Horse Racing on the Frozen Lake of St. Moritz

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

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…

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

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…

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

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.

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

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 !

White Turf, St. Mortiz, SwitzerlandWhite Turf, St. Mortiz, SwitzerlandWhite Turf, St. Mortiz, SwitzerlandWhite Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

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.

White Turf, St. Mortiz, SwitzerlandWhite Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

White Turf
St. Moritz, Switzerland
February 5, 12 & 19, 2012
www.whiteturf.ch/

White Turf, St. Mortiz, Switzerland

15 Responses to “Horse Racing on the Frozen Lake of St. Moritz”

  1. Rosa says:

    A great event! The weather was stunning and the lanscapes are just magnificent.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Kelleyn says:

    Gorgeous! However, I don’t know if I would stand in the cold to watch.

  3. Kiki says:

    Kerrin; you really do it ALL, don’t you?! 🙂
    You’re the typical ‘visitor’ (even though you live in Zurich) because you ‘do’ all the ‘to do events’ in Switzie…. and then – like all good guides – tell us, the poor, the lazy, the unfortunate, the overworked and underappreciated others, about the miracles you have discovered! And you do it in such a stunningly beautiful fashion that I can smell the horses, feel the cold creeping up my legs, share the hot air coming from the nostrils of the beautiful beasts and I hold my large mug of Ovomaltine firmly in my cold, frozen hands and smile my big, big smile!!!
    Thank you for this brilliant report – your photos tell it all! We have – contrary to last year – not yet seen a single snow flake here in France, and I can’t say I miss the snow! It’s rather a bother when you only see cars with ‘summer tires’ …
    Have an inspired, happy and fulfilled New Year
    Much love, Kiki

  4. jkiel says:

    What fun! Great shots and writeup, and of course you can’t beat the landscape!
    I forget, have you seen the cow fights in the Valais?

  5. iain says:

    wow… that first photo… straight out of a magazine!

  6. Kerrin says:

    Rosa, merci ! We certainly did get lucky with the weather that day !

    Kelleyn, yeah, that was the only difficult thing – especially without a fur coat down to your toes. But hey, that’s what Gerstensuppe and hot chocolate are for ! =)

    Kiki, do it ALL ? I wish !! 😉 As you certainly know, I feel so lucky to live here in Switzerland, and there is just so much to see, so much to do… so much to taste ! I can only dream of doing it all… thank you so much for your wonderful comments, that always put a smile on my face !!

    jkiel, thanks ! Nope, never seen the cow fights in the Valais. Should I put that on the list too ? 😉

    iain, bah dis-donc, merci ! Coming from *you*, that is quite the compliment.

  7. Eileen says:

    Incredible!!! What fantastic pictures and commentary. You can be my guide for everything-from chocolate to horses. Xoxo

  8. valentina says:

    Kerrin, how extraodinary! I had never heard of it. Absolutely loved reading about this amazing event. YOu are just amazing. In the know!!

  9. Picapau says:

    This looks really like a magic event, black horses racing on the white ice … wow! And your pictures are amazing, you can feel the speed of the horses with the contrast, white snow and dark green of the pines. Simply beautiful! Thanks for sharing Kerrin. You’re so lucky to live such experiences … And can’t believe water is only 25cm under the race track!

  10. Kerrin says:

    Eileen, thank you ! 🙂

    valentina, muito obrigada !! It truly is an extraordinary event, hope you can be there for it one day…

    Picapau, thank you so much. My pleasure to share, and I could not agree more about how lucky I am. I also agree – crazy about how shallow that ice is, and even more so to think there’s actual WATER underneath those horses racing at full speed ! 😉

  11. Erika says:

    We got to see the White Turf races in 2009 with our three young children. It was one of the first trips we took during our year living in Zürich and it was beautiful and amazing. Definitely a treat to see and the kids were fascinated.

  12. mom says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful adventure. I do remember going to St. Moritz but it was during the summer and the lake was extraordinary at that time of the year too. Wow! The elegance of the horse flying around the track is just amazing. What an exciting event! The horses, the people and the backdrop of the mountains is most perfect!!!

  13. Emma says:

    I’ve never seek sulkies for snow before, that’s wild ! What a neat event, and such lovely photos that capture the spirit of it, too. I love the flying snow:)

    When I saw Skikjöring, I thought “dogs pulling horses? horses pulling dogs? dogs pulling horses pulling people?” since the only Skikjöring I’d heard of before was xx-skiiers hooked up to their dogs. Not even close;)

  14. Kerrin says:

    Erika, how fabulous that you got to see these races, and I can imagine children’s faces just lit up at the sight of the horses and all. Thanks for sharing !

    mom, you are very welcome ! 🙂 You would love this event, we’ll have to try to go back together one year for sure…

    Emma, thanks – and yes, totally wild ! Love that flying snow too.

  15. Graham Lunney says:

    Hi,

    I will be part of a group of 6 Australians travelling next year and will be in Zurich around 10 February. Can anyone help me with info on how to get to St Moritz and back in the one day for this great event (I believe there is a train). Also any tips for racing packages ( entry and dining). I have emailed the club on thier website three days ago but havent had a reply

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