Verbier St. Bernard Trail Race, Switzerland

, July 14, 2011

Last week Steven Van Nimmen and I travelled from our hometown in Belgium to Switzerland for the Verbier Saint Bernard Trail race. We were both competing in the 61km ‘La Traversée’ race, the younger brother of ‘La Boucle,’ a 110km trail. Anticipating over 4000m of vertical ascent we were well trained and ready for the challenge that our weekend the Swiss Alps posed.

This year the Verbier Saint Bernard took place over the 3rd and 4th of  July. Together ‘La Boucle’ and ‘La Traversée’ make up two of the major European trail running events of the summer season. With plenty of spectators and interesting brands supporting the event, race organisers have developed a discovery mini trail for kids during the trail festival in the center of Verbier.

‘La Traversée’ route in brief

The start of the ultra-distance La Boucle left Verbier on Saturday morning at 5am, followed by the 61km field at 10am that set off from the nearby town La Fouly. It was strange to imagine that when we were starting our race the ultra-marathon runners had already been going for 5 hours, and perhaps had nearly covered 50km.

The first two summits, Col de Fenêtre and Col de St. Bernard sit relatively close to each other, separated by a short descent and a supply post. After that, there was a long descent to Bourg St. Pierre where there is another refreshment post and flasks of the delicious de bouillon soup with a lot of salt to stock up the mineral levels.

The next climb (Col de Mille), peaks at 2480m and is followed by a very long descent all the way to Lourtier where a musical band welcomed our arrival this year. Leaving the band behind, the race route then heads up the toughest climb to La Chaux – 1200m of climbing after 50km never feels great but it’s not a very technical climb, so stay steady and strong and you’ll make it!

After that climb I was ecstatic and took liberties at the final food post – an occasion I enjoyed perhaps too much as my muscles stiffened up a little as cured my low sugar levels.

Steven finished in 14h 10 mins, I did 10h 30 mins. we were both very happy with the result and look forward to the next mountain adventure!

Race highlights

In many ways the height and scenery of the Saint-Bernhardspas between Val d’ Entrement (Swiss) and Val d’Aoste (Italy) defined the race, offering some of the best panoramas on ascent and descent. For competitors, most of the race was tight, technical and heavy going. Together the altitude and sheer climbing distance proved tricky, especially on single tracks that had loose stones.

During the race itself, attention to the trail is really important. Though the race is generally considered one of the toughest on the European circuit, body management and footwork on the day are key. Pushing too hard too early can make the overall distance really tough –  15% of the starters in ‘La Traversée’ did not finish.

On the Friday there was also a trail festival where most of the brands had their stand to present their newest products. On Sunday there was a market with special products from the region – really nice.

For more information, visit