Pontresina Engadine Trail Runners’ Paradise

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Morning glory in Rosegtal

Last summer was a nightmare for seasonal allergies in Norway. During indian summer, I dreamt of fresh air and mountains, and apparently there is no better place to breathe than in St. Moritz. I came across some cheap tickets to Zürich and started planning my trip immediately. I had my eyes on Pontresina, a village in the Engadine valley, close to St. Moritz. The overly luxurious vibe of St. Moritz didn’t appeal to me, and I assumed Pontresina would be a better option as it has frequently been used by national XC-skiing teams for training. The main purpose of my trip was to run in the Engadine mountains, but I also wanted to use roller skis as alternative training.

When doing my research, I came over the the Swiss trailrunning website alpsinsight, which really is trailrunners’ heaven and a one stop shop for trail running resources when in Switzerland. I also bought their book, Run the Alps Switzerland, which guided me to two of my runs in Pontresina, and has now caused me to book another trip to Switzerland this year. Alpsinsight was also the main trigger for me to start trailspotting.no, hoping to inspire others as alpsinsight has inspired me.

So, let’s run Switzerland!

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Piz Languard view

The Trails

Piz Languard, 20 km

I choose to run the Piz Languard trail on my first day in Pontresina as I was really eager to tick off a 3000+ peak. The trail started practically outside my hotel, from the Santa Maria church in the centre of Pontresina and switchbacking up through the forest I quickly gained elevation and a fantastic view of the Morteratsch glacier on the other side of the valley. I even met an ibex.

I made a quick stop for hydration at the cozy Paradis hut to linger over the glacier view from the sunny terrace, before I continued into the Languard valley. Reaching the lake, I lost track of the trail, as I thought it followed the shore of the lake, which it didn’t, and I had to return to the junction that I missed. After a short steep climb, amazing flowing trails take you towards the last climb towards Georgy’s hut, and then to the peak at 3262 m.a.s.l. The view from the summit is simply amazing, especially in the autumn sun, so make sure you have time to take it all in, before descending to Georgy’s hut to refuel.

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Refueling at Georgy’s hut

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After the first steep descent, the flowing trails take over and you feel like you could run forever. But there is still another hut to visit, the Segatini hut. Make sure you bring cash, so you don’t have to limit yourself, as I did, and can spend some time enjoying the view of the Engadine valley from the terrace before taking on the last descent. If you want to spare your knees, you can skip the last part of the downhill by taking the chairlift back down to Pontresina. Off-season, the fare is commonly included in your hotel travel pass.

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Another pit stop at Segatini hut

Further description  of the Piz Languard run on alpsinsight here.

Strava for details: Piz Languard run

Rosegtal, 37 km

I had huge expectations before embarking on this long run, and I can safely say they were met. Starting off from the train station in Pontresina, you get an easy warm up running almost flat for several kilometers along a beautiful river. As during the Piz Languard run, you have several opportunities to refuel, so take advantage of this and skip carrying too much water. The first hut is at about 7 kilometer. Passing the hut, the trail becomes a little more technical until you reach the stunning glacier lake Lej da Vadret. Take time to linger, because this place is truly magical.

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My favorite spot in Engadine

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Rosegtal view from the climb towards Chamanna Coaz

Leaving the lake it gets steeper. After the climb you may take a short detour to the hut, Chamanna Coaz, to refuel on their cake and get the glacier view up close. You can also book at sleepover at the hut. The next seven kilometer are easy flow, with some technical sections, and after about 22 kilometer you are at the highest point of the run, where you can also stop to refuel at a hut before starting on the descent. This is where the second coolest thing about this run happens, you turn a corner, and then WOW – the view of the Engadine lakes!

 

The trail eventually takes you into the forest again, and even a short climb, before a steep downhill to the Pontresina train station. Shortly before you arrive in Pontresina, a short detour of about a kilometer to a nearby peak is possible (and included in the strava link below).

Further description  of the Rosegtal run on alpsinsight here.

Strava for details: Rosegtal run

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Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana

Diavolezza climb, 9 km

After the long Rosegtal run, I looked for opportunities to explore more of the area without the strain of going downhill and decided to do a hike from the bottom of the Diavolezza gondola to the summits Sass Queder, 3060 m.a.s. and Munt Pers, 3207 m.a.s. Again, this is a treat for the eye with beautiful views towards Lago Bianco and the Bernina pass during the climb, and the Diavolezza glacier from the top. I recommend using poles if you embark on this climb, and if you only have the time to do one summit, do Munt Pers. And obviously, you can take the gondola to the Diavolezza station, leaving you with only 200 meters of elevation to run.

