Switzerland's mountain trails
Thanks to its varied mountainous territory, Switzerland offers an impressive number of mountain trails. To be classified as a mountain trail, a mountain path must be unpaved and cover several hundred metres of total ascent/descent. Almost every weekend between spring and autumn, trail running races varying from 5 to 170km in length take place in various parts of Switzerland.
Marc Lauenstein, a 38-year-old former orienteering world champion from Neuchâtel, is a dentist and amateur athlete who competes in some of the world's best known mountain races.
For him, Switzerland remains the mountain trail country par excellence. The country's varied terrain and diversity of landscapes – spanning the Jura mountains, the Swiss plateau, the Pre-Alps and the Alps – offer an endless number of excellent trails.
Switzerland boasts numerous trails whose breathtaking landscapes and physical challenges have earned them a legendary status. Marc Lauenstein talks to us about his favourite trails:
The Eiger Ultra Trail
Ueli Steck, a world-famous extreme mountaineer who had a tragic fatal accident while pursuing his passion, considered this trail to be "harder than a solo ascent of the North Face of the Eiger...".
The Eiger (3,970 m) – particularly its North Face – has always held a magnetic fascination for mountaineers and now also draws trail runners. Since 2013, the Eiger Ultra Trail has offered mountain trail runners magnificent landscapes and steep routes, over four different distances from 16 to 101 kilometres.
The E101 Ultra Trail, covering a distance of 101km and a total ascent/descent of 6,700m, is a tough challenge even for the best runners, but the famous viewpoints through which the race course passes help ease the pain: the Grosse Scheidegg, First, Faulhorn, Schynige Platte, Wengen, Männlichen, Kleine Scheidegg, and the base of the Eiger North Face itself. The E101 Ultra Trail is a spectacular and unique alpine experience.
The E51 Panorama Trail covers a distance of 51km, offering panoramic views from the Faulhorn summit at 2,680m, while the E35 North Face Trail (35km and 2,500m ascent/descent) takes runners to the very foot of the Eiger North Face. The E16 Pleasure Trail, with an ascent/descent of 960m that should not be underestimated, offers a first trail running experience for seasoned mountain hikers.
Marc Lauenstein won the 35-km race in 2018: "Despite some steep climbs and a very tough race, we were soon rewarded with an impressive view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the three iconic peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, which dominate the landscape. It was fantastic."
The Sierre-Zinal race is also known as the 'Race of the Five 4,000 Metre Peaks' because it offers views of the Wisshorn (4,506m), the Zinalrothorn (4,221m), the Ober Gabelhorn (4,073m), the Matterhorn (4,478 m) and the Dent Blanche (4,357m). This legendary Valaisan race, which celebrated its 45th edition in 2018, has a much longer pedigree than the Eiger Ultra Trail, which has been held six times.
Sierre-Zinal now forms part of the Golden Trail Series, the five most prestigious mountain trail races in the world.
This is a major recognition for the Sierre-Zinal race, which is now part of a series of world-class races that also include the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon in Spain, the Mont-Blanc Marathon in France, the Pikes Peak Marathon in the United States and the Ring of Steall Skyrace in Scotland. "Being part of the Golden Trail Series ensures that most of the best world-class runners will take part in our race," says Vincent Theytaz, director of Sierre-Zinal.
Sierre-Zinal is a 31km race with an ascent/descent of 2,100m. Marc Lauenstein, winner in 2013, suffered an injury that prevented him from taking part in 2018, but not from joining the thousands of spectators who cheered on the 5,000 participants. "You experience pure happiness and a terrific atmosphere throughout this legendary race," says Lauenstein.
Swiss Canyon Trail
The Swiss Canyon Trail (formerly known as the Défi du Val-de-Travers and Trail de l'Absinthe) offers four different running trails, ranging from 25 to 105km. The Ultra Trail 105k is the longest one-day race in Switzerland.
Marc Lauenstein likes to sing the praises of the Swiss Canyon Trail, not least because it takes place in an area he knows like the back of his hand and where he trains to compete with the world's best: the paths along the River Areuse, the Poëta-Raisse gorges, Mt Le Chasseron and Creux-du-Van.