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14,200 cross-country skiers from 67 countries and 42 kilometres.

Cross-country skiing
Behind the scenes at the Engadin Skimarathon

Of trucks and trackers - Behind the scenes at the Engadin Skimarathon

14,200, 1969, 67, 42 – these are numbers that invariably feature in any report on the Engadin Skimarathon. 14,200 cross-country skiers from 67 countries tackled the 42 kilometres of the last edition of the world’s second-largest cross-country ski race, first held as far back as 1969. The winners bask in the spotlight, competitors and spectators alike celebrate new course records, and full rankings are published. But what happens apart from these publicly known facts? Who orchestrates “Operation Engadiner”, why does it need a dairy vat, and what has a women’s gymnastics club to do with 8 March? Menduri Kasper, director of the Engadin Skimarathon, reveals all.

We meet...

Menduri Kasper in the bright and sunny offices of the Engadin Skimarathon (ESM). While summer is in full swing outside, our conversation indoors revolves around winter sports.

As soon as one Engadin Skimarathon is over, you are undoubtedly already planning the following year’s. How long do you and your team spend preparing for the next ESM?
Basically we start preparing for the following year’s event even before the current one has taken place, as we have various registration deadlines hanging over us – for example, for the Civil Protection Organisation (CPO). We also need to negotiate new sponsor contracts, for example, in good time. But above all we have to guarantee that on the day of the race, the website page for registering for the following year is already up and running.
What happens if I don’t get a place, even with a one-year registration period?
Don’t give up hope: have a look at our exchange on our Facebook page. People can resell their bib number there if they are unable to take part. If you come to an agreement, the seller notifies us in the marathon office of the exchange, and you pay a nominal transfer fee.

The event in pictures

Engadin Skimarathon
Engadin Skimarathon
Engadin Skimarathon
You mentioned at the beginning the Civil Protection Organisation as part of your “volunteer army”. Who else is involved?
The CPO supports us with 250 person-days, helping especially with all the setting up. Then on the day itself, they take care of organising the parking, for example. In addition, we have the help of more than 1,000 volunteers, who you come across at the refreshment points, for example, at distribution of the bibs and at the finish area. And of course our Engadin Skimarathon office is hard at work with seven permanent employees in winter and four staff in summer, who deal with all the administrative challenges.
Do the volunteers also help competitors with a waxing service, for example, or if a ski pole breaks in two?
The experts at the “Last Minute Wax Service” at the start take care of that (although it’s reserved for emergencies), and at the service points along the way, so no one has to suffer from sluggish skis. Repair stations are set up at the start and also along the trail. Especially in the first 3 or 4 kilometres things can happen, as at the mass start it usually all gets rather... overenthusiastic, let’s say. That already leads to the odd broken pole. We have about 1,200 replacement poles that we are happy to lend out.

Engadin Skimarathon 2020

A ski pole from the Engadin Skimarathon? A nice souvenir…
It certainly would be – but no way. Because of their special colour, they are very noticeable, which is deliberate, and have to be returned at the finish line. A better souvenir would be the personal video or “photo album” that each competitor can purchase of their own run, for example.
Do you also replace skis in an emergency?
Yes. Especially at the descent in the Staz forest, it goes downhill rather dramatically for a lot of skiers. If a binding breaks, we can provide a spare pair of skis.
As a spectator, how can I follow my friends’ progress? Do you have an app that shows me their position?
Yes and no. Our competitors don’t carry a GPS transponder that would show their progress as a flashing point on a screen. Instead they receive a tracker – a race chip – that sends their times at the start, finish and at four intermediate checkpoints to the Datasport timing service. The clever algorithms calculate with remarkable accuracy where your friends will be when. For example, when they are likely to tumble down the notorious descent in the Staz forest, so you can shoot a nice souvenir photo of them.
Do you swap tips with organisers of other cross-country ski races? Like “this works really well with us!” or “Best not like that...”
Yes, sure. The ESM belongs to the Worldloppet federation, which groups the world’s 20 biggest cross-country ski races. At our annual meetings, we share our experiences of dos and don’ts. As the world’s second-biggest race, we certainly take inspiration from ideas from even the smallest races.
For example?
At the Merino Muster race in New Zealand, for example, they use rather cool reusable bags for competitors’ possessions – a kind of dry bag – while we still use disposable plastic bags. Let alone the environmental aspect, this is enormously time-consuming for us: more than 14,000 bags have to be labelled with the owner’s bib number as well as the number of the truck that will transport it from the starting area to the finish. Participants receive their bib and bag in an addressed envelope. The good fairies who take care of all this are about 30 women from the local women’s gymnastics club, who need nearly 8 hours to get it done. Reusable gear bags would be an improvement in various ways.
Let’s talk about catering – what do you have in store for competitors at the seven refreshment points?
At the last race, our volunteers distributed about 80,000 servings of drinking water, 70,000 Isostars, 30,000 teas, 15,000 Ovaltines, 28,000 energy bars and 8,000 bananas. At the last two points there’s also soup.
Refreshment points
Let’s stay with impressive numbers. Do you have more?
Of course! On the day of the marathon, we need 20,000 litres of hot water for the more than 14,000 competitors. The only establishment that can supply this for us is our local dairy, with its giant vat. We also offer inexpensive accommodation at group facilities, for example with up to 400 beds at an army camp. And on the big day, the Rhaetian Railway lays on more than 150 extra trains for competitors as well as spectators. Our finish line even gets its own station: the “S-chanf Marathon” stop!

About Menduri Kasper:

Menduri Kasper grew up in Champfèr in the Engadin, in a family of cross-country skiers. “But as CEO, it is other skills that count,” he says with a smile – although sound knowledge of the scene is certainly an advantage. His team has been responsible for organising the Engadin Skimarathon since May 2016.

Menduri Kasper

Engadin Skimarathon