Strava for details: Diavolezza, Sass Queder and Munt Pers

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View of Lago Bianco and the Bernina pass

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View of the Diavolezza glacier from Munt Pers

Other runs

Hey, its Engadine, and the famous lake in St. Moritz, where you can spot world class runners on their easy runs, is a short run or a train ride away from Pontresina. In St. Moritz you can also find a track for speed work, if that’s on your agenda. For more trail runs, check out the Piz Lunghin run featured on alpsinsight.

Bernina Rollerskiing

I tried to find some cycle paths suitable for roller skis towards Samedan, where I had been told one could do rounds around the airport. However, I stumbled upon gravel paths and decided to go towards the Bernina pass instead. I was told that it was not allowed to use roller skis on this main road, but from having cycled there a few years ago, I considered it relatively safe and gave it a go. And it truly was a great option for roller skis. Due to a bike race going up on the other side of the pass, part of the road was closed for traffic, but the police let me pass to go up on roller skis anyway. At the top I turned and returned down for the not so steep downhill the first about 5 kilometer, then I took the train back to Pontresina. The train journey is part of the famous Bernina Express which is on many tourists’ itinerary when visiting Switzerland.

Strava for details: Bernina roller ski

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Ski up, train down

Where to stay

I stayed at Hotel Rosatsch, which at the time of booking seemed to provide most for the money as well as ticking of the boxes of location and comfort. I had a big room with breakfast and four course dinner included for about 530 Swiss francs for five nights, which, as mentioned above, also included a travel pass providing free access to local trains, busses and most lifts and gondolas. On my radar war also Hotel Müller, which you could also check out.

Between runs

Obviously, for luxury brands shopping, you head off to St. Moritz, but if you are more into sports clothing and equipment, there are plenty of sports shops in Pontresina. In Pontresina I also spent a lot of time hanging out at café Gianotti, on the main street in Pontresina, not far away from Hotel Rosatsch.

If you have a travel pass, I recommend to do an afternoon excursion to Piz Nair, at 3057 m.a.s., it is a short walk from the Piz Nair gondola station, where you can also grab refreshments or something to eat while enjoying the view.

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View of the St. Moritz lake and Pontresina from Piz Nair

How to get there

Not only can you easily reach Pontresina by train, but it is also a train ride you will enjoy from the beginning to the end. While traveling by train in Switzerland is quite expensive there are often deals/discounts to be had if you book early.

Seiser Alm & Livigno training camp

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Me and Barbro climbing Stelvio.

Seiser Alm and Livigno are both beloved destinations for cross country skiing athletes of all levels. These two Italian alp villages complement each other in terms of character and facilities and make a great combination for a training vacation/camp. While Seiser Alm is quiet (and out of this world beautiful) and has amazing trails and scenery for running, Livigno is more of a happening place with (tax free) shops, cafés/restaurants and the best roller ski and biking opportunities.

Here you will get the details of the training we did during a 9-day September training camp as well as some alternatives tried out over the years. The purpose is to guide you to the best locations for performing various sessions, such as interval training and long low intensity sessions. Non of us being top level athletes, our choice of activities has been guided by a desire to explore the beautiful surroundings as well as obtaining great workouts. You may (and should) of course use the information provided to tailor your activities to your own level of fitness and purpose of the trip.

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Seiser Alm meadow.

Please note that both Seiser Alm and Livigno are high altitude destinations and your performance will be affected. In short this means you should go slower than you normally do on low-intensity activities and avoid doing much high intensity training, especially the first 3-4 days, and when introduced, preferably low threshold. More on high altitude training here (Norwegian). It is not uncommon to feel dizziness after a high altitude workout if you go too hard and you may not get full benefit of the rest of your training camp. 

Day 1 – Seiser Alm (arrival day)

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We started our camp in Seiser Alm. You can read more about Seiser Alm, including accommodation recommendations, here. Traveling to Seiser Alm from Norway (or any other place requiring you to fly) usually takes almost a day and you are lucky if you arrive by sunset. We arrived just in time to stretch our legs by doing a short and easy jog on the meadow which was covered with a thin layer of wet snow. That’s the thing about Seiser Alm. Its location more than 1800 meters above sea level means weather and temperatures change quickly and you can experience snow even during summer months.

