In Switzerland, sledding is a national pastime


At the bottom of the Bergün piste there is a 15th century medieval church with a bell tower, locals pulling races (and children) on sleds and a double chairlift to the top of the toboggan run. toughest in town, Darlux-Bergün.

Darlux-Bergün obtains a “moderate” rating from SwitzerlandMobility. But the icy conditions make it difficult, as my sled veers into uncontrolled ramps on tight turns.

Sledding is not without risk – you can get hit by other sledders or spin out of control. The rental shops in Bergün and other places teach beginners the basics, including heading to the side of the trail if you wipe, keeping pace with other sleds, and wearing a helmet.

“When you get on the chairlift, you hear all these screams below you,” says Nicholas Houghton, a British artist I met in the dining room of Kurkhaus Bergün, the wonderfully restored Art Nouveau hotel in which I slept in town. “It’s 50% terror and 50% pure pleasure.”

Houghton, 69, first visited Bergün (pop. 500) in 1990 and was hooked. He comes back every winter. “I started sledding,” says Houghton. “The first few years were the best and the worst because I couldn’t control the snowmobile properly. Then I learned to brake.

My braking abilities further evolve when Houghton and I go night sledding together on the Bergün-Preda track. Our journey, magical in the dark, glides between the illuminated stone arches of the viaducts and under the twinkling stars.

Tracking the history of tobogganing in Davos

While the railways brought luge to Bergün, a 19th-century pandemic was partly responsible for the sport’s popularity in nearby Davos.

“People used to come here to sanatoria to get treatment for tuberculosis, and that’s when sledding for fun really started to take off,” says Ursula Bevan, a teacher at the Wintersport Museum Davos on the main artery of the city, the Promenade. The small museum is full of antique sleds, ski equipment and vintage photos of famous visitors, including Arthur Conan Doyle, who stayed in Davos while his wife recovered from tuberculosis.

In the 1870s, around the same time that alpine skiing began to gain momentum at the now famous resort, English tourists (including tuberculosis patients) began to ride wooden sleds to pleasure. “Usually they would stay in hotels or clinics, and they would hang out anywhere,” Bevan says. “Any old hill would do.”

Residents of Davos, accustomed to using sleds for work, joined the visitors in friendly races, and the sport really took off. The original Davos toboggan run, first used for the bobsleigh races which ended along the Promenade, is still active.


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