Bernina Ultraks Adds Ice to the Menu

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Sam Hill is a Run the Alps guide and manager of the Run the Alps Race Finder.

Last week I travelled to the Swiss mountain town of Pontresina, nestled in the heart of the Engadin region in eastern Switzerland. With the glaciers of the Bernina mountain range above and the teal blue lakes of St Moritz below, there can’t be many more picturesque places to hold a trail race!

Running on glaciers is becoming increasingly popular and with the right guidance and equipment it can be surprisingly easy.

The Bernina Ultraks, formly the Engadin St Moritz Ultraks, was due to take place back at the start of July. But, like many other races, the spread of the Covid-19 virus forced a cancellation. In lieu of the race, the Bernina team invited Run the Alps and other Alps trail running organizations to Pontresina, to share highlights of their new races and, in particular, the impressive new marathon course.

Here’s the scoop. 

Come 2021, there will be 4 races starting from Pontresina over the first weekend of July. Friday evening, July 2nd, will see the introduction of the GoVertical race, a 1400m vertical course over 6.5km leading trail runners to the summit of 3,200 meter high Piz Languard. The opening vertical run will be a great prologue to the marquee races on Saturday.  

Saturday will feature three races, each catering for different abilities and appetites. If you are new to trail running, the Steinbock course is a great option, checking in at 16.3km with 870m of climbing. As the name suggests, you are almost guaranteed to see one of the 1,800 local Ibex (mountain goats) that graze amid the slopes through which you will be running. 

The next step up is the Corvatsch course, at 30.1km with 1700m of elevation gain, taking you to a high point of 2755m. This course gives you runnable trails with fantastic views of Piz Bernina and Piz Roseg. (In case you’re scratching your head, Piz means Peak in Switzerland’s fourth spoken language commonly heard in the Engadin, Romansch.) Finally, you’ll get to enjoy a beautiful downhill trail into  St. Moritz, the world-renowned ski resort town.

Now for the big – and somewhat icy – news!

Piz Bernina and Piz Palü above

The new race announced this year is the Bernina Glacier Marathon, 42.2km with 2600m of elevation gain, over what I thought was an amazing course. A combination of exquisite, runnable single track, technical rocky terrain, steep gruelling climbs and the crossing of two major glaciers is a recipe for an unforgettable day out in the mountains. 

As part of the gathering, the Ultraks team invited me to join them out on the trails to see the course. We were joined by Bernina race ambassador and Salomon-sponsored trail runner Micha Steiner, as well as local running guide and coach Roberto Rivola, who was proud of the course he and the team have conceived. 

Here’s a peek:

If you like the look of that and you and want to see it for yourself, plan a weekend in Pontresina. Ultraks, together with the local tourism board, are offering what they call an “all-season challenge.”  Visit their website and registerand you can download the GPX files for all the races, except the glacier marathon. You’ll receive an official ranking once you upload your GPS data, and the Ultraks team can see how you compare to other runners that have taken part in the challenge. The Ultraks team want to continue this challenge next season and offer prizes for the top runners, too. If you want the unique experience of running over a glacier on the new Bernina Glacier Marathon route, they are also offering running camps where you will be joined by a local mountain guide and trail running coaches. 

Registrations for the 2021 race open on October 1st, and judging by the interest that they had before cancelling for 2020, it will sell out – so get your entry in early! 

For More Information: 

The Ultraks Bernina races

Bernina running camps

Alpsinsight: Piz Lunghin Trail Run 

Alpsinsight: Rosegtal Trail Run 

Trail running in the Engadine 

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