Strava for details: Snowjogging on Seiser Alm

Day 2 – Seiser Alm

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Waking up on our first full day in Seiser Alm, the meadow was still covered in snow, but the sun was shining and we chose to go for the planned long run taking us over the Denti Rossi to Rifugio Alpe di Tires and the Schiliar/Schlern plateau. This is a beautiful long run which is always on my itinerary when in Seiser Alm. We started out running in snow, but by the time we were back on the meadow a few hours later summer temperatures had arrived. Take time for an espresso at Rifugio Alpe di Tires and lunch at Rifugio Bolzano

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Strava for details: Seiser Alm classic long run

In the afternoon we took the bus down to Kastelruth and did an easy uphill roller ski session. You can also do the same hill workout by taking the cable car from Seiser Alm to Seis, which adds about 140 meters of ascent. The climb has been used for tempo stages during Giro d’Italia and has a profile great for interval training on roller skis and beautiful views. 

Strava for details: Uphill roller ski session

Day 3 – Seiser Alm

 

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Roller skiing with a view.

On our third day we put on the roller skis again and took the cable car to Seis for an interval session. After warming up from Seis to Hotel Valentinerhof we did 7×6 minutes low threshold classic technique.

Strava for details: Rollerski interval: 7×6 min

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Bulaccia with a view of Sasso Lungo and Sasso Piatto

Our second session of the day we explored Bulaccia, the northern meadow of Seiser Alm, running with poles in the soft afternoon light. Some of us took the cable car going down to save the legs.

 

Strava for details: Bulaccia run

Day 4 – Seiser Alm

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Girls’ trip

The highlight of our stay in Seiser Alm was the long run around Sasso Piatto and Sasso Lungo. I would say this is the running equivalent to Sella Ronda on bike, providing you with amazing views of the Dolomites from so many angles. We took the bus to Saltria (about 5-10 minutes from Compatsch) and the Florian chair lift to Williams Hütte, from where we started our run 2100 m.a.s.l. and clockwise around Sasso Piatto/Sasso Lungo. We stopped for lunch at Rifugio Sasso Piatto and continued to Rifugio Alpe di Tires and returned to Compatsch through the Denti Rossi pass. This is truly an amazing run, which of course may be divided in several parts if you are not up for the full length of it. You can also extend the run by either adding the climb to the peak of Sasso Piatto or/and continue over the Schiliar plateau after Rifugio Alpe di Tires.IMG_0373

 

 

Strava for details: Sasso Piatto/Lungo and Denti Rossi

Day 5 – Transport via Stelvio to Livigno

The obligatory part of the transfer from Seiser Alm to Livigno is the mother of all roller ski workouts, the Stelvio climb. If you don’t have a support car, the practical way to do this session is to drive to the top of the Stelvio pass and take a bus down to your preferred side of the pass, either the Prato side or the Bormio side, leaving the car with warm clothes etc at the top. Each climb is great, with spectacular views and, if you can’t go easy on it, exhaustion guarantee. During this camp we did the Prato side, starting from Gomagoi at 1280 m.a.s.l., providing about 1500 meters of ascent and 18.5 km to the top of the Stelvio pass as 2575 m.a.s.l. We chose to tackle the climb by doing an interval session of 5×20 + 10 minutes below lactate threshold. 

Strava for details: Stelvio climb, Prato side

 

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Melina climbing Stelvio from the Prato side.

Strava for details: Stelvio climb from Bormio

 

Please note that the bus service on the Bormio side is only available in July and August. You may contact the bus service Perego for information. For bus down from Stelvio on the Prato side, go here.

If you prefer to conquer Stelvio on bike, you can rent a bike at Mapo Bike in Valdidentro (a few kilometers from Bormio). If you want to stay a few days to explore the area and perhaps tackle Stelvio running, skiing and biking, one of my favorite hotels in the Alps is just next to Mapo Bike, Alpen Hotel. Personally I had my best session in Stelvio running up from Bormio.

Strava for details: Stelvio run  

Day 6 – Livigno

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Livigno roller ski paths.

Livigno is roller ski mecca with an extensive network of cycle paths protected from the traffic as well as mountain passes where you can work on your O2 levels and return safely by bus if you don’t want to ski down or have a support car. On our first day in Livigno we chose to do an easy flat roller ski session to recover from the Stelvio challenge.

 

Strava for details: Livigno roller ski

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Favorite Livigno trails.

