Olympic years can be so centrally focused on the big event it can be easy to forget that there are so many other amazing ski racing experiences to be had. That is one of the main reasons I jumped at the opportunity to join Erika and Chelsea Holmes at this years 50th anniversary Engadin Ski Marathon.
The Engadin is one of the biggest skate marathons in the World and once you arrive in the Egadin Valley its easy to see why. Sitting at a moderately high altitude (just under 6,000 feet) the valley consist of a huge network of xc skiing trails winding through picturesque Swiss towns like St. Moritz and Pontresina with epic mountain views. We arrived just in time to go on an easy cruise in the sun on Friday and check out the first kilometers of the 42 K race, which starts on a pancake flat series of lakes.
This is also the time of year when it’s great to jump in any kind of racing opportunity you can so I was stoked to hear about the Engadin Night Sprints taking place in Mt. Moritz on Friday night. With a solid payout it attracts a number of World Cup skiers so it was a strong field and a typical fun city sprint course with tight turns, rollers, lots of contact, and even a jump. Something about racing at night on these scrappy courses really helps remind me of why sprint racing is so fun. I was just bumped out in the semis but despite missing out on a paycheck I was happy to mix it up and felt good during the night sprints.
Unfortunately on race day the perfect weather deteriorated and we woke up to a dusting of new wet snow, which quickly turned to rain halfway through the race. We had heard all kinds of stories from skiers who had raced the Engadin before and how crazy the start can be. Even up on the front line of the Elite wave I could feel the intensity of starting in a group of 500 plus skiers with several thousand more right on your heals. This year’s race saw a record number of entries somewhere above 16,000.
The start was frantic to say the least, with a huge pack of skiers swarming and drafting one another across the wide-open lakes. Everyone gets a little antsy at about 12K when the wide-open flat trail drastically narrows and begins to climb in the woods. This is where things got tough for me and I carelessly lost contact with the front group. Despite that the 5 or so K’s of climbing was really cool with winding trails that split randomly with trees in the middle. Not really knowing what was around each bend also added to the excitement of racing. (we obviously didn’t have time to ski the whole course haha)
Once out of the woods and the climbs the race drops down onto more pancake flat terrain and more or less a straight shot for 20K to the finish. I was so amazed at how quickly the K’s clicked by on the fast flat terrain and how different it was than most World Cup races. Just like bike racing these flat marathons are all about how fast your group is moving so it was frustrating to see the larger lead pack slowly pull away from my chase group as we raced toward the finishing town.
I wasn’t able to finish as high up as I would have liked but it was still totally worth it for the experience. The Engadin is also known as being a special race because the men and women all start and race together so Erika and Chelsea were also battling with the dudes all the way to the finish. They both skied really well even with Erika’s broken pole and Chelsea sprinted her way to a lunge for the podium finishing 3rd.
The Engadin experience was everything we could have hoped for highlighted by the Engadin specialist Tony Wiederkehr and his family who graciously hosted us and showed us the ropes. It was awesome to connect with Tony again and see his passion for this race and they made us feel like we were part of the family. Can’t thank Tony enough for his hospitality, I know after learning a few things about this epic race I look forward to being back on the start line in the future.