Un Petit Village d’alpage, and the Future of Trail Running
As trail running grows–some would say explodes in popularity–all manner of new ventures are taking shape. The ultra-famous, ultra-hard 166 km UTMB just announced yet one more event to its series—the OCC, Orsières-Champex-Chamonix. Running camps and personal trainers are showing up on the scene. In the states and throughout Europe, trail races are filling up in hours, sometimes minutes. Those of us who have been trail running since the sport was considered a laughable oxymoron, are starting to wonder: what will the future look like for a once-quirky athletic sideshow?
One answer is provided by a new arrival on the scene—the Auberge Mont Blanc, in Trient, Switzerland. The 130-year-old hotel, located in the sleepy Alp village of Trient, was recently purchased by longtime Valais trail runner Chris Longbottom. The hotel sits literally steps from the route of the UTMB, indisputably the most famous ultramarathon in the world. Step outside the Auberge old wooden doors, and you’re in some of the finest trail running territory, anywhere. Tough Alp climbs. High pastures. The Trient glacier very nearly always in view. And hardly a soul in sight, at this time of year.
Chris’ plans include traditional mountain running camps, based at the Auberge. Right now, the building’s in transition, with renovations occurring as Trail Mont-Blanc backpackers steadily roll through. Can he pull it off? There’s no one better to try. Longbottom is a force of nature. He works around the clock, and during training season, the five-time UTMB racer routinely grabs his headlamp at 10 pm, and he and his dog Roy head for home… 35 km away in the valley town of Fully. The path home includes 250 meters of climbing to the nearby Col Forclaz—and a run through the Rhône city of Martigny. Visualize, for a moment, the 6-foot-4 Longbottom, canine sidekick in tow, running down Avenues de la Gare at 2 am, and you can imagine some of the double- and triple-takes he says he routinely receives.
If renovating an ancient Alp hotel sounds exhausting to you, consider this. Also on his “to do” list? Training for Italy’s Tor des Geants. It’s a full two years away for him—which is good, because many consider the 330-km course, complete with 24,000 meters of climbing, to be the hardest such race in the world. Here’s hoping both efforts come to fruition, and that Trient becomes an Alp home to mountain runners for years to come.