Skikjöring, a world exclusive
To this day, skikjöring remains a world exclusive at St. Moritz as Franco Moro, 7-time champion of the discipline, explains. Nowhere else in the world do skiers race “pulled by a horse with no rider at up to 50 km/h across a creaky snow and ice-track 2,700 m in length.” Silvio Staub, who has been at the head of the White Turf since 2010, knows the adrenalin rush. He represents the third generation of snow racing competitors at St. Moritz. His father was the first to win the challenge of “King of Engadine” when first introduced in 1990. The trophy crowns the skikjörer who collects the most points over three races held on each Sunday of the White Turf. Silvio himself became the youngest ever to claim the “King of Engadine” trophy at just 22 years old. For the first time ever in 2017, the “King of Engadine” was a Queen! St. Moritz native Valeria Holinger realised the dream of a lifetime. “I have been dreaming about it since I was a little girl,” said a beaming Valeria, upon receiving the trophy. Valeria, whose father Nicolò is the Skikjöring manager for the White Turf, insisted on the key role played by her equine partner, Usbekia. We usually say: “It’s 60 per cent horse, 40 per cent driver, but my mare does much more than that.” Valeria also wanted to thank Gisela and Peter Schiergen. Peter, a retired champion jockey, now 5-time champion German trainer, found and prepped the perfect accomplice in Usbekia. His son, Dennis, himself an accomplished rider, met Valeria while competing on the White Turf two years ago. The rest is history.
History was also made in 2015 when Longines and the Racing Association of St. Moritz partnered for an innovate new concept: the Night Turf. An estimated crowd of 5,000 attended the first running of the event, a night Silvio Staub, CEO for the board of the Racing Association St. Moritz, will never forget. “The response of the enthusiastic spectators was more than just positive; it gave the sensation of having created something unique in the world.” If building a pop-up racecourse at an altitude of 1,800 m, on a lake 44-meter deep was not enough; racing under the moon and the floodlights added spice to the challenge. The Night Turf has now evolved, offering racing in daylight with hospitality and entertainment continuing late into the night, combining all the attractive elements of the alpine resort. Winter scenery, sports and entertainment have been the key combination that placed St. Moritz and its races high on the social event calendar, summarizes Luigi Sala, Tote Board manager for the Racing Association St. Moritz. “The higher Engadin valley has about 20,000 inhabitants and you can step up to 120,000 inhabitants at the height of the winter season. So we are the 6th largest city in Switzerland for just a couple of weeks a year.”
Snow, ski and speeding horses
Snow, ski and speeding horses have made of St. Moritz the premiere winter destination. Once again, this year, the values of tradition and performance flew high in the Engadine valley. The site, which already held two winter Olympic Games, welcomed its 5th FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and in the same fortnight, horsemen and women raced in two Longines Grand Prix. And when the skiers wrapped up on February 19th, the racecourse on the lake celebrated the amateurs of the Longines World FEGENTRI Championship of Gentlemen Riders. This was the first stop of the season for the amateurs who convened at the very venue where the FEGENTRI association was created in 1955. This year, the gentlemen riders tested their stamina as well as their horses’ endurance over 2,500 m on the snow. Longer distance races are one of the new features introduced in 2017. The biggest challenge for the White Turf team is to maintain their temporary racecourse in the best and safest conditions. “In recent years, the climate did not help our event in the sense of the low temperatures and massive snowfalls needed,” says Silvio Staub. “We have to take each year as it comes. Sometimes lots of manpower, great equipment and just the right touch with Mother Nature are needed. This is not a new phenomenon; our forefathers had to face the same issues more than hundred years ago. It is precisely this challenge of working in the most adverse conditions that welds the team together a little more year after year, and I am very proud of that. The lake usually starts freezing in mid-December. When the temperatures drop below minus 10 degrees, the layer of ice can grow up to 2 centimetres every night”, explains Luigi Sala. “We have about 60–65 centimetres of ice, so it is thick enough to carry all the infrastructure that is just built up in two weeks in January. It holds two and a half thousand tons of material and infrastructure on the ice.” Add to that the weight of 10,000 visitors, the average attendance for the three Sundays of the White Turf season on the lake, and you will understand the need for constant monitoring. The compacted snow on top makes the surface of the lake one of the flattest racecourse in the world, but underneath the lake is very much alive. The thick layers of ice can crack, allowing thin streams of water to reach the snow that then melts faster on some spots than others. On the third Sunday of the White Turf 2017, the team had to make the difficult call to cancel the rest of the programme. Further inspection and consultation with the jockeys, led to the inevitable conclusion that safety comes always first. Soon after, the dates for the 2018 White Turf were announced. “White Turf is so unique because it takes place in a high-alpine valley on a frozen lake,” reminds Silvio Staub. “If everything was measurable and there was a remedy in all circumstances, the White Turf event would not be as unique and it would be replicable elsewhere. Luckily, there will never be any alternative to replace the frozen lake.” [Fanny Hubart-Salmon]