The Gsiesertal-Lauf: One idea, one vision, so many sensations
Numerous big names in the cross-country scene have competed in the Gsiesertal Lauf over the years, many of whom also appear on the winners’ roll of honour. Among these we find Norwegian Olympic winner and World Champion Anders Aukland, Austro-Russian Relay World Champion Michail Botwinow, Italian Olympic winners Silvio Fauner and Giorgio di Centa and Ole Einar Björndalen who, with eight Olympic golds under his belt, is the most successful biathlete of all times. Others, however, including cross-country legend Björn Dahlie (eight-time Olympic winner) and Kazakh Wladimir Smirnow, have yet to win a Gsiesertal.
The Gsiesertal itself also boasts an outstanding record: Ever since it was first raced in 1984 it has never once been cancelled. This achievement is a great source of pride for President Walter Federer and the organisation committee. At times when the whole of the Alpine region is suffering from a chronic lack of snow, the organisers themselves work together with the Tourist Board to conjure up the tracks through the countryside, an endeavour which is greatly appreciated by cross-country fans from the world over.
With over 2,300 participants, the number of participants each year matches the number of local residents in the valley precisely. In 2016, the 60,000th "finisher", a certain Mr Valdis Kokoriss from Latvia, crossed the line. And given that ever year skiers from up to 40 nations take part, it comes as no surprise; people come from all corners of the Earth to enjoy the unique Gsiesertal Lauf.
Entrants can choose to compete in either the 30 km or the 42 km route in either the classic or freestyle events, while the more clock-shy skiers may prefer to opt for the "Just for Fun" route along the original stretch. Since 2016, the programmes has also featured the “Business Run”, which sees 3 friends competing, each of whom races 30km. Kids from far and wide come to take part in the 3 or 5 km “Mini Gsieser”. The 42km route links the three main villages of the Gsieser Valley in the north-east of South Tyrol with Taisten. From St. Martin, the route leads out of the valley towards Pichl and on to Taisten (municipality of Welsberg/Taisten), loops back again and past St Martin, up to St. Magdalena at the end of the valley and before returning to St. Martin once again. Although the route runs mostly on the flat, the 200m climb towards St. Magdalena is tough to say the least. Generally speaking, this is the spot where the outcome of the race becomes apparent.
The Gsieser is also unique in its firm roots and solidarity amongst the local residents in the valley. All 14 amateur sport groups are involved in the organisation, and the 450 volunteers make sure that the participants want for nothing.
Replete as it is with Dolomite view, the landscape itself is another unique feature of the race. And it’s not alone: the cuisine is equally outstanding. Each year, the best chefs in the valley, together with 30 kitchen assistants, cater to 7 hospitality stops along the route and at the party tent in St. Martin. The high point of the gourmet menu is the apple strudel, which measures in at an astounding 250 m long; any less would not suffice. Small wonder, then, the number of participants and guests will outstrip the bed-capacity in the valley before long.
And if even the cross-country crazy Scandinavians are flocking to the Gsieser Valley in ever-greater numbers, there can be no greater advert for the sheer matchlessness of this event.
The Gsieser Lauf takes place annually on the third weekend of February. The classic race takes place on Saturday, while Sunday is reserved for freestyle.