This month’s assignment for CNN Winning Post took me to White Turf at the exclusive alpine resort of St Moritz in Switzerland. It was my second trip to the event, which is held over three Sundays in February on the town’s frozen lake. This visit was just as good as the first and reiterated to me why the event should be on all sports-fans’ bucket lists.
So here are my top four reasons as to why you should hit St Moritz for a weekend in Feb!
1 - The Glacier Express
The magic starts before you even get to St Moritz with the train ride up the mountains. It is one of a very few railway lines that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s easy to see why. After landing at Zurich I caught the train to Chur. It’s there that you board the Glacier Express for the two-hour, slow, winding ride up the mountains to St Moritz. I recommend timing it for lunchtime and making the most of the beautiful dining car. You'll feel part of a James Bond movie with white table clothes, fine wines and the most stunning scenery. You just have to find your own, real-life Daniel Craig to share the journey with!
2 - The Event
It’s a pretty nuts concept! Thoroughbreds are bred for their speed and stamina and not for their hardiness. Mountain life is alien to them and very few will have seen snow before getting to St Moritz. But it works. The horses all wear specially-adapted shoes which give them grip on the snow. There are rarely any accidents and it makes for some competitive and truly-run races. To see it close up is very different to the pictures and videos. From the horses' and jockeys' hot breath in the cold air to the crater-size divots the galloping horses leave. The kick-back is also insane – we’re not talking soft snow-balls like the ones thrown in rom-com films. Instead, think of an angered older brother constructing a snow-ball packed with frozen ice – that’s the type that pelts the jockeys and horses behind!
3 – Skijoring
Many people are there to see the perilous art of Skijoring. Exclusive to White Turf, skiers are pulled at high speed around the track by unsaddled thoroughbreds. It looks crazy with the tips of their skis just a few feet behind the galloping backside of a horse! Many of the horses have never raced with skiers in tow so it can be interesting when the stalls open and they just hear this shouting behind and their reins being flapped at them. It goes to show how innate racing is given they all jump out of the gates and race as though they had a jockey on top. Skijoring really gets the locals going. Points are accumulated over the three weekends with the winning skier or driver crowned “King of the Engadine”. It’s a prestigious title and means you’re pretty much welcome anywhere in St Moritz.
4 – The Playground
St Moritz claims to have invented winter tourism 150 years ago, when British aristocrats began visiting and it has since become renowned as one of the most exclusive (and definitely one of the most expensive) resorts in the world. Us Brits do love a good game and St Moritz provides something for everyone. The skiing is fab (so good they have the World Championships out there at the moment). The valley is said to be the birthplace of the bobsleigh and you can have a go at that down the Olympic run. It is of course home to the Cresta Run which is restricted to men only (Grrr!), apart from one day a year. Members of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club hurl themselves down the hillside, head first, on glorified tea-trays at up to 82mph all whilst wearing plus fours and cricket jerseys. If you do like a Cricket jersey then the sport is played on the ice during White Turf and there’s also other summer sports such as polo and golf which take place on the snow. So there is a whole lot more to St Moritz beyond skiing and there is a whole feast of activities to get involved in beyond the racing.
CNN's Winning Post details: