Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Over the last 20 years, gentlemen's clubs have had to pay at least a token deference to modernity -- equal rights, health and safety, inclusiveness. And then there is St Moritz Tobogganing Club, a British club with its own rules. Located in the middle of the Swiss Alps, it makes one uncomplicated demand of its members. Men must slide down a three-quarter-mile run of ice on a toboggan at speeds of up to 80 mph. The run finishes in the tiny hamlet of Cresta, so this happy, if eccentric, sport is called the 'Cresta Run'.

I am in St Moritz for the second time.

Last year I was invited -- as a lastminute replacement, I suspect -- to join a friend's army team. We did pretty well and, encouraged by my newly discovered ability to go very very fast without a thought in my head, I decided to return in glory with a team of my own. Convincing people to join me proved harder than I had imagined.

With two days to go and still one man short, I made a desperate call to Oleg, a Londonbased artist I know. He assumed the Cresta Run was some sort of Christian running race through the mountains and looked it up on YouTube. 'It looks psychotic. Why would I want to do that?' he asked. After my fiveminute monologue about man's ultimate challenge, he said: 'Tell me the truth. Why are you calling me up with two days to go?' 'Because if you don't come, my team will be disqualified for not having enough people.' I agreed to pay half his air fare and he agreed to come.

Most people in St Moritz seem to be wealthy Russians (much like everywhere else, it seems) to whom skiing is an unimaginable concept. They come to shop in the day and to party in the evening, pushing the inflated price of alcohol even higher. Fortunately their vulgarity is matched by their generosity and they seem delighted to treat Englishmen in tweeds. I am bought drinks all night and in return I sing Russian songs with my new friends. At 5 a. m. I try to explain that I must leave as I need to be up in an hour to ride my toboggan. They don't seem to understand. I put it down to culture clash and reel out of the bar.

Before riders are allowed on the run for the first time they receive the 'death talk' from the club secretary. He shows an X-ray of a skeleton in which every bone is broken, fragmented or has some kind of nail inserted into it. 'These are all the injuries that have occurred on the run through bad riding, ' he explains. If this is not enough to terrify us all, we are told the story of the Scots Guards major who, after crashing at such speed he flew off the run, hit the club house and was pronounced dead at the scene. …

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