The Ski Marathon in Switzerland's Engadin Valley, a plush Alps playground four and a half hours by train from Zurich, attracts more than 12,000 skiers annually with its storybook scenery – snow-capped peaks jutting into clear blue skies, spectators handing out chocolates along the route – and a largely downhill 26-mile course that elite competitors can zip through in just a couple of hours.
The start is not serene: Racers take off all at once in a chaotic cluster of elbows and clanging poles. "It's like running with the bulls," says Matt Liebsch, an American Olympic hopeful who participated in the 45th Engadin race last March. As they emerge from the bottleneck, skiers are rewarded with a three-mile glide across frozen Lake Sils (shown here), then challenged with a climb through tony St. Moritz. Next, they have to navigate "Mattress Hill," a downhill plunge through tight-knit trees wrapped in mattresses (an Engadin quirk, not standard procedure for ski marathons), which skiers bounce off like pinballs. At the finish in the village of S-chanf, participants gather to drink beer and eat sausages.
"I'm always dreaming about this sausage," says Matthias Lüfkens, 49, who has traveled from Geneva to ski the marathon for the past eight years. "It's really nothing special, but it tastes so different after 26 miles."
More information: Swiss Air flies into nearby Lugano Airport.