Thrills on the legendary Cresta Run

In 1885 a group of fearless British holidaymakers in the Engadine longed for variety and action. As a result, these energetic Englishmen built a sled run from the natural ice in the grounds of the Kulm Hotel, stretching from St. Moritz to Celerina, and called it the Cresta Run. But what makes this skeleton-toboggan sport so special? “The club with its strict rules, with its special atmosphere, spirit and camaraderie is at the heart of the Cresta Run”, says former track-record holder James Sunley. Riding from the age of 16, he held the track record of 50.09 seconds between 1999 and 2015. For 125 years now, members of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club have been racing down the ice run headfirst at a break-neck speed of 140 km/h.

The famous Shuttlecock

track records are achieved. This is where the race is decided”, says Sunley. This passage puts the rider in the right (exhilarated) mood to thunder down the last three curves. “You need timing and balance, and you have to feel the ice on your body. This way you know how much pressure it takes and which is the ideal racing line.” If you don’t find the ideal line or don’t have the sled under your control, the shuttlecock serves as a safety valve. Riders who land fast with a dive roll off the ice run into the safety zone, which is padded with straw bales. This precaution ensures that the driver is protected against crashing in the lower part of the track where sleds move at speeds of up to 140 km/h. Here, the Cresta sport differs significantly from the bob-run skeleton. On conventional bobsleds, the riders cannot go over the edge of the bend. However, the willingness to take risks is rewarded on the Cresta Run. Anyone who tests their “flight skills” on the legendary Shuttlecock bend will be admitted to the official Shuttlecock Club and may officially wear the red tie from that moment on.

A perfect run

“You have to hit the Shuttlecock curve perfectly, otherwise you do not have enough speed in the lower section”, says former track-record holder Sunley. A good start is essential for a perfect race. “Mistakes at low speeds have a much more significant effect on the result than in the subsequent high-speed passages. At the beginning I push myself off hard with the shoes, run as fast as I can and swing myself onto the sled." After that, the focus is on getting through the first three passages as smoothly as possible, especially at the exit of the third bend, which opens into a long straight section. You manoeuvre with hands and feet as well as forward and backward movements of the body. This is another difference from the skeleton bobsled, where riders remain in the same position for the entire run. “If I did this at the Cresta Run, I would fly off the track!”

The daring pilots

“As a Cresta Run pilot, you have to be competitive, a little adventurous, patient, and focused. Riding Cresta is a mix of the right attitude, multiple skills, and balance”, Sunley explains. The daring Brit does not own a lucky charm, but he always wears a black racing suit and yellow helmet for the run. How does it feel to look down on the rock-hard ice run at the start? “It’s never the same. But there’s always some nerviness involved.” After all, this sport is hardly hazard-free. Following a race, the pilots meet in the Sunny Bar at the Kulm Hotel. This historic bar with its special atmosphere is a place where the Cresta pilots clearly feel at home. Here, “good performances are celebrated and new members welcomed”, says Sunley. The great award presentations on the terrace are said to be legendary.