Beginning in 1924, the Parsenn Derby is one of the oldest ski races to grace the Swiss Alps, originating 10 years before a lift was even built in the Davos-Klosters area. Beginning as a downhill race from Parsennfurka to Küblis, the event attracted the top downhill skiers in the world.
That was a world before the Alpine Ski World Cup, now the Parsenn Derby is regarded as an amateur downhill event. With a team downhill race beginning at the turn of the millennium, the Parsenn Derby is now a weekend event, a real festival of skiing.
With a last minute call up to the Marden’s ski club, one of the oldest British ski clubs operating in Switzerland, I was given my first opportunity to experience amateur racing in the team event of the Parsenn Derby. Strapping on the 212cm Rossignol downhill skis for the first time was an interesting experience in itself. The solid advice I was offered in the rental shop, “point them down the hill and tuck.”
Off I went, trying not to decapitate anyone in the cable car up the mountain with my freakishly long skis. First mission, learn to ski on them. After a few runs (turning as little as possible) the skis started to feel a lot more natural. Tucking straight down red runs, topping out at 77mph (according to ski tracks app) was particularly terrifying.
Stage 2 of training was practicing landing jumps. We changed to the short skis to hone the technique of takeoff and landing, reassured that the more stable downhill skis would make landing easier and get less air. After a tumble or two, I felt much more confident hitting the jumps at high speed.
With Friday’s training run cancelled due to poor visibility, we were going to get our first four person team practice the morning of the race.
An early start on the first lift gave us a chance to scope out the course before the first and only practice run. The drafting as a team seemed to work well, but communication would be vital in avoiding high speed crashes when it came to the race. With the time being taken on the third of four over the line, it was important for us to stay together.
As the race got closer, the nerves started building. We got to the line, eager to set off. A poor start put us on the back foot, but the most important thing was enjoying the race and staying safe. We made it through the tunnel without problem and were just faced with the jump.
Taking off a jump at high speed, on long skis, side by side is a scary and exhilarating experience. Both Chris and I were silently hoping the other landed safely. Thankfully, we did. As we rounded the last two corners, three of our four finished almost simultaneously to set a time somewhere in the middle of the field.
It was an incredibly fun race, with all of us feeling jelly-legged and in need of food at the finish. A definite must-try event for any amateurs who fancy giving a downhill a go!