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Race Report: Matterhorn Ultraks 30km, Zermatt 2017

This past weekend saw the fifth instalment of the Matterhorn Ultraks, a multi-distance trail race beginning and ending in the gorgeous mountain town of Zermatt. With the Matterhorn, the world’s most photographed mountain, as an ever-present backdrop to the event, Ultraks is a popular feature on the European trail-running itinerary. I was registered for the 30km race but there is also a 16km, a 46km, a kids’ race and a vertical climb.

I awoke on Saturday to grey, damp skies but, by the time myself and my three girlfriends trotted down to the start, this had passed and the sky was clearing. We joined hundreds of ebullient runners and walkers on the start line and, after a scratchy rendition of the countdown from one of the Apollo missions played over the loud speaker, we set off.

Matterhorn Ultraks 2017
Just before the start, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared

The initial part of the race wound us through the town, a chance to warm up our legs before the first ascent. This was a fairly gradual, mostly forested route up to Sunnegga which saw me working through some impatience as the trail, at times, was congested with runners making the climbing painfully slow. I learnt the lesson of ‘more haste, less speed’ when I made a surge up a short alternative pass in an attempt to gain a few places but tripped and, with my face on fire, found myself even further back in the pack!

Zermatt Ultraks Race Report
The climb up to Sunnega was congested with runners

After the first food and drink stop at 7.5km, the field spread out and I enjoyed the opportunity to open up. The trail took us back down past an old village and through beautiful forests. With the nerves of the start worn off, it was lovely to get out of my head and to find my feet and rhythm.

The road opens up after the first refreshment station at Sunnegga

A forced stop due to a train at the crossing of the Gornergrat Bahn, an old mountain railway leading to the summit of Gornergrat at 3,089m making it the second highest railway in Europe, gave me a chance to really breathe in the spectacular scenery under blue skies.

Waiting for the train bound for Gornergrat to pass

A short while later, I pulled into Riffelalp, where the first time barrier was located. A drink of bouillon and some fruit while I listened to the haunting sounds from the band of Alphorn players made for a good break, and I set off feeling great. The course meandered for some time becoming increasingly rocky. Once again the track became full and the pace slowed but I had learnt my lesson and took my place. I ruminated on my rather snobbish philosophy that a race is so much more enjoyable when you’re behind a good set of legs. Happily I was. The trail weaved slowly down to a surging river and again an opportunity to stretch out on a good wide path that led to the Furi suspension bridge, taking us over the pretty awesome Gletscher Gorge.

Zermat Ultraks Race Report
Running alongside the foaming waters of the Gornera river

Now it was time for the biggest climb of the race, the ascent to Shwarzsee (which ironically rhymes with Nazi), a vertical climb of roughly 700m over a 4km stretch. This was a race leveller and many started to show signs of fatigue. The pace slackened off considerably as we slowly wound our way up. But the views down over the valley, with a silver snake of water running through it, made it all worthwhile and I arrived at the highest point of the race (2,583m) and the second time barrier feeling triumphant, knowing that the worst was behind me.

Matterhorn Ultraks race report
The climb up to Schwarzsee was a test of our mettle
Matterhorn Ultraks
Me nearing the top of the last climb to Shwarzsee
Matterhorn Ultraks climb to Shwarzsee
The stunning view down the valley during the brutal final climb

After a hasty snack and an obligatory selfie in front of the Matterhorn, I began the charge down. I really enjoyed the first part of this descent which was down a gradual and wide sandy path quickly eating up the next five kilometres. As we approached the valley, I began to feel the heat. A few surprise hills threatened the spirits but with home in sight, I maintained a good mood, assisted by the presence of blooming wild flowers.

Matterhorn Ultraks 2017
The Matterhorn towers over us as we begin our final descent

The sound of the loudspeaker in the town drew me in and, anticipating the impending freedom of my burning toes, I was able to keep a good pace all the way to the finish line.

In conclusion, the Matterhorn Ultraks was a great race, with loads of variety and spectacular scenery. It was very well organised, from the neat pre-race pack which was not loaded with unnecessary samples and brochures, to the inclusive post-race meal. A fabulous excuse to spend some time in the picturesque town of Zermatt.

Bramble Ski has been exclusively operating luxury ski chalets in Zermatt for the past two seasons and with our sister company Haute Montagne, we are rapidly building one of the finest portfolios of luxury properties in the village. We have just launched the fabulous Christiania Penthouse located in the heart of the village and part of the Christiania Residence … stay tuned for more news of this new offering.

If you are interested in booking your ski holiday in Zermatt this winter then please do not hesitate to contact the sales team on [email protected] or telephone +41 22 534 9774.

31st August 2017

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