The notorious Horse-Shoe Corner and the legendary Shuttlecock have sent countless shivers down spines over the years: a stiff upper lip is the best antidote, along with a (British) sense of humour to deal with any spills. Speed, daring and adrenalin are the essence of the Olympic bobsleigh run and the Cresta Run from St. Moritz to Celerina, which have generated high spirits and heroic tales every winter for more than 130 years.
No, it isn’t normal: lying stomach-down on a metal tray with runners and throwing yourself head-first down a twisting channel of ice in pursuit of the adrenalin fix that accompanies speeds of up to 140 km/h. But normality and routine are rare to find in the Engadin winter, allowing a jolly flamboyance and British nonchalance to set the tone at the Cresta Run.
This cheerful attitude dates back to the early days of tourism, when the winter event calendar boasted few attractions. “Dance evening in the hotel”, “Horse-drawn sleigh ride in the morning” and “Five o’clock tea” were rather tame for the first English guests, who preferred to pass their time with all kinds of high jinks. They found it a capital idea, for example, to hurtle down the icy road from St. Moritz to Celerina on flat sledges. This idea soon became a popular sport, and in 1884 a group of British guests built the first separate ice track for racing. As speed was everything, this original version was already an open ice channel with curved walls of ice that allowed thrilling banked turns. Soon, the flat toboggans reached speeds that had the worthy local farming folk shaking their heads in disbelief. After all, the motor car had only just been invented, the aeroplane was still a fantasy and steam locomotives reached speeds on test runs of “only” 112 km/h.
When skeleton was presented as a new discipline for the first time at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz/Celerina, the international sporting community raised the Cresta Run to the status of Olympic competition venue. Five years later, after tremendous progress in terms of both technology and popularity, the annual general meeting of 1933 took a step backwards: the club announced all of a sudden that lying face-down on the toboggan was bad for women’s health, and declared the Cresta Run an exclusively male domain. This rule was overturned only in 2018; now women, too, can once again risk their necks rocketing down the run – a total distance of 1,212 m with ten corners, gradients of up to nearly 40% and speeds of up to 140 km/h, with their nose just a few centimetres above the surface of the ice!
The Cresta Run was a tremendous success, but soon after its early heyday, the inventive Brits brought another winter highlight to the sunny Engadin. Already back in 1888, the “St. Moritz Post Davos and Maloya News” reported on a US citizen called Stephen Whitney who had presented a bobsled in Davos: two toboggans connected by a rigid board and equipped with a steering mechanism. Soon enough, a similar vehicle appeared in St. Moritz: a multi-seater sledge with an iron garden rake for a brake.
As usual, the sports-loving British visitors took up this fun new activity seriously and in 1897 founded the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club. The sport boomed and the demanding run with the notorious Horse-Shoe Corner twice provided the venue for Winter Olympics races (in 1928 and 1948).
The course of the run remains virtually identical to this day: a total distance of 1,722 m down to Celerina, with a vertical drop of about 130 m. Visitors can join a fascinating guided walk of about 45 minutes from the finish area in Celerina to the start in St. Moritz – but why not find out for yourself what a centrifugal force of 4G feels like? On a guest ride in a 4-person racing bob, you can experience an adrenalin blast unlike any other, safely squeezed between the pilot and brakeman: a unique thrill with a long and glamorous history!
Our tip: history buffs should definitely explore the Bob Museum, open on Tuesdays 5–6 pm and on request. A visit is easily combined with the guided village tour through the historical heart of Celerina, which takes place earlier in the afternoon (meeting point at the tourist information office in the railway station at 3 pm).