Where Is the Cresta Run?
The Cresta Run was built at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1884 for the sport of tobogganing—or sliding down snow-covered slopes and chutes on a sled with two runners. The sport dates from prehistoric times and was extremely popular in America and Europe from the late 1800s until the early 1930s, when wide spread enthusiasm for skiing caused its decline.
The sport reaches its most advanced form on the 1,320-yard long Cresta Run. Here the rider lies flat on the skeleton toboggan or “Cresta”—steel runners fastened to a light frame—and hurtles down the three-quarters of a mile of solid ice, full of steeply banked curves with expressive names such as “the horseshoe” and “the shuttlecock”.
The maximum speed is about 85 M.P.H. and it is a dangerous and difficult though exhilarating art to ride the magnificent Cresta Run. Annual Grand National championships have been contested on the Run since 1885. The sport, which is administered by the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club, was included twice in the winter Olympic Games, in 1928 and 1948, each time at St. Moritz.
The Cresta Run is a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track; the 1.2125 km (0.753 mi) run is one of the few in the world dedicated entirely to skeleton. It was built in 1884 near the hamlet of Cresta in the municipality of Celerina/Schlarigna by the Outdoor Amusement Committee of the Kulm Hotel and the people of St. Moritz.
The committee members were Major William Henry Bulpett (eventual founder of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club (SMTC)), George Robertson, Charles Digby Jones (Robertson and Digby Jones planned the proposed course), C. Metcalfe, and J. Biddulph. It has continued as a partnership to this day between the SMTC, founded in 1887, and the people of St. Moritz.
The sport of intramural sled racing originated in winter resort activities at the Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz during the early 1870s. SMTC members still congregate for lunch in the ‘Sunny Bar’ at the Kulm. In the early days of competitive sledding, the predominant style was luge-style racing, lying on one’s back, but the invention of the flexible runner sled (Flexible flyer) in 1887, known colloquially as ‘the America’, led to Mr. Cornish using the head-first style in the 1887 Grand National. He finished fourteenth due to some erratic rides but established a trend, and by the 1890 Grand National all competitors were riding head-first. The head-first style for a time became known as ‘Cresta’ racing.
The Cresta Run and the SMTC were founded by devotees of sledding (tobogganing in British parlance) who adopted a head-first (prone) technique of racing down an icy run, as opposed to the feet-first (supine) and somewhat faster luge race. Both evolving sports were natural extensions of the invention of steerable sleds during the early 1870s by British guests of the Kulm hotel in St. Moritz.
These initial crude sleds were developed almost accidentally—as bored well-to-do gentlemen naturally took to intramural competition in the streets and byways of twisty mountainous downtown St. Moritz hazarding each other and pedestrians alike. This gave impetus to a desire to steer the sleds, and soon runners and a clumsy mechanism evolved to allow just that along the longer curving streets of the 1870s.
This also allowed higher speeds on the longer runs. Local sentiments varied, but eventually complaints grew vociferous and Kulm hotel owner Caspar Badrutt built the first natural ice run for his guests, as he had worked hard to popularize wintering in the mountain resort, and did not want to lose any customers to ennui, nor his workforce to injury from errant sleds on the streets.