Trail Races in the Swiss Alps
A quick reference guide to some highlight trail races in Switzerland’s high country
Cairns and painted rocks mark the Sierre-Zinal course. Photo by Olivier Tytgat, courtesy of Jean-Claude Pont.
Trail Verbier-St. Bernard
- New on the scene, Verbier-St. Bernard started in 2008, and has proven itself to be a popular addition to the Swiss trail running circuit. The race now consists of three different events: 111 km, 61km and 29 km. The 111 km boucle, or loop, may also be done as a two-person relay. The longer two courses incorporate historic St. Bernard Pass, on the Italian border.
- One of the most famous trail races in the world—and for good reason, for the course includes some of the best scenery to be found anywhere, passing through alp villages, mountain pastures, and with striking views much of the way. Called the “Race of the Five, 4,000 meter peaks,” runners can catch sight of five of the most famous peaks of the alps, including the Matterhorn. 31 km long with 2200 meters of climbing, the finish features a diving descent to Zinal, on the mountainous border with Italy.
Grimpette De Bedjuis
- One of the shorter trail races in the Valais, at only 6.3 km, the course still manages to fit in nearly a kilometer of vertical. From the finish, racers walk back down the course to Isérables, in time for a one-kilometer loop for the next generation. (Twice around, for those over age 7!) Then, it’s on to a long lunch at the village soccer field, finishing with a tram ride down to the Rhône valley village of Riddes.
Trail Dents du Midi
- Not far from the French border, the Dents du Midi range tower over the beautiful village of Champéry. This is very much an alpine race, with remote sections on the far side of the range. The 56 km course incorporates 3700 meters of climbing, and passes by several mountain huts, climbs over two high cols, and runs through the picturesque hamlet of Mex. This year’s event will be incorporated into an entire week of trail running events, featuring family runs, a vertical kilometer course, and a number of guest elite athletes from around the world.
- A local favorite, Fully-Sorniot will celebrate its 40th year in 2014. Just under 8km, the course climbs 1600 meters out of the valley, to stunning views, and a finish a hut, La Cabane de Sorniot, run by the local ski club. Save some energy for the walk down to the village—there’s no tram or chairlift, here. Along with the complimentary glass of wine, you’ll also get a finisher’s shirt and a basket of local pears and apples.
Vertical KM of Fully
- Vertical kilometer trail races have been growing in popularity, and the course at Fully is no exception. Last year’s race filled up in eight hours. Straight up a retired funicular track, the course is home to the world’s fastest vertical KM times for both men and women—30:46 and 36:48, respectively. The Vertical KM of Fully is known for its friendly atmosphere and roaring crowds.
- None of these events work with your schedule? Give Leukerbad’s DIY run a try. Show up at the town’s Sportarena, punch in at the time clock, head out the door and run through the campground towards to foreboding cliff. See the tram disappearing into the clouds? That’s your destination. Follow the Gemmi Run signs, and remember to use the hand punch mid-way along the course, so you can’t be accused of hopping a tram ride. At the top, find the receptionist at the Berghotel Wildstrubel as quickly as you can. Seventy minutes or less, and you win a free ride down, plus a day pass to the thermal park in town. Be sure to have lunch at the summit hotel. It’s well worth it.
- Check out April 2014 issue of DIRT (on newsstands now) for a full-length feature story on Switzerland's trail-racing circuit.
- For a calendar of Swiss trail races, see www.runthealps.com/races.
Doug Mayer lives in the mountain town of Randolph, New Hampshire. He is a producer for the NPR show Car Talk and partner in the company Run the Alps.