Engadin XC Ski race by Dai! Athlete Michael Cohen

Yes indeed 42.5 km! I am only going to tell you part of the long story which is not particularly interesting but worth telling.

I will omit the question of logistics for 8,000 Skiers and the controlled chaos that the Swiss have mastered, getting everyone to the race, through the race, and home on time.

It was not terribly cold, but cold enough for me to wear a fair amount of clothes, namely medium long johns under my racing suit: so I carried nothing. There were plenty of drinks stops and they were well organized.

They let people run out of paddocks. I think there were about six or seven of them, just like the paddocks that people put cows in. That would be nearly a thousand people in each paddock. While waiting in this crowd I discussed the experience of the race with a Dutch woman who had married a Swiss made man. She had done the race approximately 30 times: she thought this would be the last time, because of the crowds and chaos. I would say she was 50 years old. But the paddock system worked smoothly for me. After you are let out of the paddock you can put on your skis and ski away. Timing is by chips, after all.

So they let you out of the paddock and suddenly you are skiing across this wonderful lake with mountains in front of you and behind. It is truly the most scenic ski race I have ever seen. You continue to ski across lakes for a good long time: no incidents among the skiers probably because I was in a relatively fast wave and the tracks are very wide. Most of the racers in my group were faster than me, because I was being careful. I had an injury and some swelling to my elbow in the World Masters 30 K, not from a fall, but from wrenching it while getting out of the way of a train of 30-year-old-men who were going to run me over. I didn’t want to test it. In fact, I skied the Engadin course using poles as little as possible.

While we were beginning to traverse both Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana, the sun came out.

After about 10K-plus on the lakes, one arrives at gently rolling country. The snow, by the way, was excellent on the lakes, the general course, and fair on some curves. It did not deteriorate as we went down the hills. My skis were fast but having fast skis doesn’t get you up the hills and I will tell you why.

When you come to hill you also come upon a very large crowd of people standing around and waiting for the ones in front to go up the slope: they tend to go in approximately three separate lines next to each other so it’s just like being at a bus station or in the cafeteria. At the first hill I waited nearly 10 minutes and the only problem I had with my elbow was holding myself on the slope until I could start skiing.

There is a famous dance down a hill called the Stazerwald Downhill, adorned with mattresses on the trees, where all the people get congested and the local citizens laugh and point and the TV cameras focus on Woopsies. I discovered that it is possible and legal to simply run down a walking trail and miss the whole mess and I did so which saved me time and from snow plowing through the trees, avoiding downed skiers, in loose snow covering ice.

There were other minor incidents on hill climbs where you had to wait, but none of them were a serious problem.

Because of my elbow, I considered doing the half marathon, but when I got half way, I thought otherwise. The whole blue hullabaloo at the end of the half marathon was so horrifying and circus-like, with loud music and booths selling products, and such, that I decided to avoid it by continuing the marathon and this was a good choice because the skiing continued to be fast, enjoyable, and scenic.

Toward the end many people surrounding me became tired and therefore sloppy but there weren’t so many of us and it was possible to get around them or to give them room. Our bibs had our names on them, so you could say, “Helga, I am going to pass on the right now.”

I would say that I had my poles stepped on maybe six or eight times, but never badly. and nobody cut me off and I didn’t cut off anybody. Occasionally I would double pole in the classic track just for variety and that seemed to work.

Like everyone else I got tired but I never really put out a maximum effort. I just skied along on the flat and only slight down hills and looked around.

If you are interested, sometime later I will tell you about the scene at the end of the race with thousands of racers waiting for a train and the three connections that I made by stepping from one train to another with no wait at all. The Swiss trains run on time!