It was only a matter of time before I ran out of excuses not to ride the Cresta Run, coming from a family where non-riders are few and far between. For those not au fait with this eccentric winter sport the Cresta is an ice run ¾ mile long, that winds from St Moritz down a steep gully through 10 testing corners, to the village of Celerina. The Cresta Run is different to other ice track sports such as Skeleton in a number of ways: 1. It is a private members club, so an amateur sport. 2. You have to steer. 3. (if you don’t do number 2. properly) You can come flying out of the run. 4. Women are only allowed to ride one day of the year!
So you can only imagine my enthusiasm when I turned up at the Run at first light to get kitted-up for what only seemed like my date with death. You could smell the fear and state of panic in the changing room with boyfriends, brothers, fathers, fiancés all fitting their tranced female folk with 1930s leather knee and elbow pads, gladiatorial-looking hand protectors, helmets and “rakes” (football boots with metal spikes on the toes- essential for attempting to break).
Our introduction to the sport started with the eponymous ‘death talk’, a briefing whereby the Secretary of the club talked us through the dangers of what we were about to embark on- beautifully demonstrated by a patchwork of x-rays from accidents past, neatly making up a full (but clearly not functioning) skeleton. Brutal. It didn’t take much to work out that there is nearly not a bone in the body that hasn’t been broken on the Cresta. *Now would be the time to chicken out before it’s too late*
After this ominous introduction we were in desperate need of some motivation to carry our wobbling legs down the steps to our pep talks. A quick glance at the ‘quote of the day’ on the time board gave us the encouragement we needed, it read: “Well behaved women seldom make history”.
Our pep talk with our ‘Guru’- Cresta talk for tobogganing tutor- was to be taken seriously, this would be the only chance to practice before hurtling ourselves down at speeds of about 50mph. This whistle-stop tour of Cresta basics could be summed up as the following: “Feet up until the bridge. Put feet down at the bridge. Elbows in. At the big left-hand corner dig feet in and lean left with all your might. If you haven’t fallen out, enjoy the rest of the ride!”. What could possibly go wrong!? This big left-hand corner, or vertical ice wall, is the famous ‘Shuttlecock’, a horseshoe-shaped corner which is designed to be a safety valve for those out of control. Its victims are catapulted out into a bed of straw and snow, and are subject to chortles of laughter from those on the viewing terrace. What have we let ourselves in for?
At 8.30am sharp the race began. With 60 riders on the course, there was about half an hour to spare- I headed to the sunny terrace to watch friends compete. Rather than soothe my nerves safe in the thought that “if they can do it, so can I”, it made matters worse as I watched rider after rider flying out into the straw and the three bells toll. The only antidote for my flustered state was a traditional ‘Bull Shot’. It seemed a noble drink before being plunged into the icy abyss.
9.06. My name appears on the board. This is the signal to make sure your prehistoric kit is properly fitted, your toboggan is lined up and you have brushed up on your “French”. Step by step I edge closer to the icy gutter. Then, terrifyingly, my name echoes down the valley over the tannoy “Charlotte Cherry to the box”. After a few last minute tips from my ‘Guru’, the start bell sounds. Silence. There is no going back now.
As I hurtle downhill and the metal of my toboggan rattles and hisses, I lose all sense of the real world. The only rational thought in my head is to get down unharmed. White walls fly past me as I attempt to steer left and right- smashing into hard compact ice, recalling every swear word as I went. Gathering speed, I saw Shuttlecock lurking around the next bend. I winced and tensed every muscle. Within milliseconds I shot up the steep bank, and recklessly rode the rim of the notorious corner with one leg in the straw. A defiant tug to the left brought me back into the course-it was a narrow escape. I seemed to exit Shuttlecock before I even realised I had arrived. It was time to slide my body to the front of the toboggan and get my head down to the ice for the final burst of speed before the finish line.
At Finish, shellshocked and breathless, I am greeted by a single white rose and glass of champagne- I have made it to the Pearly Gates. With a respectable time of 66.06 seconds, I was full of elation. By the time I caught my breath, every ounce of terror was forgotten. It was time to celebrate! And boy did we. CC
© pebble&co 2017