Horse Racing on the Frozen Lake of St. Moritz
The visual of handsome dark horses, racing at impressive speeds on an all-white backdrop is simply stunning. More over, the white isn’t just the snow-covered Engadine mountains in the distance, yet the frozen lake of St. Moritz that they are racing on. White Turf, a unique and truly extraordinary sporting event in Switzerland, is a series of horse races on snow. Need I say more ?!
I’ll let the photos do (most of) the talking…
International jockeys and their thoroughbred horses have been competing for 105 years on the flattest and highest race course in Europe. There are “flat races” or galloping, where you have the more traditional jockey on horse. And there are “trotting” races, where Trabers are sitting in lightweight, two-wheeled horse-drawn sulkies…
The coolest of all, and unique to St. Moritz, are the “Skikjöring” races, where jockeys are literally on skis, being pulled behind the horses ! It’s truly unbelievable – until you see it. At speeds of 50km/h (30mph), how the horses don’t step on the jockeys’ skis (no white skis allowed !) nor do the reins get tangled, is beyond me. This is a dangerous race, that’s for sure. The highly-coveted Skikjöring trophy and the title of “King of the Engadine” that go to the skier with the most points at the end, is certainly well deserved.
You may be surprised at how deep (or rather, how shallow) the ice and packed snow are, as a minimum of only about 25cm (10″) is necessary for the races to take place. Horses are of course wearing special winter plates with iron on their hooves – and again, they are racing on snow, not directly on ice. Pretty cool to see human footprints, hoof marks and car tracks in the snow. Only, you can easily forget there is an actual lake beneath you. I remember slowly tip-toeing out on to the frozen empty lake of St. Moritz years ago, thinking that the locals on ice skates were crazy and that the horses and buggies were such risk takers (daredevil I am). If only I knew then what else that lake could hold !
The races have been taking place since 1907 in St. Moritz, where alpine tourism was actually born. And this being St. Moritz (glitz ! glamour !), you can expect a certain atmosphere at an exclusive event like this. Palm trees, tents and tables are set up on the snow, with no shortage of Champagne and caviar. Gerstensuppe (typical Engadine barley soup) and raclette are also on offer, for a more warming Swiss meal. Women and men are dressed in fur from head to toe, while designer labels and moon boots complete the fashion show. Dogs in their own haute couture are also lounging on the ice, while their owners exchange air kisses or pose for photos. It is a very high-end, classy event, where horse racing fans, bettors, socialites, jetsetters, people-watchers… and lovers of all things Switzerland from Zürich… come to take it all in.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
February 5, 12 & 19, 2012