level, if it’s 20 degrees by day then that snow will be foot-deep slush by 2pm unless you’re properly high and – just as crucially – north-ish facing.

Last weekend in south-facing Anzere, which still has mountains of snow in the village (at 1,500m), by 1pm it was over, even on upper slopes (2,400m). I was happy to ski in the morning and go touring through the woods in the afternoon, or sit on the balcony or swim at the great new indoor-outdoor pool (more on this nice, affordable Swiss resort here).

The high slopes at Grimentz last weekend

By contrast an hour away in the Val d’Anniviers, the resorts of Zinal and Grimentz had wintry piste conditions from three of their top stations (each around 2,800-2,900m), and the week-old, tracked-out powder by the side wasn’t bad either. The crucial thing was that the worthwhile top slopes were north or north-east facing (the fourth top, which faces south at 2,800m, was heavy slush by lunchtime).

The other consideration is that places where you typically find lovely “firn” or “corn snow” off-piste at this time of year (caused by freeze-thaw) may not be as good as usual.

A wet-snow slide of the full snowpack that started on a slope of around 30 degrees and crept a surprisingly long way

In Anzere you can often ski almost every square inch of south-facing slope safely during freeze-thaw if you catch it at the right time of day.

However, the cracks in the snowpack that appeared in December – after 2m of snow fell on warm, bare ground – are still there. They haven’t responded well to blasting, but some readily slide off by themselves.

Sunny side up: lunch outdoors is a pleasure of a spring trip. Just don't necessarily expect to do much skiing afterwards

“Hors piste interdit”, read a sign at the top of Le Bate at Anzere, and patrollers were posted at strategic spots near the cracks, on the alert for one to turn into something like the lift-destroying, wet-snow slide of a few weeks ago near Valmorel in France (watch the footage here).

I may not ski this April, but if I was planning a trip for myself – an affordable week or long weekend with the hope of off-piste and enough late-season après-life – these are the places I’d consider:

The Guspis off-piste run at Andermatt in wintry conditions - but this is a good spring bet, too

Engelberg (Switzerland, nearest airport Zurich) – slopes to at least 3,000m, largely north-facing; open till 29 May; great guiding office (see my article about that here).

Monterosa (Italy, Milan or Turin) – Amazingly, until this resort closes on 15 April this Italian “three valleys” is offering a free lift pass to everyone who stays three or more nights (half-board) in Gressoney or Champoluc. The slopes go to about 3,200m and face in all directions, and there are legendary off-piste runs down wild valleys (with cheapish guiding) and superb, great-value food on and off the mountain.

Andermatt (Switzerland, Zurich) – Lower Naetschen will be closed, but the 3,000-ish-metre Gemsstock mountain has an amazing north-facing bowl and various back routes. Read more in my Telegraph report here.

Zermatt (Switzerland, Zurich or Geneva) – several high tops and possible guided descent of Schwarztor. Stay in the Walliserhof for a treat or the Alphubel for a bargain. My sister has found a super-cheap, central, family apartment but it’s such a steal that it has to remain top secret so she can always get in. Sorry!

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

Ischgl (Austria, Innsbruck or Zurich) – up to 2,800-ish, but the main thing is that it has a lot of upper slopes and they face in various directions. A year ago we had a lot of fun there with Jim Costelloe, a Ski Club of GB leader who found us fabulous snow despite very scant cover. A friend and I even did an easy self-guided tour up a side-valley – although this year it would probably be less safe.

Tignes (France, Geneva or Chambery I think) – When there was virtually no snow last November, we had great conditions on the glacier. Stay on the upper slopes throughout the area for quality snow and see here for more about its group off-piste days out. Go the first weekend of May to catch the Black Shoes Telemark Festival’s 20th anniversary. The other high French resorts (Deux Alpes, Alpe d’Huez, Val Thorens) should be fine, too.

Obergurgl and/or Soelden (Austria, Innsbruck, Zurich or Salzburg) – They didn’t benefit from the big weather fronts in December and January, which approached from the north and blanketed the Arlberg again and again before arriving in the Oetz valley as wind. But now, conditions look great. Take the bus to the Aquadome at Langenfeld if it’s boiling hot in the afternoon and don’t miss the Nederhut après-ski on Mon, Wed and Fri.

I’m a great fan of St Anton, where I have been late in the season several times (most lately to do the Weisse Rausch, a mad annual race), but I recommend it less as a late-season place than my two other Austrian tips, as the number of its slopes that are really up near its tops, as well as being north-ish facing, seems to be fewer for its size, and rather scattered about, compared with other options. But if you like a busy town with plenty of après-ski, this is still a good bet well into April.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Off-piste, Racing, Ski touring, Switzerland

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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Filed under Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Racing, Switzerland, Transport

29/2/12 – I hope Pippa Middleton’s ski poles are the right length

Camilla Janssen warms up for the Inferno 6km langlauf race - Pippa's race will be 15 times longer

Guess what? I have something in common with Pippa Middleton (who, funnily enough, has been mentioned briefly in this blog before – ‘Peeeepah’, the hot topic in the Bernese Oberland). She and I have been preparing for a very long cross-country race – separately, I must add.

Hers? The Vasaloppet in Sweden. Participants – 15,800; distance – 90km; date – Sunday, 4 March; first running – 1922. Recently she was photographed training in Gstaad.

Mine? The Engadine Marathon in Switzerland. Participants – about 12,000; distance – 42km; date – Sunday, 11 March; first running – 1969. There’s no photographic evidence, but I promise I did some training (well, an enjoyable hour, in half a foot of powder) during a recent trip to Aspen.

So the race Pippa is doing (along with her brother, James) is considerably longer, older and larger than mine. It’s also less well known – but not for much longer, and it makes me smile to hear how excited the organisers sound about their royally connected arrivals.

I advise Pippa and James against see-through outfits such as this one

“It is now confirmed. We have been contacted by a person close to them who has asked us if we could arrange this,” Per Strid, information manager for Vasaloppet, said. “It’s really fantastic that such well known people will take part; it shows that our arrangements attract not only the most renowned skiers in the world but some of the most famous personalities in the world as well!” [Their exclamation mark, not mine – full article here.]

To me, from the pictures in Blick, it looks as though Pippa is practising skating-style in Gstaad. But I don’t think she can be, because from the Vasaloppet website, it looks as though it’s compulsory to do the race classic-style.

I’m no expert (I do a meagre 6km cross-country race whenever I go to the Inferno and that’s about it – and I never get much faster), but I hope her poles are long enough – I was advised in Aspen that they’re meant to come up to somewhere between your chin and nose and I think hers (on the right of picture 4 in Blick) only reach her shoulder.

I’ll let you into a secret, though. I’ve had to bottle out. While exercising not-very-furiously 10 days ago, I tripped over a grassy tussock and crashed onto my shoulder. There’s no break, but just enough damage that I won’t be propelling myself across frozen lakes and wooded valleys after all. I’m still going along, mind you, to cheer on my energetic boyfriend and see what I’m missing.

Meanwhile I’ll be thinking of Pippa and James this Sunday – and hoping they are super-extra-mega-fit. Langlaufing feels great once you get into a rhythm, but 90km is a ludicrously long way and I’ll be seriously impressed if they cross the finish line.

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Filed under Racing, Switzerland