The sport of intermural sled racing originated there around the nascent winter resort activities at the Kulm hotel during the early winters of the 1870s, and eventually the head first style became for a time known as 'Cresta' racing, and the members still congregate in the evening at the Kulm in the 'Sunny Bar'. In the early days of competitive sledding however, 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 American' led to Mr. Cornish using the head first style in the 1887 Grand National. He finished fourteenth due some erratic rides but established a trend and by the 1890 Grand National all competitors were riding head first. 3
On such a track, which is mainly a u-shaped half-tube of ice, if the driver does not 'work the turns' properly, he is likely to leave the track and be thrown 'over the curb' some distance away; such accidents often generate serious injuries. The top speed in luge is around 140 km/h (88 mph) and the less efficient aerodynamics of head first skeleton's keep their speeds down to a top of 130 km/h. Both have their appeal, the awkwardness of lying on one's back being somewhat compensated by the higher attainable speeds in the Luge.
The Cresta track is not shared with Bobsled unlike the first half-pipe sledding track built by hotelman Caspar Badrutt for his guests. Most of it is located within the contour of a steep ravine and it is created anew each winter using the rocky ravine and banks of earth as a butressing bulwark for wooden framework and iced packed snow. It is owned and operated by an all male club created in 1885 by British military officers with the official name of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club (SMTC), but is generally just as often referred to as 'The Cresta Club'. The exclusion of females from the course is a change dating from the late 1920s due to injuries to female racers. This exclusion is still enforced and took official effect in 1929, though women were banned from competitive events several years earlier.
The course has two entrances known in typical British understatement as 'top' and 'junction' respectively; and two parts known as 'upper' and 'lower' or equivalently, 'bottom'. The entrance at junction is adjacent to the SMTC clubhouse and is about a third of the way down from 'top' as the sled slides. Similarly, the exit is simply called finish, and given a typical average speed of over fifty mph, the rider will exit the course at over 80 mph.
The upper part ends (merges) into the 'lower' at 'junction' and beginners are prohibited from upper until certified. There are ten named turns and one safety area known by the name of its nearest vicious turn Shuttlecock, the most famous (and infamous) left corner on the Run. According to the club literature, " 'Fallers' at Shuttlecock automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear a Shuttlecock tie. 1" At this point, if a rider is out of control, he will involuntarily leave the track in some airborne manner. Hence the grounds beyond are regularly refreshed with soft snow and straw in hopes of minimizing injuries.
One of the social highlights of the club is the annual shuttlecock dinner. It is every year organised by a yearly-appointed shuttlecock president usually a very well known and prominent rider. Past Presidents were: Prinz Tino Liechtenstein, Gianni Agnelli, Gunter Sachs, Sir Dudly Cunliffe-Owen, Jean-Noel Prade, Rolf Sachs, Lord Dalmeny, Marcel Melcher, Count Luca Marenzi, Marc M.K. Fischer, Lord Wrottesley, Sven Ley.
The primary purpose of the 1300 member club founded in 1887 is "…the conduct of races and practice on the Cresta Run and the encouragement of tobogganing generally…" 2 While not snobbish, the Cresta Club gathers well-to-do gentlemen and is totally amateur. There are many more Luge and Bobsled runs world wide, but only one Cresta devoted to head first sledding promotion. The club asserts that most of the other sledding sports are dominated by professionals and it is one of the last bastions of the true amateur in sports.
Like many social clubs, members are elected from a list of qualifiers called the Supplementary List. The course is open to anyone that meets the three criteria for making that list, and need not be English. It has a lot of clubbish rites such as the "Firework", the "Shuttlecock Club" and a dedicated drink, the "Bullshot". It has even a secret society similar to the US "Skull and Bones". The historic Cresta run was used as an Winter Olympics course twice— both times during which the winter games were hosted in St. Moritz (1928 and 1948), such doubling being itself a rarity. The club sponsors over thirty races a season which generally runs from just before Christmas to late February. The track is opened as soon as it is seasonally possible to do so, and kept open in the same weather dependent manner like all natural ice and snow attractions.
Among the best riders in recent years: 8 times Grand National Winner and Swiss Franco Gansser, Lord Clifton Wrottesley, finished fourth at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Marcel Melcher, youngest ever Winner (age 19) of the Grand National,
Of ice and men; There's no brakes, no steering and a chance that it could end in death. But Cresta Run devotees wouldn't have it any other way, as Richard Moore discovers
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Feb 07, 2010; Byline: Matt Dawson GET Shuttlecock wrong and you'll wipe out. I couldn't get the warning out of my head as I perched on my...