Livigno also has a tremendous network of trails for running as well as mountain biking. There is no limit other than your fitness level as to where you can go, and even if I have visited 5-6 times there are new trails to explore. Our favorite trail for short recovery runs is the trail just above the centre providing you with great views of Livigno. You can enter the trail directly from several places in the village or my preferred entry at the south end of the village, where you can also find parking. 

Strava for details: Livigno trail 

Day 7 – Livigno

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On our way to Corna di Capra.

After a “rest” day it was time to do a longer session again and we decided on a run that would take us to a +3000 meter peak, Corna di Capra. We chose to drive to the trailhead just south of the village (you can also run directly from the village). Although containing a lot of ascent this run also has long runable sections and truly beautiful surroundings as well as the added satisfaction of reaching the peak at 3016 m.a.s.l.

 

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Strava for details: Corna di Capra skyrun

 

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Marthe at the top of Corna di Capra.

For an alternative long run you can take the cable car to Costaccia from the city centre and run south along the ridge following trail 162 and then 157 passing Causello 3000 and Involt dali Resa before descending back to the city centre.

Strava for details: Livigno skyrun

Our second workout of the day was a double poling session, which included the climb up to Passo Eira. From Passo Eira you can take a free bus down to Livigno (check the schedule in advance). As an alternative to the Eira ascent you can also roll up to the Forcola pass.

Strava for details: Livigno & Passo Eira roller ski + Livigno – Forcola

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Afternoon roller ski session to Passo Eira.

Day 8 – Livigno

Towards the end of a training camp like this adjustments to the training plan may be adequate due to energy levels, strain on legs or other reasons. For some, including me, that meant replacing a running session with yet another roll to Passo Eira, this time using kicks and not just double poling. In the afternoon we did a strength session.

Strava for details: Passo Eira roller skiing

Day 9 – Livigno

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Val Federia.

Last full day in Livigno and the training plan said low threshold running in Val Federia. Low on energy and with the rain pouring down, I chose to go easy on the trails instead. However, Val Federia is great for this kind of effort and having done a similar workout in 2016, I still have the appropriate Strava details to guide you. To reach Val Federia you can either drive to the parking provided at the trailhead, or run from the hotel as warm-up. Remember the altitude and go easy!

 

Strava for details: 5x(5x1min/15sec) running with poles

Livigno Accommodation & Restaurants

When in Livigno my choice of hotel is Hotel Larice, which is one of several hotels forming the Bivio Life Livigno group, where you can find Hotel Bivio (often used by the Norwegian national team) and Alpen Village Hotel, which specifically caters towards training groups of all sports. Larice is a small eco boutique hotel with amazing atmosphere, great rooms, personal service, superb breakfast and the best location. I love to hang out in the coffee bar out front in between training sessions.

My three favorite restaurants are all in or close to Hotel Larice: The burger restaurant Why Not, in via Botarel (across the street from Larice), Focolare, the pizzeria next door, and the restaurant at Larice, which serves sushi as well as Italian dishes.

Cycling in Livigno

Livigno has an amazing downhill bike park (never tried) and is often used for training camps by top level athletes of both road cycling and mtb. Bikes can be rented from several bike shops in Livigno. If you are into climbs and mountain passes see the strava link below for a beautiful ride my friend Maren did, going from Livigno over Passo Eira to Bormio and up to Passo Stelvio and via Passo Fuorn back to Livigno. Another alternative is the course of the ICON ironman triathlon taking place in Livigno in August, which takes you up to the Forcola pass, into Switzerland to climb the Bernina Pass before going down to St. Moritz and Zernez and via the Fuorn, Stelvio and Foscagno passes back to Livigno.

Strava for details: Long ride – Foscagno, Stelvio, Fuorn

For a beginners mtb trail, try the circuit we did with Fabrizio at MTB Livigno a few years back.

Strava for details: MTB flow

Getting There

Munich, Zürich and Innsbruck are convenient airports to fly into if you would like to combine Seiser Alm and Livigno. Innsbruck makes for a shorter drive, but often you have to accept transfer flights to get there. You will need to rent a car.

Munich Airport – Seiser Alm: 3:30, Zürich Airport – Seiser Alm: 4:30 and Innsbruck – Seiser Alm 1:45. Munich Airport – Livigno: 4:30, Zürich Airport – Livigno: 3:15, Innsbruck – Livigno: 2:45. The drive from Seiser Alm to Livigno is about 3 hours.