History of the bobsleigh run
The St. Moritz-Celerina Olympia bobsleigh run came into operation in 1904, making the ice track in Oberengadin the oldest bobsleigh run in the world and also the last remaining natural ice track on earth. The other bobsleigh runs in Europe, North America and Japan all have to be artificially iced because they are not located at such climatically advantageous altitudes.
The history of the Olympia bobsleigh run dates back to the end of the 19th century. The predominantly British winter guests and elite bobsleigh enthusiasts – who had been united since 1897 by the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club, the oldest bobsleigh club in the world – were seeking a place to practise their newly invented type of sport after they had been at loggerheads with their skeleton camp colleagues in the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club over the use of the Cresta Run. However, it wasn't until 1903 that a collection was held during a gala evening, which generated a fine sum of almost 11,000 Swiss francs.
Thanks to the support of Alphonse Badrutt, plans were immediately put in place to construct a bobsleigh run on the extensive grounds of the Kulm Hotel and this was inaugurated with a bobsleigh race on 1 January 1904. Today, the icy chute still leads through the pine forest – which smells so heavenly in the summer – from the St. Moritz Badrutt Park to Celerina-Cresta. While bobsleighing techniques and equipment have fundamentally changed over the last century, the course taken by the St. Moritz bobsleigh run has stayed more or less the same to this very day.
Changes to the course
The most striking changes were made on the lowermost section of the course. Due to the increasingly higher speeds, braking was becoming more and more difficult to the point where the braking zone was no longer sufficient for the requirements of the sports equipment. The run was modified for the first time after the 1957 World Championships. A foundation created by the relatives of the racing driver Alfonso Marquis de Portago who sadly died in the Mille Miglia motorsport race enabled the changes to be made. From the “Leap”, the track led into a small right bend named “Martineau Corner” – in honour of Major Hubert M. Martineau’s 44-year presidency of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club – and down to the flat section where a left bend – “Portago Corner” – led to the finish.
Due to several changes in ownership and ever-increasing speeds, at the start of the 1980s it was necessary to move “Martineau Corner” 20 metres further to the left and to allow the track to run towards Cresta Hill. “Portago Corner” was behind the clock and came to be known from then on as the last bend.
The development of sports equipment continued apace. The speed of the four-person bobsleigh increased up to 145 km/h and in 2002, this meant that a further amendment to the final stretch was unavoidable. “Portago Corner” was moved 50 metres down and the finish time measurement was repositioned at its end. The resulting end section required a new underpass beneath the Rhaetian Railway and is about 200 metres long. After this modification, the run length totalled 1,722 metres.
1995 – constructing the Horse Shoe
Besides the braking zone, Horse Shoe corner – the heart of the run – had to be adapted twice due to the ever faster sports equipment. To make it less dangerous and to guarantee as far as possible that this 6.75 metre high curved wall could be constructed in the same way every year, it was reinforced with natural stones in winter 1955/56 and the radius increased by 2.5 metres. This ensured that the wall could withstand the higher speed and the greater pressure exerted by the bobsleighs as a result. A 4.5 metre high wall with a 1.75 metre high wooden board on top also enabled the “Horse Shoe” to be made ready for operation quickly even with small amounts of snow. The first attempts at the beginning of January 1957 showed that the measures had worked and the corner could subsequently be navigated in a fuller and better way. The corner still has popular appeal today.
Despite these changes, the corner had to be adjusted to modern conditions for a second time in 1995. Above all, the pressure from the speeding bobsleighs became ever greater so that even the guests on the popular “bobtaxi rides” had to endure up to 5G, i.e. five times their own body weight. As a result of this pressure and the narrow runners, grooves and holes appeared very quickly over the course of the season, which increasingly hindered training and operating schedules. Within three months, the radius was expanded by a further 2.5 metres by relocating the entrance by almost 4 metres to the right into the hillside, making the corner even rounder and somewhat larger. At the same time, the height of the entrance was increased by 1.5 metres, which reduced the speed by about 2 km/h and significantly lessened the damage being caused to the ice.
The Starthaus until 1972
The tracks and corners were not the only elements which had to be adjusted over the course of the history of the St. Moritz-Celerina Olympia bobsleigh run. The small venerable Starthaus (start-line building), which acted as both a bar and cloakroom, had to give way to a new building in 1972. A new Starthaus with office spaces, cloakrooms, the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club bar and the legendary Dracula Club was built. However, the requirements placed on the infrastructure were becoming ever greater, so a new cloakroom wing was added to the existing building in 1993, the start tower with office space was built in 1992 and the grandstand with additional bobsleigh garages and storage areas was constructed in 2002.
Constructing the tower in 1992
The Sunny House served as the track meeting point in the early days of the St. Moritz-Celerina Olympia bobsleigh run. High society ladies and gentlemen had a wonderful view of Sunny Corner courtesy of a large window in the heated bar. Over the years, this meeting place was no longer used and the Sunny House was converted into a storage room for various building materials. Despite its rather dilapidated appearance today, the house is experiencing something of a renaissance. In 1993, a common room with a kitchen was built in the basement for the track workers. Since then, the Sunny House has served as their canteen.
In 1992, a small Zielhaus (finish-line building) with sanitary facilities was built at the end of the old final stretch in the direction of the Cresta Hill. During the modification of the final stretch in 2003, the small Zielhaus was removed and replaced by a modern new building with cloakrooms, a first-aid room, meeting rooms, sanitary facilities and storage facilities.
Horse Shoe Lodge
What used to be the bar at Sunny Corner is now the Horse Shoe bar. Every year a temporary bar was put up, but spectators had no way of warming themselves up in temperatures which can reach minus 25 degrees. This was remedied in 2005 with the eventual construction of the Horse Shoe Lodge over three weeks.