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The Chamois Trophy: Wengen’s DIY Trail Race up the Männlichen

The Chamois Trophy: Wengen’s DIY Trail Race up the Männlichen

Jul 26, 2016
Chamois, ever inquisitive. (Photo courtesy of Jacques Chibret/Flickr.)
Chamois, ever inquisitive. (Photo courtesy of Jacques Chibret/Flickr.)

cham·ois ǀ noun ǀ \ sham-ˈwä \ : a small animal that looks like a goat and that lives on mountains in Europe

Finding yourself in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, with a few hours to spare? The car-free mountain village of Wengen has a suggestion for you—one that’s 6.0 kilometers long, with 1,068 meters of climbing. Run from the village to the top of the Männlichen tram in 75 minutes or less, and the Männlichen ski area will proclaim you a chamois—well, minus the fur, the hooves, and the cute looks that charms kids the world over.

On a day off during a recent Run the Alps tour, I lured guide Zach Dahlmer, from our partners at Alpinehikers, into signing up for what is sometimes awkwardly translated as a “test.”

The good news? We passed with flying colors.

Conditions weren’t ideal (okay, they were pretty lousy), so I know I can improve my grade—which in this case means lowering my finish time, while simultaneously amping up my heart rate and blood pressure.

The examiners, it turns out, are tough graders. The 75-minute passing mark set by the creators of the Chamois Trophy is attainable by most trail runners, but you will definitely need to put in your best effort!

Want to know how it works? Ready, Set, Go!

14 Steps to Becoming a Certified Männlichen Chamois

1. See Fabienne at the tram ticket office in Wengen. She’ll give you your test papers.

"I'll give you 20:1 odds that I can get to the top in under 35 minutes."
“I’ll give you 20:1 odds that I can get to the top in under 35 minutes.”

2. Ready to run. Really ready? Okay, stamp your card, run out the door, and turn right.

3. After regretting not warming up, start running through town, following the brown “Gemsenweg” signs.

4. The trail soon leaves the village, climbing through forests, past chalets, and into mountain pastures.

5. Keep your eyes peeled for the mid-point verification station. Here it is:

Don't forget to punch-in at the mid-station!
Zach demonstrates the proper paper-punching technique.

6. Now, use the punch tool to mark your card. (Wengen, it seems, operates on a trust-but-verify policy. Fair enough.)

7. It’s getting steeper, isn’t it? Keep running!

Zach heads into the snow zone, as the trail skirts avalanche anchors and barriers.
Zach heads into the snow zone, as the trail winds between avalanche anchors and barriers.

8. If you have the unfortunate luck to be out on the course and find icy or snowy conditions, turn around. It’s steep. To quote Alp explorer Edward Whymper, “A momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

9. Off the slope? Great! Now head to the tram building on your left, run inside, and go straight to the ticket office to find Chris. Politely dodge to the front of the line. Every second counts!

Flashlight or reusable bag? I want each. I'll be back, Chris.
Flashlight or reusable bag? I want each. I’ll be back, Chris.

10. Stamp your card. Good news: now you can relax.

11. Wipe the sweat out of your eyes and look at your time. If it’s under 75 minutes, you’ve won a new BMW. (Actually, we got the only BMW. You get your choice of a portable flashlight or a reusable shopping bag. I took the shopping bag and later regretted it. Who doesn’t have more than enough of those? I’ll be back soon for my flashlight, Chris.)

12. You’ve also earned a free tram ride down to Wengen. Enjoy it.

13. Back at the tram station, be sure to tell Fabienne that your time was 37 minutes. (The current record is 38:00.) She’s got a good sense of humor, though, so you won’t lose your prize.

14. We recommend closing out the Chamois Trophy run with something not on the official agenda—a stop at Confiserie Bäckerei Vincenz across the street, for a café au lait and the pastry of your choice. (Warning: If you’re like us, it might take you more than 75 minutes to decide among the pastries on display.)

Heart rates were probably lower for those sneaking across Checkpoint Charlie, than at this checkpoint.

For me, trail running the Männlichen was a poignant experience. Twenty years ago, our family was fortunate enough to hold a large family reunion in Wengen. One day, my brother Don and I stuffed a few francs in our socks, and headed off for a long trail run, no particular destination in mind. As we pushed hard up the steep Männlichen slopes, the tram passed overhead. A rider, shocked at the sight of two guys running up the mountain, blurted out, “Look! They’re running up!” My mom glanced down and proudly proclaimed, “Those are my boys!”

Well mom, I’m pleased to report that my hair may be gray, my body a fair bit more banged up from 20 years of playing hard outdoors, but I still got the goods. (As does my brother, by the way.)

Run the Alps does not recommend trying the Chamois Trophy run during poor weather conditions, if you have vertigo, or are otherwise not game for steep mountain slopes.

The Chamois Trophy run is managed by the Männlichen ski area. Thanks, folks—great idea!

For more information:

Männlichen Chamois Trophy
Village of Wengen

Want another? Check out the Leukerbad Challenge.

Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.